Friday, October 20, 2017

Back to normal

Some extra work on the 42 had begun with confusion when I was given the wrong info for my run assignment. We sorted it out with no appreciable disruption in service. This piece started in the middle, so half an hour later we were at the west layover. The bus was empty but for a sleeper in the rear, woke him to make sure he was ok before riding back around.

At State Road 7 an unhurried early afternoon crowd deferred to an older couple connected at the hip.
   'Careful there, nice n' easy. Take your time...' I coaxed them with all due care. The old woman's smile was bright and true as she helped her old man along, the thin bracelet on his wrist indicating his recent hospital visit.
"We're married for 46 years. And we love each other." She was their voice and strength this day, surely just one of her many turns in those many years.

We pulled out of the Northeast transit center a couple minutes down, and things were looking good for a timely arrival at the east end. No sooner did we exit the center and pull up to the light on Dixie, when the adjacent FEC RR lights started flashing and we had to yield to the original mechanical transport, that old iron horse squealing on its thin metal ribbons for the past 120 years. Two minutes turned into ten.

A short break and back to the west we went. At 27th Ave, three young men sat in the bus shelter, smoking a heavy lazy smoke. One boarded while the others stayed behind with the smoke. The pungency of what he was smoking reached me before he did. His dollar bill didn't want to go in the box, prompting one of the friends to giggle crazily.

This trip was rolling smoothly, too smoothly for an afternoon on Atlantic Boulevard. The reason was obvious when my leader came into view short of the west end. She'd been taking the brunt of the increased demand. About this time a guy sidled up to me. Bus drivers can also be sounding boards when someone needs to talk. He told me how he'd been homeless on the streets for 6 weeks now, and it wasn't easy.
"I'm trying to get back to normal." He stated with surety.
   'You'll get there.' I encouraged him.

Heading east again and the sleeper is still aboard. Apparently homeless, with his collection of bags holding all his belongings. He used his backpack as a body pillow, hugging it close to his chest. Another tote bag sat nearby, a long umbrella handle sticking out. A white styrofoam cup hung upside down on the handle, perhaps to deter the quick grab or as a sign of surrender.

The after school crowd is joining us now, from the large middle and high schools in the suburbs. I caught my leader again at the east layover. She's having a rough day and is losing ground by the minute. She gets a reset and deadheads somewhere down the road, leaving me to do the picking up.

It's a weekday, but a face from Sunday is waiting for me under some shady oak trees. It's the Indian girl with a snaggletooth smile.
"Half hour late!" She complained through her smile.
   'Sorry for the wait!' I apologized. My bus was on time, but she was late to work and no explanations would change that. As she exited at Dixie I encouraged her not to let it ruin her day. The kind smile returned.

At Lyons Road there was my leader yet again. I leapfrogged her to give her some relief. She was so busy dropping off she never caught us until we got to the west layover. She got another reset and booked it to the Northeast transit center.

Now it was my turn to work. We soon had a standing load, with the usual complaints about long waits. Unfortunately the bus is at the mercy of a million time-eaters, and this time of day calls for an extra dose of patience from all of us. The drama, the chaos, the energy, the urgency keep us from getting bored. Anything else wouldn't be normal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good medicine

In between ridiculous crawling traffic and frustrating red lights are the little moments that make one take pause. If you blink, you'll miss 'em.

A morning run on the 60, rumbling over the ruts leading out of downtown. My regular with the strobing headlamp at the Lighthouse for the Blind stop wasn't there, leaving a dark void as we crested the FEC RR. It may be darker than the bottom of the ocean out here, but this first bus of the day is a popular one. We've got a seated load by the time we get to Prospect, with a few standers. The earliness means few cars on the road and we make good time all the way. At Dunkin' Donuts it becomes clear the ladies behind the counter know me well, preparing my breakfast by heart.

Back in service, and now the city is waking up. If we don't have moving obstacles, we have stifling congestion. The Jamaican regular who navigates the mountains of rock at Matco hops on, ever cool in sunglasses. I ask him what he works with over there. "What do I work with? Locomotives, pushin' those cars around." Now he's Superman to me, moving the earth.

We're pushin' 10 minutes down by the time we exit Cypress Creek Tri-Rail Park & Ride, a notorious time-eater. Climbing the I-95 overpass gives us a clear view of the commuting chaos on the highway, and I count my blessings to be running late on old Andrews Avenue. Folks are rushing to get to work so I can't help feel a little bad being late to pick up my next regular. For some time I'd been calling him Amigo, thinking he was Hispanic. When he boarded with a smiling "Bom dia!" in Brazilian Portuguese it froze me to my seat.

