Thursday, November 22, 2018

Perpetual vacation

The day after Christmas and I had a 13 hour shift ahead, a split with the 10 and the 114. Days like these will make you forget what your home looks like in the daylight, and your dog forget that you belong there.

The bus today had a voice of its own. Not the onboard announcer, but the brakes. Rather than the signature high-pitched squeal when released, they let out a low, baleful moan. Sort of like a sigh.

The first northbound was sweet as can be for a weekday, during this final week of the year. I made the Mizner loop in Boca and waiting at the very next stop was my joking regular.
"My friend! I thought it was Steve."
   'No, you're stuck with me!' I responded, not sure if it was good or bad to be in Steve's stead.
"I'm blessed to be stuck with you! God bless you and your entire family. Give me a second to sit down."
He was my only passenger the whole time he was on, just a few minutes over Hillsboro inlet back in to Broward.
"Where is everybody?" He squeak-asked  when he noticed the empty seats.
   'I guess they're still on vacation. Not like you, huh?' It was barely eight a.m., not exactly an hour for slouches.
"I'm on perpetual vacation." He ponderously replied after a moment.

On the radio an operator in south county was calling in a harrowing report. A man in a car with paper tags was stalking a girl on her bus. The driver saw the suspect brandish a knife and received instructions on what to do next. Her vigilance may have prevented a tragedy that day.

There was no such stress on my bus, the only issue in the early trips being a sticky transmission during the downshift, which gave us a noticeable jolt before coming to a complete stop. And the persistent sighing.

Across the street, the right lane was closed in front of the Mai-Kai. A forklift was in the street, dangling an enormous wooden Polynesian god by a strap. It would be installed right by the sidewalk, a tireless sentry keeping watch over the restaurant day and night without closing its eyes.

In Pompano I picked up a coworker heading downtown for a shift at Central Terminal. He was on light duty which involves assisting customers, providing schedules, and other low impact activities. He was itching to get back in the saddle. Arriving at the terminal in good time, I secured the bus and walked with him to the driver's lounge. The schedule gave me a nice little break before my final trip, something not guaranteed in this business.

Rolling back north, another disturbing call came over the radio. A driver reported Oakland Park Boulevard was closed near Deepside due to police activity. Apparently they were chasing a naked man running in the street.

Our quiet day continued as it had all morning: drama-free. I picked up one of my Brazilian friends and she wished me Feliz Natal.

At the Pompano Beach Cemetery stop, a slight older woman boarded.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked in a gentle voice.
   '$2 regular, $1 reduced for seniors, medicare, disabled...' I replied, counting those eligible on my fingers.
"Well, I am 72," she declared. Her nimble entry gave a far younger impression.
   'I never would have guessed,' I found myself admitting. 'You must be doing something right!'
"I am. I'm living for God." She explained as she found a seat. "I have a son who's 58," she added to remove any doubt.

The Copans Road relief point was soon upon us and the next driver waited to take over. He greeted me as "Driver of the Year" - certainly the most mild of the many playful jabs I'd received during my Operator of the Month tenure.

It was more than seven hours on the clock by now, the morning shift of the split completed. The afternoon piece was a trip to the Health District in Miami, a commuter route with lots of highway time. The District was uncharacteristically a ghost town, with no traffic to speak of. A world change from the typical daily crawl during the rest of the year.

A man in navy blue scrubs and glasses waited at one of the last stops before we got back on 95.
"Is this the 595 Express?" he asked. The headsign had reverted to NOT IN SERVICE.
   'Yes. The sign is acting up. Everything else works.'
"It reads SOUTH BEACH," he cracked, clearly ready to relax.
   'I was hoping for Key West! We'll just hop on the highway and head south.' It's ok to dream, even when you're going north.

After servicing the Sunrise Park & Ride at BB&T Center and dropping off the final passenger, the bus truly was out of service and on its way back to the barn. The Sawgrass Expressway took me through the coral hues of the setting sun flaming out over the Everglades. Sample Road took me east where the early evening darkness descended quickly. There was no hurry now, just one final mission to return the bus intact.

A surprise delay appeared while I sat at the University Drive red light. Police escorted a caravan that seemed to be a mile long as it slowly drifted south. Just about every car exhibited a lighted menorah of unique size and style on its roof.

Dusky dimness transitioned to night blackness, punctuated by this illuminating procession. Part of me tried to believe the day had been like any other, ending as it had begun. Part of me knew better than that, as the light turned green and our own caravan called it a day.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Flighty paths

Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday this time, which kept things smooth and avoided confusion. Had it been on a weekday, we would still run on a Sunday schedule. It was going to be an easy day with light traffic, no rush on the bus, and schedules adhered to.

I pulled into slot B-1 at Central Terminal where a handful awaited me. The regular with his wheelchair greeted me with a fist bump and a Merry Christmas. He rolled on ahead of everyone else into the spot I'd readied for him before leaving the garage.

