Friday, April 21, 2017

Keeping vigil

Bus operators are rarely called by their job title, rather we receive countless nicknames and epithets. They can be repetitive or creative, and when a new one comes my way I add it to the running list. One that will never make the list is Father, since it wasn't given on the bus. It was bequeathed upon me by another operator, who was presumably inspired by my general appearance. Other operators latched onto it and what started as an inside joke soon morphed into an inquisitive greeting.

Father's Day found me on Atlantic Boulevard, one half of a dynamic duo I dubbed Team 42. Shortly after pulling out of the garage, I witnessed a somber scene: a couple dozen Egyptian geese were convened in a semi-circle, in the street and on the shoulder. Standing straight as soldiers, they faced the same direction toward the flattened carcass of one of their flock. Keeping a respectful distance from the still, feathered casualty, they stood in stony silence with blank, wide-eyed stares.

My turn for giving a confused look came on the first westbound trip. A couple stops before US 1, an older woman waited to board. With limp, stringy hair and her arm in a brace, she called me by name as soon as the doors opened, before she even boarded. Hard as I tried, I couldn't place the face and no name came to mind. She proceeded to talk to me as if we were familiar with each other, updating me on her man's job plight. Hoping her name would come to me, I didn't let on that I couldn't remember her.
"I see you cut your hair!" She tossed out an observation that could be a clue.
   'Yeah, I gotta be respectable now.'
I felt bad for not calling her by name, but I just didn't recognize her. My theories are that we met briefly a long time ago, or that she got me mixed up with someone else.

On our previous trip, a 20-something young man with extensive ink on his arms begged for an emergency pass so he could "get to the homeless assistance center," which he didn't know the location of because he was "from Orlando." I offered a ride to the transit center a little over 10 minutes away, where he could catch the 60 to the Broward Outreach Center. He immediately began hedging and declined the offer, mumbling that he would "drive myself."

We did a round trip and settled in at the east end layover. A slight man in a motorized scooter rolled up the ramp. Curious tattoos on his thin arms stood out in contrast. I commented on the lighted ball used to control the scooter's joystick. He volunteered that he had been paralyzed during a robbery on Las Olas in the '90s. His arrowhead necklace caught my eye and I complimented him on it, which prompted him to tell me about his Cherokee grandmother.

At the stop before the FEC RR, a familiar old man boarded. His personal hygiene had long been neglected, understandable among our homeless regulars but rarely this powerful. The offensive odor is always more than offset by his impeccable manners and politeness.

Simple gratitude and consideration go a long way in our interactions with one another. We may not know each other's names, we may not know where we are going, we may know where we came from, and we may offend each other unintentionally. This is our flock, we are marked together as one community, and look out for each other to the end.

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