Things thawed out quickly and we made it to Central Terminal with a couple minutes to spare. My friend who works at Catfish Dewey's was waiting to head up there and do his thing in the kitchen. Now we were in the thick of it, flowing with the heavy, slow traffic all the way to Northeast transit center.

Not everyone heads to work in the morning. At Commercial a woman with a bicycle was awaiting our pull up.
"Is there any way I can ride to the clinic to get my medicine?" She forced the request out, barely functional and reliant on the kindness of strangers. Getting the go ahead, I assisted her with loading the bike since she was having difficulty placing both wheels in the same slot. More than a year earlier, I'd picked her up on the 10 over by the Florida House Experience. At that time, she had been bright-faced and vivacious. Today, either the early hour or an unfortunate relapse had discolored her into a haggard, strung out low point.

The roaring morning had settled into humming calm as the machinery of life spun its wheels, and lunchtime approached. At Central Terminal for my last trip north, a couple with all their belongings in bags came over in the usual way.
"We just need a ride to Sunrise, to a church."
A block past Sunrise and the green building came into view.
"Next stop, driver." The woman's voice drifted up.
   'Ok, the meatloaf church.'
"Ha ha! Every 60 driver knows the meatloaf church! Here just in time to grab a tray!" The man joked.
   'Now you're makin' me hungry!' I half-joked, part of me wishing to join them, part of me wondering what the next stop might bring.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Getting called out

The names I get called by my passengers continue to amaze me. The vast majority use the old standbys like Boss, Sir, Man, so the list of new names continues to shrink, or perhaps I forget to take note when I should. It generally takes something audacious to catch my ears, something out of the ordinary. Below are a few more on the ever-growing list.

List Three
-Billy Bob Thornton
-Dumb Ass Cracka
-My Potna
-Bubble Burster
-Clark Kent
-Big Bo
-Mr. Driver
-The Man

List One
List Two

Thursday, October 5, 2017

God, country, and BCT

Saturdays on the 36 are nothing to get excited about, because nothing much seems to happen. The schedule has plenty of time on it, so there's more chance of running hot than late. Service is frequent enough that there's always a seat for everyone. And the recovery time at the layovers is quite generous.

I started the shift around lunch time at Lauderhill Mall heading west. At Pine Island a familiar face from Route 2 was waiting. An older gentleman with a folding bike, a bucket, and a squeegee with a 2-foot wood handle. We talked about good & bad bus service, and the upcoming penny tax proposing to remedy the bad part. Two stops past Flamingo, he exited for his window-washing gig at Publix.
"Good talkin' with ya, see ya next time." I think he considers me like a son.
   'See ya out there.'
"I'm sure you will. If you don't see me, I'm dead."
   'Aw, don't say that.'
But he said it, and I wondered if I'd see him again.

On our return trip, a passenger who'd been reserved and quiet his entire trip wandered up front as we neared his exit.
"Thank you for your service. God, country, and BCT. Not necessarily in that order."
   'Different days, different orders...'
As he exited, he pointed out the bus bench ad featuring a pretty woman's face; someone drew a handlebar mustache on her upper lip.

Renovations at the aging Galleria were progressing. A previously stark white wall at the east end facing the boulevard had been replaced with two floors of glass and a colorful background within. At the east layover a cute latina boarded asking about the fare in accented English, her beach-appropriate apparel accentuating her more prominent features.

The next westbound trip was underway and traffic was so smooth we got to the Hill a bit earlier than scheduled. I relaxed in the cabin with everyone else.
"You look like Kennedy." A woman sitting across from me made an observation.
   'The president? He's before my time.'
"When he was around." She replied with a soft smile, before talking about her father taking trash to the dump up in Pennsylvania.

While at the Hill, a man boarded with a large rolling trash can loaded with his belongings. He looked at me intently and said "I've got more." Apparently he just got evicted since he followed up the trash can with two large storage totes and a wicker folding chair. He was also prone to bursts of manic laughter, like the Joker.

Along the residential stretch between Pine Island and Nob Hill is a development called Cross Creek. They have an impressive hedge of ixoras which present a wall of color when in full bloom. Unfortunately this damp day in late summer the blooms were sparse.

At Sawgrass mills, I bumped into a fellow driver. He was on the 22, which was still out Copans Garage at that time, and complained about too much stopping. I sympathized with him, but my day was going a lot smoother. At our first stop out of Sawgrass I picked up a former coworker from a previous job. A loud and intrusive individual, I didn't respond when he said I looked familiar to him. He didn't push it and was preoccupied with whatever he was on his way to do.

