Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A different drum

While the 441 Breeze is generally a rough-n-ready roller coaster ride up and down State Road 7, there have been days when it runs like a lazy cat slinking its way between napping spots. Mornings are the best time for this most unconventional limited-stop route to resemble a regular local-stop route, whereas afternoons are a frenetic blur of traffic and full bus capacity.

My morning run on the Breeze started at Turtle Creek in the early a.m., just before the rush hour crush was getting warmed up. This stop is popular with patrons and workers of the Seminole Casino across the street, an ever-growing glittery complex built on desperate dreams. I snuggled the 60-foot artic beside the curb and popped the brakes to wait for our departure time. The head sign is set to change automatically at the prescribed time, so passengers are often inquisitive when it only reads NOT IN SERVICE.

"Are you in service?" Asked a full-bellied man who emerged from the shadows when I swung open the doors.
   'We sure are! How's it going this morning?'
"I had a bad morning. I lost $220 at the casino, after getting up to $465."
   'So you didn't come out ahead?'
"No, I got cleaned out. How am I gonna get to Vegas now?"
   'It's another day.'
"It's gonna be a rough month."
   'There's always next month.'
"Yeah." Stunned and dejected, he took his seat as I stepped off. The bus was an island of light in the dark morn, and this unsettled gentleman seemed to appreciate the solace he found there in the midst of his own darkness.

Traffic was noticeably not an issue this morning, a welcome break from the standard onslaught. Red lights were making us run a little late this time, since we'd arrived in that domino effect where every light turned yellow as we approached. An early drizzle slicked the streets, then the sun dried them off.

Heading south, the enormous yet tedious roadway expansion project in Hollywood creates a transitional segment, where the scenery and environment steadily decline and deteriorate into a melange of aging strip malls and decades of built up grime. Around 177th St, in the midst of that hell of steaming streets and struggle comes a simple blessing: the wafting scent of baking sweet bread. It is a farewell kiss as tangible as Golden Glades, the labyrinth of asphalt ribbons we entered soon after.

Laying over at the Golden Glades Park and Ride, I was met by a sociable man in a cream-colored dashiki of fine stitching. A djembe drummer from Senegal, he showed me a video of himself performing a concert. As an aside, he proudly let me know he was a cousin of the singer Akon. Now he was in town to give drumming lessons at a school in Lauderhill, and requested my assistance to find the right street. The fierce rhythm of his music made an impression, and it kept me company as our wheels carried us through the threads of a million lives, the greatest concert of all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finally figured it out

The first stop out of Central Terminal on Andrews Ave. A seasoned citizen with a folding cart. She's taking her time, and not just because of her apparent advanced age. She's trying to do someone a solid, holding up the bus for another woman running our way. The runner is a trim jogger in hot pink spandex, and our waiting proves futile as she zips on by the bus. The considerate customer completes her boarding and clears the doorway.

"Does anybody really care if you miss the bus anymore?" She asked herself, reminiscing over the bygone days of looking out for each other.
"I'm 73 years old. I raised three sons to have good manners and good jobs. At my age, I feel I finally figured it out."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Floating freight

Most of our east-west routes are dedicated to a single road (e.g., 72-Oakland Park Blvd, 22-Broward Blvd, 55-Commercial Blvd). Route 36 is dedicated to Sunrise Blvd, and except for a short detour through Shallowside to service the Lauderhill Mall station, it currently extends from A1A on the east end to Sawgrass Mills Mall at the west end. One early morning on extra duty I was assigned this route and scheduled to start out at Sawgrass Mills in the dewy darkness at the edge of the Everglades. At that time of morning the mall doors are still locked so my only passengers were overnight maintenance workers heading home.

We'd completed a trip and were heading west over the Turnpike as the sun was rising behind us. A mother Muscovy duck with a fluffy yellow brood of ducklings waddling before her in the far left lane were blocked by the median from completing their crossing to a nearby canal. The morning crush of cars had accumulated, pinning them next to the extremely long barrier, which could easily be mounted by the mother but was too much of an obstacle for the tiny legs of her offspring. A considerate motorist took the errant family under their wing and protected them from certain destruction.

Our first visit at the east layover a sweet homeless lady wished me "a Jesus God-blessed day" and took her sweet time exiting. A crowd of freighters listed off the coast, biding their time before heading into port.

Heading into Sawgrass around lunch time, news vans lined the streets, sprouting a crop of telescoping antennas like metallic reeds. Endless queues of cars covered 136th Ave. A helicopter hovered over the scene, focused on the BB&T Center. At the mall, a man lounging in the courtyard explained that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was in town for a rally at the arena.