Our first stop on US 1 brought us both darkness and light. An older homeless man who had become a regular on these Sunday mornings boarded with dejection. He had been beaten and robbed the night before, by an assailant who relieved him of two monthly bus passes and his cellphone. Now he had no way to stay in touch with others or report the theft. But he had a ride to church on our bus. His gloom was balanced by the boarding of our Island Sunshine. Her smile illuminates even the dimmest of bus cabins; her heart lightens our load.

We glided along the Searstown Curve, driving over tree shadows cast by the rising sun.

Up in Pompano, congregating around a pond along the edge of massive Community Park, were all manner of birds. Egyptian geese, white ibis, cormorants drying out their wings, and other species collected in abundance.

The Mizner Boulevard loop in Boca Raton took us around and directed us back south, though there are still a handful of stops before the layover on Camino Real. In that handful of stops waited another Sunday regular. A couple of obvious handicaps give him the appearance of being half-paralyzed, but it doesn't keep him down.
"Are you on a Sunday schedule since it's Christmas?" He asked as he carefully climbed on.
   'Yes.' My answer was simple, perhaps hesitant as I considered the coincidence of the holiday on a Sunday.
"Can you tell I'm awake? I know today is Sunday."
   'Oh, you're a joker!'
"Yeah I'm a joker, a toker, and a midnight smoker!" He squeaked out in a voice that pierced the silent street. Hunch-necked vultures peered at us from their streetlamp perches.

Other visitors joined us going south. A long time regular more commonly seen on 441 visited. A young lady was going to County Jail to visit her boyfriend. A young father had his hands full with two daughters and a son; they just missed the 36 and decided to take my bus downtown to catch the 40.

The nominal morning busy-ness dwindled as the day transitioned to afternoon. When we got to 62nd Street a few minutes early, we had to sit and burn off the time.
"How long? How long you gonna wait here?" An impatient man came up to ask.
   'Two minutes.' I answered, always giving the actual number.
"Can I take a puff of my cigarette? I'm kinda fiendin' right now," he admitted. He had time to get a few puffs in.

This scene could have repeated itself right up the line, thanks to the light traffic. I was in danger of running hot unless I crawled it up the street at 25 mph. It began to pick up again around Copans.

A regular who got on the previous trip and stayed on since he had nowhere special to be in a hurry decided to exit in Boca. Another man who'd boarded at Sample wanted to go to the 'Boca Mall'. There was a language barrier, so I assumed he meant Boca Town Center. Unfortunately that bus wasn't running today. I attempted to explain that to him, so he could find another way to get there. He got a nervous look, but I couldn't be sure if it was because of what I just told him, or because he couldn't understand what I was saying. Either way, he got off at the next stop, apparently familiar enough with the lay of land.

Shortly after beginning our final southbound, I helped a first-timer load his bike on the rack. He was visiting from Paris. They may not have bike racks on their buses, but they sure have great tattoo artists judging by the ink on his arms.

Down on Sunrise Boulevard one of Santa's elves played hooky and hopped on our bus. Flighty and animated - but harmless - he fed a handful of pennies and nickels into the fare box. He gave his remaining change to an old man just before exiting a few stops later.
"Don't spend it at the casino! Hee hee!" He cackled as he bounded off.

One of Broward Transit's biggest fans was waiting at Central Terminal for a different route. Francois is an instant friend to all of our drivers. We wished each other a Joyeux Noel.

Time for my final trip, when I would be relieved by another driver and spend the rest of Christmas Day with my family. First I had to help others get to their own families. At Central Terminal a man of about thirty boarded with a fresh haircut, trimmed beard, and full sleeves of colorful ink. A large, festively-designed tote bag was loaded with gifts for his kids, who he was going to visit in Pompano. He'd already been on a lengthy bus ride to connect to my bus, now he had a long trip to get north. About halfway there, he was on the phone and getting hot with whoever he was talking to. Mostly complaints and curses about how long the trip was taking. My hands were tied sticking to the schedule, and I sympathized with him. As we neared his stop he came up front, close by.
"My dad wrapped my car around a tree last night. It's Christmas and it's my first time on the city bus."
Another round of sympathy for the guy, and concern for his father. It looked like Dad would be ok, so that was a blessing. This young man was going to impressive lengths to deliver a memorable Christmas to his children. We reached his stop and I popped the doors, delivering in my own way a gift to his awaiting family.

Despite an inconvenient schedule, many routes had connected today. Though we eventually return to our own orbits, for these brief moments we share the same flight paths.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Catching whales

Saturdays found me driving the 55, serving the Commercial Boulevard corridor from Galt Mile by the beach to Hiatus Road in close proximity of the Everglades. Thanks to a sizable loop at the west end of the route, the actual starting point is at NW 94th Avenue, east of Hiatus. It was no longer raining, but the streets were slick and I had to use the wipers as cars sprayed mist on the windshield.

The sun rose on a quiet weekend morning. Ridership and traffic were lighter than usual. The first round trip came and went without event. It is days like this when the ghosts of Broward County past come out. The light slants low, the pace of Life is slow, and you get a glimpse of the laid back days when people had time to breathe. And time to care.