The wet ground and moist air invoked the ghost of Jaco as we passed Holiday Park, where he spent so many of his days. Days like this Saturday, on the 36, when nothing much seems to happen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Spent on the 60

Afternoons on the 60 are a lesson in patience. Crushing congestion, servicing every stop, and fanciful schedules all coalesce to frustrate and confound. It is not unusual for buses on the route to catch each other despite the 20 minute separation. It's still my favorite route. It has everything I love about bus driving: half the route is on Andrews Avenue, the original spine of old Broward County which now extends all the way north and passes through my neighborhood. The westbound turn after the Northeast transit center takes us through rough sections of town full of heartbreak and back ache. There's also a taste of true city driving when we're downtown on those ancient narrow lanes. As a young rider many years ago, the 60 took me where I wanted to go; now I'm in the driver seat returning the favor.

The glitch was glaring from the moment I took over that afternoon. Every time the front door opened, the bus would announce 'Wheelchair Assistance Requested', though there was no wheelchair aboard. A couple attempts to recycle the bus were unsuccessful. The seats in the wheelchair area were still up, once I put them back down the problem was resolved. Now there would be no distractions as we began our first southbound trip.

The nearly empty bus was soon packed with a standing load at Broward College, and this was only our first time point on the route. The loud students don't seem to mind, reveling in bumping into each other. When we turned on to 27th Ave for the first stop in Collier City, I had to hop off the bus and explain to the man in the wheelchair why I was passing him - the bus was packed. An apology and estimated arrival of the next bus was all I could do, and off we went.

We were 15 minutes late at our next time point, the Northeast Transit Center, and that would be the pattern the rest of the afternoon, steadily increasing until we were nearly 30 minutes down at one point. There would be no immediate relief from my follower bus since he went down on our next trip north. At that time of day, all the reasons I mentioned before prevent any chance of getting back on schedule. Yet there is a simple satisfaction in being the bus that does finally show up to take people home after their tiring day, navigating the swarming cars, train delays, and construction zones of a buzzing city.

Shortly before my follower went out of service, he had caught me and I was instructed to drop off only, until we came upon our only exception. She was the sweet lady in the wheelchair at the library in Collier City, a recent amputee unfamiliar with getting around in the chair. We had room on the bus now, and there was no way I could leave her sitting in the heat of the day any longer than necessary. She had an awkward prosthetic this time, but boarded confidently and accepted securement in her polite and demure way. A flower in the dust shines out all the more brightly, even with a petal missing.

When I finally returned to Central Terminal, my follower had also returned, his bus occupying the 60 slot, the driver missing. I hadn't been out of the seat for hours and could have used a pit stop, but the double-size crowd waiting to leave inspired me to finish strong for this last trip of the day.

Moving twice as fast as anyone else to get aboard and get situated was a long time regular. He's always energetic and sociable, and is his best self after treatment. He was especially talky today, after spending the previous four days in the hospital, eating good food, taking two showers a day, and getting his treatment. It was like a vacation. We talked all the way up to his campsite near John Knox Blvd. Somewhere on the way he got nostalgic.
"I used to wait for your ass at Sunrise," he reminded me of those Sundays on the 50. "A year and three months ago we met at Sunrise and Bayview," he took us back earlier to a trip on the 40. It was fun to reminisce and praise him for his good memory - and bittersweet to consider how time had passed so quickly. A quick mention of the package of cinnamon rolls waiting in his tent, and he was gone.

My follower had finally caught me during our ride down memory lane and I received instructions to transfer my passengers to his bus. I'd come this far with a full bus and it was my last trip, so I persuaded dispatch to let me finish the run before heading back to the garage. We all finished our day together, blitzed, drained, and exhausted after another day on the streets of Broward County.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Annum Recognition: 2

One fertile September two years ago this blog was born out of sand and sun, a watery mystery drifting through tangled mangrove roots. Most of the time, it is a tranquil breeze in the cool shade of a broiling hot afternoon. Once in a great while, when the pressure rises, a hurricane must visit. The fury of nature's pent up energy is beneficial to the environment, stirring up oceanic sediments and discouraging stagnation. These cycles of calm and chaos are the character of a dynamic living system, unpredictable and occasionally leaving broken limbs behind. There will always be reminders of our tenuous existence on this thin crust. Let us make preparations, and wait for the sun to crack through again.

Still unrisen, the full moon was tugging on everyone's psyches, enhancing and exaggerating what they were feeling. A Sunday on the 36 generally carries a sense of easiness and patience, so that was a mitigating plus as things heated up.

I took over the bus at Lauderhill Mall from the morning driver, ready for a sedate afternoon on Sunrise Boulevard. Preparing to pull out, a slow elderly woman with a walker from the connecting 19 bus did her best to hold us there. We couldn't leave this grandmother sitting around for another half hour, so out came the ramp and she hobbled aboard.