Now en route, the vague presence of someone moving to the front appeared in my peripheral vision. This is usually the sign of someone looking for their stop, or looking to socialize. The middle-aged man beside me was both. The vitals came out first: homeless, going through trials, just got out of jail. His monotone expression was half conversation, half contemplation. A native who only recently returned, he was getting the hang of the social services available to him. His description of taking hours to secure a bed in a shelter veered toward the conspiratorial: "The Sheriff wants to know where all the homeless people are." A cameraman by profession, he boasted of being able to work the video camera at any event. The sickly sweetness of stale wine became pronounced as he lamented not being in Rio with his buddies filming the Olympics, readily admitting fault for not being prepared for the opportunity. He said aloud what street he was looking for, but made no request to let him know when we got there, before drifting into the cabin. The street came and went, but he didn't exit. When we got to the layover, I discovered him sleeping deeply. After waking, his friendly monotone became an angry loudness at me for letting him sleep through his stop. All I could do was offer to take him back around. He was content with that, and I was able to direct him to the feeding site he was looking for.

At the Hill, a young man walked on, casual and oblivious. Dazed and silent as a statue, an especially pungent fume enveloped him. He stood perfectly still staring into the cabin as the flow of passengers went around him like an island in the stream.

Even when things are partly cloudy, the light will find a way through. When we got to University, the glow grew brighter. My old friend the security guard was there, a familiar face only when I drove this route. Her unkempt hair, arms loaded with groceries, and obvious exhaustion were signs of a woman determined to do right by her child. A couple years earlier, we'd discussed work life and she laid out her career plans with bright hope and excitement. The grind over the intervening years had taken its toll, though her spirit stood strong and resolved.

On my last trip, somewhere west of Powerline Rd, an older man boarded, grinning and flashing a county employee ID hanging from the lanyard on his neck. He looked like someone I already knew, but his name escaped me.
   'Which department are you with?' I asked out of curiosity.
"Transit. 29 years!" His answer was proud and clear.
Then I remembered: Cooper, facilities manager at the Ravenswood garage. His winning smile made an impression on anyone who met him. It is always an honor to spend time with those who have dedicated so many years to BCT, and I was fortunate to have this brief interaction with just such an institutional mainstay. Mr. Cooper would pass away only a few months later, shortly after retirement. For this day however, he was ebullient and vigorous, with a satisfied assurance he had served his community well.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Philosopher's corner

The nature of our interactions on the bus doesn't always allow for in-depth discussion, mostly just what can be squeezed in while waiting at red lights. This is for the best since that's not primarily why we're behind the wheel in the first place. The operator's function is utilitarian, assigned with the task of safely moving expensive equipment containing the priceless lives of those aboard. This immense responsibility is both head-floatingly elating (for the operator) and mind-numbingly pragmatic (for the bus company).

Amid the unremitting flow of life around us (in the forms of traffic, commerce, and habitual practicality), the quietly profound moments of Life do their thing without expectation of acknowledgment.

Passing Alegria Tacos (best in town), the owner is on the front porch on the phone. I send a message in Bus Code: a couple love taps on the horn and a finger point.

At BC North, I pick up my older neighbor lady who I usually call out "Hola amiga" to across the street. She's dragging her small self aboard this afternoon, and with a frail smile could summon only a "cansada" when I greet her.

A noticeably dirty man boarded with a hospital bracelet, requesting a free ride since he used his emergency pass on a bus going the wrong way. He blamed his disorientation on being heavily medicated.

At Oakland Park, the giggly mature woman from NY who's always doing exciting things.

A guy about my age getting a day pass, unaware the fare has gone up since he last rode the bus. His car broke down, and will cost too much to repair.

In Pompano, I bump into a former coworker from another life. He's waiting for a different route, but uses the brief moment to let me know nothing has changed at the old job - and also he got stabbed last week.
"Ya gotta have a hobby!" he joked about this latest in an endless line of calamities to befall him.

The weather has turned drizzly and miserable. By the Pompano detention center is the slowest lot of miscreants yet. Everyone's got wet bills or a handful of change or just got out of jail and needs a ride to Powerline. An old man is using both a cane and a bicycle, he could barely walk so I help load the bike on the rack. What is it about the dampness today that has brought a tsunami of human wreckage?

An older man boards with two Dostoevsky books under his arm.
   'Good reading?' I asked, always happy to see someone with a physical book. A courthouse clerk, he made me envious with his plans to attend the Dostoevsky conference in St. Petersburg (the city in Russia, not Tampa Bay). Nonchalantly going on about probing the mysteries of God and existence, he made a perplexing admission: "I was a Mason with Mozart on Solomon's temple."
The conversation moved quickly, transitioning to John Calvin, predestination, and finally retirement.
"What good has the quest ever done me? Now I'm seeking an affordable condo near an academic center where I can study to my heart's content."

Another philosophy buff boards ready to discuss Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Hegel. His poor personal hygiene attests to his dedication to the psyche. He soon returns to earth with frustration: his new car was stolen and it's probably chopped up or shipped overseas.

We came full circle with Alegria again at 38th St, where my friend with the punk tats waited holding a single white rose with violet tips. He took a drag from his cig and passed it to the homeless lady hanging out there. Romance and chivalry on the streets of Broward County, while philosophers try to figure it all out.