We were heading east, but still way out west at University Drive when a 30ish man boarded with a fishing pole. I'm a Florida boy so fishing is in my blood, and I asked if he had a good spot. He was going to Anglin's Pier in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, forty minutes down the road. His expectations were kept in check.
"I'm not trying to catch a whale."

The pier came into sight not long after we crossed the Intracoastal, which meant it was time for us to turn south on Bougainvilla Drive and make our turn around at Galt Mile. This brought us back on to A1A going north, and to a rest at our layover in front of the Starbucks at 36th St. The wall of condo skyscrapers are all you can see to the east here, but the occasional whiff of salty air reminds you that the Atlantic is beyond them.

Time to go west again, and a couple of stops in we pulled up to a man with both hands cupping beside his eyes, as if to shield for sun glare while squinting at the headsign.
"Are you the 55? I can't see the sign."
The headsign had been blank all day so there was nothing to see there. We shared this stop with Route 11 so I assured him it was the 55. He told me a workplace accident had lodged a sharp object in his eye. He was on his way to the hospital to have it examined.

The next few hours slipped by in a hazy daydream of kids on playgrounds, people walking their dogs, shoppers tending to errands, and all the other activities that sprout on a sleepy Saturday.

My last trip was a short one, eastbound ending at 441 and passing the bus on to my relief. Last trips have a reputation for delaying the bus from a timely arrival. So naturally I wasn't surprised when I spotted an old man in a wheelchair giving it his level best to get to the bus stop. I was already there at University and saw him in the mirror when I was ready to pull away. Since it was the weekend and would be awhile till the next bus came, there was no way I was gonna leave him behind - especially after his valiant effort. He was so excited to catch the bus that he rushed the boarding process, catching his wheel on the edge of the ramp. Now he decided to watch the wheel, sticking his head past the side of the wheelchair perilously close to the door jamb.
   'Watch your head!' I advised him, as he was so focused downward.
"You ever try to watch your own head?!" His response was quick, as if he'd used it more than once before.

Our delay was minimal and I still got to the relief point on time. The bus would continue on with a new driver and new riders, picking up where we left off. They'd make their own shadows in the slanting light, hopefully taking time to breathe - and just a little time to care.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Two of a kind

Long routes can mean long shifts, so when you've got eleven hours on the clock ahead of you, it's best to just settle in and let the good times roll. The long route today was the 2, dedicated to nearly the full length of University Drive, a broad artery running through the swollen western suburbs. Generally straightforward and sedate, like any route it has its hairy moments.

The day's schedule called for a northbound start out of West Terminal a little before 6 that morning. On those dark weekdays when the city is still dreaming, most of those on the bus are the first sign of its awakening. There are exceptions, and one boarded at Oakland Park Boulevard.
"Is it possible I could get a ride to Commercial? I cannot find him," she asked with pursed lips. She held her hand out with rubbing fingertips. If there were coins there, I couldn't see them. Jail ink on thin forearms and dirty blonde hair were signs of more than one rough night. A light rain appeared soon after, growing heavier as we drove into it. She exited at Commercial, but not before spreading some cheer in the gloom.
"Happy holidays, everyone," she called out to the rest of us. "Shitruffenuff. Thank you friendbro." Her words were light, trailing her as she disappeared into the drizzly dark.

While she looked for 'him', we found our way to the north layover. A Breeze bus showed up and the driver shut it down. It was running slow and he'd be waiting for road service to check it out. Our 2 bus was going strong though, so off we went, picking up a waitress, talking about bus routes and long hours.

The Breeze is a limited stop route, and at every shared stop at least one person asked if it was coming. For those needing to go far down the line, the Breeze is the most direct way, with fewer stops and bypassing West Terminal. I could only tell them it was delayed, but would be coming.

The sun pushed the night out of the way and set to work drying the damp earth. Rain-weighted branches spread low on the poincianas, jacarandas, and mahoganies surrounding West Terminal. Flocks of white ibis pecked in the lawns around Westfield Broward Mall, grabbing fat grubs brought up by the saturated ground.

Down south at Pembroke Commons, an older woman boarded, her arms laden with bags and cleaning supplies.
"I'm going to put my things down," she informed as she walked by the fare box. Some people will put their things on the floor to swipe their pass, but for her "the bus is so wet, and sometimes they don't clean them. If I was cleaning the buses, they would be sooo clean."

We finished the trip a few minutes down, but still had ten minutes to stretch. Our next trip, going back north, was nearly two hours of driving bliss. It was that magic window between the morning rush and the lunchtime crowds. The road was a conveyor belt gliding us along unimpeded. It was the type of trip that becomes forgettable by its very smoothness. It was also the calm before a storm no one had forecast.

A middle-aged man was waiting at Wiles, barely into our brand new trip southbound.
"I need to get to University Hospital." A request like that prompts me to make sure EMS isn't required. Nope, he just wants to go to the hospital in Tamarac. Travis McGee fans will remember this hospital as the scene of Gretel Howard's untimely demise in The Green Ripper.