Our first stop on Sunrise, two young guys boarded and stayed up front in the filled cabin. They were non-stop talkers, communicating in curse code.
"Bro. Bro." One of them repeated the same word several times, and I assumed it was for the other. It was actually for me, as it turned out when he finally said "Excuse me, sir" and I responded.
"Hey bro, you got any more of these?" flashing a day pass at me. It doesn't hurt to ask, even when it doesn't pay off.

In the parking lot at Dale's Wheels & Tires near Andrews Ave, it's a back to school party crammed with music, dancing, BBQ, bounce house, and free backpacks.

"I smell like a camp fire, don't I?" The older man asked by way of greeting. At first I hadn't noticed, then it was unmistakable. This was further east by Victoria Park and he was doing a BBQ of his own, with oak firewood donated by Red Cow, though he's partial to cherry.

As we serviced the Powerline Rd stop, a teen boy in yellow Parks & Rec shirt wandered up front, looking intently past me through my driver's window, as if checking to see if this was his stop.
"Can I just give the rest of this change to that guy?" he pointed out a disheveled man panhandling in the median. We had a minute, the light was red, the door was open, off he darted to bestow a blessing on this stranger.

 Nearing Sawgrass Mills Mall, my leader bus was getting worked on by the mechanic on 136th Avenue. This was a Sunday with reduced service, so a downed bus will affect service more than it would on a weekday. The mall itself was full and overflowing, to the point where the parking lot is at capacity and cars are parked in the swales of the feeder streets. I was ready to pull out of there when the mechanic pulled right in front of me to look at another downed bus waiting at the mall. His service truck blocked me, but only delayed us briefly when he determined that bus needed to be towed. He's a magician most of the time, but some things aren't in his bag of tricks.

This new trip was getting busy, lots of riders before Pine Island, a definite indicator it had been awhile since those stops were serviced. At University, a sour-faced man boarded complaining about having to wait an hour. I could have explained the broken down bus before mine, but I kept it simple.
   'Siento.' I apologized when he took a pause to breathe.
"Gracias." His ranting was over, now he was ready to continue.

We serviced Lauderhill Mall and pulled up to 12th St before turning left. A police car parked in the street directly in front of us blocked the right lane, forcing the steady traffic into one lane on this busy side street. the delay was frustrating for us, but helped out someone as I heard some yelling followed by a young man pulling up to us on his bike. We hadn't actually left the Hill yet, so he loaded his bike. He boarded dripping sweat like a spigot from the effort to make the bus, as well as toting two large bags of groceries. Profusely thankful for my holding the bus for him, he slid in his fare with a "Thank you, brotha!"
   'We wouldn't just leave you like that!'
"I know who my brothers are..."

A big event at Carter Park (formerly Sunland Park) was still going on into the evening and looked like fun as we cruised by. We flipped around at the beach and hit the weekly wall of traffic which I hoped to avoid on these Sunday shifts.

10th Ave has my friend in the motorized wheelchair waiting. He can't move much, but he knows how to work the joystick so he's as nimble as anyone else. Once he's facing backwards, I guide him on.
   'Nice and easy, you got it. Like a pro!'
"Hey, how you doin'? I don't need securements."

Father & Sons Smoke Til U Choke BBQ was wafting its mouth-watering aroma onto Sunrise as we approached Martin Luther King Blvd. The cricket tournament that began the day before at Central Regional Park had another busy day of matches. Attendees crowded all over the area after parking at the Hill, blocking the intersections.

It was finally time for our last trip of the day, an easy eastbound journey ending at A1A. The full moon was now risen, and tides were rising. On all the previous trips, those outside the bus had been careful and aware of their proximity to it. Now they had death wishes. At four different points along the way, there were young people leisurely strolling across the street, a young man on bicycle wearing earbuds and racing toward the bus at full hilt forcing me to come to a complete stop, a group of boys on bikes riding northbound in the southbound lanes of State Road 7, and two elderly women with rolling luggage and walker wandering aimlessly in the maze-like intersection at US 1.

In the midst of the madness, Miss Ketteline from Fridays boarded. She pointed out the full moon and swore she wouldn't watch the solar eclipse. We approached Sunset Strip, where Miss Anderson patiently waited.
   'Hey! There she is!' I clap my hands, impressed she has made it this time after several missed attempts.
"Today's my birthday, so I'm idlin'!" Her face lights up with a wonderful smile, Ketteline starts singing "happy birthday to you...", and the moon works its magic after the sun sets on Sunrise.

The new pick is underway! I'll still be with my peeps on the 36 every Sunday. The exciting news this time around is I'm coming back home to the 60 and 14. Also one night a week on the 34.