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.

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