At Royal Palm Boulevard a young woman patiently waited with her toddler son and mother. They had a stroller which I helped stow as they had their hands full with the boy and accessories. Grandma was very appreciative: "You're the first one to be so generous and help!" Of course I'm not the only one, but it was a nice thing to say.

The day degenerated after that. A horrific two-car crash at 50th St created a serious delay which knocked us down by seven minutes.

At West Terminal, another bus operator spotted me and had to have some fun.
"Thank God the month is almost over and I won't have to look at your face anymore at the office!" My 'Operator of the Month' poster was still posted in the Dispatch lobby.

Massive congestion around the Broward Mall leading to the I-595 interchange soon proved to be an epic traffic jam crawling south of Broward Boulevard. This stretch is notorious for that, although today it had started way earlier than usual. There is no way out of it, so the only option is to inch along at glacial speed until it eventually thinned out. By the time we got to 30th St about a mile later, we were more than thirty minutes late. A student from NSU across the street must have been waiting for awhile when she boarded and asked, "Do you know what time the last bus came?" 'No, I don't. We're all backed up from the traffic,"I answered while pointing my thumb back. Here traffic was heavy but moving nicely south of 595, so from her vantage point she had no idea what we'd just endured the previous half hour. I spared her the details.

The clock said we were more than 40 minutes down when we finally turned on to 207th St in Miami Gardens. No time to stretch or even get out of the seat after that 2 1/2 hour grind. So I picked up, dropped off, and spun it back north for my final trip of the day.

On Miramar Parkway, I picked up the vet in the wheelchair, service dog on his lap. Customers impatient after the long wait skipped by him rather than let him board first. Inconsiderate perhaps, but we would take all the time we needed to lower the ramp and let him board safely. Along with the faithful pet he calls a brother to his daughters.

We were back on University moving nicely but not making up any time. After Sheridan St, another #2 going the other way passed us. It was the third one in the last ten minutes, an indicator that the morass we'd been caught in was still wreaking havoc. More surprising were the four #2 buses within a mile span after we left West Terminal. The accident at 50th St we'd gotten through earlier was still not cleared, and had grown out of proportion as early weekend traffic flooded the streets.

Long routes and long shifts can be exhausting, taking their toll on you even when you're letting the good times roll. You give it your all and leave a piece of yourself on the road. Sometimes that piece tugs on your heart a little bit, not wanting the good times to end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ringing true


Midweek fill-in on the 19, rolling on 441 from Lauderhill Mall to Sandalfoot Boulevard in Boca. The relief point was at Turtle Creek and it was a pleasant surprise to take over from a driver who was a recent graduate of the operator training program. Like a relay race, she passed me the baton - only this one was sixty feet long. The transition was smooth and I continued the course down to the Hill on time.

An old co-worker from a previous life was there, waiting for the 40. We fist-bumped, then he spotted his bus and ditched me. A heavy overcast had settled over the south end of the route, but it was cool and dry. No sooner did we turn back on to 441 than we came to a halt at the rear end of a back-up. A disabled car at 16th St was delaying us at a critical point in the route, setting us back before we really got started. We finally got through about seven minutes later, and that deficit would stick with us for the next hour.

A teen girl got on at 24th St with a shy look about her. "Just got out of school, I don't have no dollah," she explained as she boarded. Her boyfriend jumped in behind her, pointing and mumbling. I didn't catch what he said and called him back. "I'm with her," he clearly said this time.

When we got to Oakland Park Boulevard there was a minor glitch in the matrix when two unrelated people, a man and a woman several spots apart, both asked with similar curiosity: "This isn't the Breeze is it?" The question itself wasn't unusual, just a bit uncommon since the headsign was working and clearly didn't read Breeze. Their identical phrasing and delivery were uncanny.

A teenage boy looked confused at Kimberly while trying to operate the bicycle rack. Apparently a first-timer, I hopped out to assist him. It's a simple process and speeds things along if I help, plus he'd know how to do it himself next time.

We finally neared the county line when just before Hillsboro Boulevard a passenger asked with mild humor: "Driver, do you hear ringing in your sleep?" They were referring to the ding of countless stop requests. I may have dreamt of that tinny tone in the early days, now years of conditioning had morphed it into a subconscious command to turn on the blinkers and stop by the side of the road.

The next trip found us in the ever-growing afternoon traffic, and we were getting the worst of it going south. I was stuck in the pull-in stop at 12th St in North Lauderdale, started inching forward in anticipation of a gap coming our way in the endless stream. If we could just slide the bus in there... out of my left hand blind spot a running man triggered my instinct to press the brakes. An older gentleman in an untucked white guayabera had decided to dart from the median and through our gap right in front of the bus. His blind trust that no harm would come to him made me shudder. I let him on as another opportunity to exit the bus trap presented itself. I asked the man to have a seat before we moved, but he remained standing and responded with a smile. His curious mannerisms were reminiscent of Harpo Marx: playful gesticulations with his duffel bag, bowing, and prayer hands. He finally sat down briefly as we got to the end.

