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.

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