During the whole shift a woman's forceful voice made periodic announcements in the back of the bus. It was a jarring contrast to the even-volumed male voice which made announcements in English. She was BCT's Haitian Creole announcer, and it sounded like she was yelling from inside a bathroom. I had named the male voice Izzy after the company that made him; his predecessor was a distinguished woman's voice I called Maggie. The new Haitian woman telling us about bus safety needed a name as well; Marie had a nice ring to it. They may be disembodied voices residing on a microchip, but they speak to us for hours, more often than most people in our lives. Maybe their words even ring in our sleep.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What's in a name

In reviewing the names I've been called over the last few months, it's clear that we're running out of options. It's only a handful of new ones, and the list is dwindling. Despite the shortness, it's still a mix of sweet nothings and zingers. Browardians have no problem calling their bus drivers by all manner of descriptions. Here are some new ones to add to the archive.

-Leonardo DiCaprio
-Doll
-My driver
-White Boy
-Shakespeare
-Darlin'

---

List One

Boss
Brotha
Man
Sir
Mon
Partner
Chief
Bus Driver
Papa
Se├▒or
Captain
Sweetheart
Ma'am
Pops
Bro
Buddy
Sweetie
Young Man
Papi
Michael J. Fox
Superstar
Bud
Driver
Honey
Brother
Guy
Cap'n
Operator
My Favorite
Darling
Kid
Pussycat
Dude
My Friend
Mister
Big Dog
Baby
Monsieur
Cutie
Papacito
My Man
Stranger
Ami
Dahling
Handsome
Babydoll

---

List Two

Good boy
Bus man
My baby
Mayor
My boy
Boss man
Slick
My brotha
Papito
Champ
Big man
Big fella
Dawg
Young brotha
Bud
My main man
Sonny
Doogie Howser
Homie
Cowboy
Tiger
Johnny Depp
Pal
General
My son
Killa
Trooper
Podner
Mr. Bus Man


---

List Three

-Hustla
-Blue
-Bo
-Kennedy
-Billy Bob Thornton
-Dumb Ass Cracka
-Kiddo
-My Potna
-Bubble Burster
-Clark Kent
-Big Bo
-Mr. Driver
-The Man

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Open door policy

"You're late, Papa, late!" The middle-aged man chided me with a relaxed Jamaican accent as he paid his fare one clinking quarter at a time. He was right - we were two minutes behind schedule. The predawn darkness at 41st St may have altered his sense of time, or maybe he'd just missed the previous bus twenty minutes earlier. Either way, to him we were late and most likely everyone else on board were equally anxious to get where they needed to be. The cabin of the sixty-foot 441 Breeze filled steadily with the faces of the waking city.

The Miami Subs just south of Griffin Road was a conspicuous beacon on our dim journey. A crew was applying stucco in the harsh wash of flood lights. Traffic is still friendly at this hour so we were never more than five minutes down, even though we had to take it easy on the Swiss cheese stretch of road under construction in Hollywood.

We were on time when we got to County Line Road, with only two more stops between us and the layover at Golden Glades Interchange. I serviced the stop and clicked the door lever closed, but the rear doors remained open. An interlock prevents a bus from moving when these doors are open, so I parked it and got up to investigate. Nervous eyes looking on became nervous voices wondering what the problem was.
"What happened? Are you going to get me to the Glades before 7?" I recognized her as a long time regular from when I drove her home in the evenings on this route. She had to make her connection for her job in downtown Miami. The doors were able to be coaxed shut and we booked it south. When we arrived at Golden Glades with ample time for her to transfer, she made it a point to thank me on her way out.
"You did well. I commend you." These are the commendations that encourage me daily. They come by the busload, each one cherished, knowing they will never collect dust like the paper kind.

Sticky stops

Early morning buses are extremely critical for the riding public. Oftentimes, connections must be made where jobs and livelihoods are on the line. As a bus operator, it is up to me to make sure my bus is where it needs to be, when it's scheduled to be there. While pre-tripping the bus one morning I discovered sticky residue all over the driver's console, where commonly used controls are located. The good men in the service line took care of it and soon I was through the gates - eight minutes late. Fortunately the start point at Central Terminal is some miles from the garage, giving me a chance to make up some of that time. The minutes were dropping off like magic, I pulled off 95 to Broward eastbound, confident about starting service close to on time. A turn on 7th Ave, then another on 4th St and the terminal was in sight when red lights started flashing in the darkness. The ear-pounding bells of the railroad crossing began their clanging and I could only sit, wait, and watch as the time gains disappeared. The first inclination is frustration, but when you actually pay attention and look at the train you have to marvel at its strident persistence. It's been rolling on the same path through Broward County since 1896. We finally pulled out of Central Terminal, but the damage was done and we would never be on time this trip.

A 'ghost in the machine' was creating a peripheral distraction: The headsign would randomly go blank, the annunciator would occasionally stream out its usual technobabble ("Offset" this and "Bootloader" that) at a loud volume that couldn't be muted. Strangely the fare box was mute, confusing people when they swiped their passes and no affirmative tone beeped back at them. Those problems were minor and probably the types of things only an operator dwells on. Once we're in service, they take second place and our customers are the top priority.

About halfway in to the shift, we pulled up to a stop by a grocery store. A sometime-regular with beard and beret boarded almost backwards as he was looking back at something in the parking lot. "A fight," he explained. I wanted no part of that and was ready to leave when a young man in his 20s appeared from the rows of cars. In orange t-shirt and khaki shorts, arms hanging with grocery bags, we couldn't very well leave him in a parking lot brawl so I kept the doors open for one more passenger before we got out of there. With both feet aboard, he turned and yelled with fiery anger back from where he'd come, "If I had a gun I'd shoot you, bitch!" Now it was definitely time to roll. He slid his fare in the box and with the flick of an internal switch became a different person. In calm and gentle voice he spoke: "Hey, did you see that guy? He's a KKK."
I never did see that guy, we were already gone.

The bus is a moving ecosystem, however just like a stationary environment, the weather changes. The storm of that previous trip moved through and sunshine took its place. At Holy Cross Hospital, Minnie Rose and her owner boarded. Candace's senior dogs provide pet therapy for senior humans, and Minnie Rose is a sort of resident therapy dog on Broward Transit. Her social media is covered with the smiles of all those who happen to ride with her - including myself. The animals were well-behaved, sharing their instant friendship and reminding us how simple it is to be kind to one another regardless of obvious physical differences.

Life gets sticky at inopportune times. We clean it up as best we can and ride on to the next stop...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Can't beat that

Ahhh, Sundays on Federal Highway. The slow day of the week, when all chaos and furor subside to give us a day of rest. This shift on the 10 meant starting with the rising sun, a hopeful time when the day is born anew. Pre-tripping a bus at the garage acquaints an operator with the personality of the machine he'll be operating that day. It doesn't matter if they all came off the same assembly line, they each have their own quirks and glitches. The ghost in the machine today presented itself as a permanently blank headsign and a rear door in no hurry to close. The first was no big deal, in fact I prefer it since it gives me another opportunity to greet my passengers. Their quizzical looks at stops shared with other routes are replaced with either a smile of relief when I announce the route, or wondering when the right bus is coming by. The second glitch becomes a frustrating time-eater, but everything else was operating fine and it was Sunday after all - the slow day of the week.

The streets were shiny from overnight rain, not exactly wiper weather anymore except for a brief moment while deadheading downtown. An overcast sky, but the clouds were bright in Broward County. Sunday service is more spread out, so I couldn't assume a missing leader bus as my cabin quickly filled. We were packed full by the Gateway Curve, including two folks in wheelchairs, less than twenty minutes into the trip. That snowball effect that occurs even in subtropical regions had begun, and the deficit in the schedule kept growing as we kept going north. Five minutes down, 7, 8, 12, etc. At the last stop in Broward before crossing the Hillsboro inlet into Boca Raton, a regular rider awaited by the edge of the curb. An older man, he can come across a bit gruff until you catch his brand of humor.
"Are you a bus driver?" He asked as he boarded.
   'I'm fakin' it! I got this uniform at Goodwill.' I joked back.
"I'm looking for a driver who can keep the bus on time every day."
   'On time?' I asked, reliving the delay-filled memory of the trek all the way up here.
"To the second!" His well-timed punchline was good-natured and included a beaming smile as he exited stage left into the cabin.

Another quirk of the bus revealed itself this trip: the kneeler did not work every time I tried to operate it. Also the ramp only opens with the bus kneeled, but I was able open it manually for a wheelchair passenger to roll on board.

Ample recovery time at the north end gave me a few minutes to get out of the seat before heading back south. About fifteen minutes in, a middle-aged man boarded cursing and blessing aloud in turn. The drugstore didn't have his prescription, which triggered his outrage, quickly followed with words of politeness. When he exited a ways down the road, I wished him well and hoped this trip had brought him to some relief.

At Sample, a group of men including restaurant workers stood impatiently. They'd been waiting a long time, and were wondering why. I explained this was the first bus of the day servicing that stop, though two earlier buses started a little south of here at Copans Road. They were thankful for the information.

We were getting back near the Gateway Curve again when a familiar figure seated at a bus bench motioned to rise. His impressively massive dreads and walker are part of his distinctive style. He is one of our homeless regulars, with a consistent kindness that can only come from strength of character in spite of the daily struggle he endures. It's a pleasure to have him ride with me, though others may be put off by inconsistent hygiene.
"Happy holiday..." he replied to my initial greeting, in voice quiet and clear.
   'Another exciting day.' I responded as I tend to, thankful for the moment.
"Another exciting day, huh?" He pondered. "Another day in paradise. Can't beat that!"

It was time to go north again, and this trip began to make up for the first, as we were able to more closely adhere to the schedule. We'd just crossed over into Pompano when my old friend the Penny Lady shuffled over to the curb as we approached. An encounter with her earlier in the year had left an indelible impression on me about the importance of service to our customers. I appreciate her for that, and also for her frankness - she lets you know how she feels. It gives us a chance to win her over with a kindness that she may not receive as she goes about her errands. She is an older woman and short in stature, so one request she makes every time she boards the bus is to lower it for her. I do it automatically now whenever she rides. Unfortunately for me, the bus kneeler chose this moment not to cooperate. No amount of toggle-jiggling would activate the lowering mechanism, so I could only apologize and ask her to be careful and take her time while boarding. She accepted the situation and we continued. About a mile up the road a man with a cane needed to board, and this time the kneeler worked. My penny friend immediately became loud and upset at this unfairness, accusing me in front of everyone in no uncertain terms of choosing when it would work. She took note of the bus number when she exited, telling me she would call it in. I encouraged her to do just that, as it could possibly help the problem get resolved.

Up at 10th St in Deerfield, a 3-man crew was applying fresh stripes in the crosswalks. The powerlines at Eller Drive were covered with flocks of starlings.

Our final southbound and we would soon be in the home stretch this fine Sunday. I held my breath when the Penny Lady came into view just past Copans. Would the kneeler work this time? Yes, it worked like a charm. Not only that, it worked a second time when she exited, pleasing her enough to tell me she wouldn't call it in since it works again. I would report it to Maintenance at the end of the shift.

By now church was out, people were awake, and the street was buzzing. Massive congestion around Best Buy was good for their business, but knocked us back five minutes before we could break through.

Well into the afternoon now, moving ever northward where I would be relieved on the road. Before that transition however, I needed to shift lanes on Sunrise Boulevard at the Gateway Curve. The relentless gridlock of sun-hungry beach goers inching eastward weren't giving us an inch, much less forty feet to slide a bus into. Eventually the bus gets where it needs to go, and long after leaving the congestion behind we were finally way uptown at Atlantic Boulevard. Someone was playing music without headphones, but low enough that no one seemed bothered by the classic Marley jam.
"Don't worry, about a thing..."

It was Sunday after all - the slow day of the week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Annum Recognition: 3

Three years ago this blog was birthed from the boundless life flowing through our streets every day. A year later the famed dragon blood tree on Andrews Avenue downtown still displayed the mature, stately glory it had been for decades. The following year, this venerable rarity showed its age as nearly half the plant broke away. A valiant effort to preserve the remnant ultimately proved to be a losing battle against time and the march of all living things back into the earth. Our community is blessed to have a plentiful share of earth's wonders, and a large number of residents who appreciate them.

Our very presence here, on the end of this distinctive peninsula, is a wonder in itself. With a limestone bedrock laid down by untold trillions of microscopic sea creatures, a sandy topsoil deposited here in the distant past after eroding from Appalachian mountains that were once as tall as the Himalayas, and abundant rainfall that prevents the land from turning into another Sahara Desert (with which it shares the same latitude) - things just grow here.

Broward County's constantly booming population contributes almost 2 million residents to the tri-county total of over 6 million. Those numbers aren't getting smaller, and public transit is a vital service providing crucial support for our quality of life. With more people comes more everyday life, and that's what flows through my bus every day.

---

This morning shift on the 10 was only a couple round trips. It was by no means the first bus of the day, starting downtown at the Central Terminal shortly before sunrise. New LED lights in the terminal lit up the rows bright as day until the real thing could take over. The city was waking up with a bubbling frenzy, and now the bus was right in the middle of it. My follower bus pulled in behind me, creating a brief moment of confusion for passengers until I waved them aboard my bus and we pulled out of our cloistered bay and plunged into service among the heaving pulse of the boulevard.

I pulled over to the first stop at Stranahan Park for a man waiting patiently. When he asked for "US 1" I had to make sure which part of US 1 he needed; the 10 services the part north of Broward Boulevard, the #1 services all points south. It was the #1 he needed and which he'd just missed, but I assured him another was on the way and he was at the right stop. From that point we have to get the bus over to the left lane before reaching US 1 a couple blocks away. As I signaled and gradually shifted lanes, a car behind crazily honked its horn far more than necessary. Although I could see him clearly and yielded for him, that motorist couldn't know for certain and was taking every measure to announce his intention. Such an attentive driver is much appreciated when we are routinely interacting with distracted drivers.

We made it through the congestion in time to get in line at the red light for US 1 before turning north. Ahead of us in the inside turn lane was a box truck for a bakery. The rear roll-up door was open, and the driver (a young man in his 30s) was out of the seat and tending to stacks of trays loaded with bread, hastily rearranging and strapping them down. A woman jumped out of the passenger door, hurried to the back to check on him, then jumped back in to her own seat before the light turned green.

Bikes were loaded and unloaded, someone told me "it ain't no good morning" after I'd wished them a good one, another asked me to let them know when we got to Commercial, still another said you couldn't pay him to wear those shorts, and the bus annunciator was announcing coded techno-talk during one of its updates. "Can you repeat that message?" an older man joked.

It was to be expected that we'd pull into our north layover a little late, but we still had a few minutes to stretch out before heading back south. Transit is a game of minutes, and sometimes seconds. A few blocks south of Sample Road, I noted an empty bus stop normally occupied by a young lady heading to work. I slowed and looked down the side street in case she was running late and it was a good thing or I wouldn't have seen her. She was winded as she hopped aboard smiling with gratitude. "Thank you so much! You got my back, man!"

The next trip north didn't have any exhibitionist bread trucks or snarky commentary, but the bus surely runneth over with sunshine. In fact, the lady I call the sunshine of Broward Transit paid a visit. In her cheery manner she shared her delight in the cool weather of the season and brightened the bus with her infectious smile. It was so catchy there was a double case of the smiles when we got up to Pompano where the two older Brazilian ladies awaited at their regular stop on the way to Boca.

All morning there had been a persistent sight at nearly every intersection: flocks of starlings. Immense numbers of them clouding the sky, covering powerlines and mast arms. This was not their daily ritual, but apparently it was the right time according to natural instinct. Starlings often remind me of the pin-feathered chicks I rescued awhile back. That episode impressed upon me how we are all like the little birds at some point, helpless and vulnerable in an overwhelming world.

Our final trip had only begun, we neared the Gateway curve to head up north one last time. An older gentleman boarded, his long white hair conjuring up the classic hippie image. He stood up front and in soft-spoken words shared his sadness.
"I almost committed suicide a month ago. The gun felt heavy, but I couldn't go through with it. If God could sacrifice his own son, who am I?"

I don't recall how I responded, though at the very least I listened with compassion and to make sure he was not a threat to himself or others. He was calm and spoke clearly. His pensive mood indicated someone at peace for the moment. Sometimes that's enough out here.

Light, dark, smiles, cynicism, and nature's timeless cycles. We are in the middle of it and there's no filter on the doors of the bus. This is the stuff of Life. And it's waiting at the next stop.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Keeps me alive

My regular early-morning start on the 2: Report at 5 a.m., inspect the bus, and roll down south to pull out in the dark at West Terminal. We had an old Gillig today, and these babies can move. Not that we'd have much need for speed out here on University Drive, a main trunk line through suburbia. Still, it's reassuring to know you have the option.

The day started like clockwork, on time and without incident. There wasn't going to be any excitement today, not out here. Nope, just the predictable routine of folks heading to work and school and errands. We were all here together to watch the sun rise from way inland. The sun decided to wake up late today, and when it was time to pull out of the north layover in Coral Springs, the sky was still wrapped in a dreary overcast. Large flocks of ibis flew low toward their grazing grounds in the east.

At Sample Road I issued a courtesy pass to a gentleman who paid for one on the 34 he just transferred from but hadn't received it since the farebox wasn't printing passes. We all got a little wake up call by the Plantation Fashion Mall when a woman boarding in sweats sucked the air out of the bus. The telltale scent of stale urine made it difficult to breathe, but she got off a few stops later and a squirt of deodorizer remedied the discomfort.

The day before, my picture had been posted in our garage lobby. It was a poster of my grinning mug, along with my name and Operator of the Month title. There are only twelve operators honored this way each year, so it was a welcome recognition that I was doing something right out here on the streets of Broward County.

The traffic was only creating a minor delay this morning, still leaving me a few minutes at 207th St to stretch out before I flipped it back north. At Pembroke Road a Jamaican man suggested in smooth cadence that a shelter be installed at that stop. It was a good suggestion as that stop gets plenty of play and other stops nearby have cover. I'd forgotten to bring my sunglasses this morning, but the misty dull light made them unnecessary. On the other side of the street, I waved at one of my classmates also driving for Team 2 today.

Our final south trip and we'd only just begun, approaching Sample again there was a flurry of arms waving us down. It was only two arms on one man, but his exuberant use of them is his trademark. I pick him up in various places around town. He's a tall man, and his height is enough to to announce his presence. Sometimes it's only one hesitant arm halfway extended toward the street, his free hand shyly tapping his chin. Another driver told him to do that at night and since then he takes no chances when the bus nears, even in broad daylight. I always laud him for his technique, telling him he sure knows how to stop a bus. He's a sweet soul, always friendly and sociable with me, inviting me to Christmas shows and other church events. He has a solid memory for numbers and dates, remembering the first time he rode Broward Transit back in the 1980s. The driver who advised him about hailing the bus also suggested holding up his cellphone in the dark. "In the 80s we didn't have cell phones," he thought out loud.

An older man who rode on a previous trip reappeared to ride back up; he'd missed his stop. The lunch time traffic was the worst of this ho-hum day, making us late to our south end layover. I took a couple minutes to stretch before the long trip north, knowing I'd get a break in the middle at West Terminal.

We left a minute behind schedule to make sure there were no last minute transfers from Miami buses and booked it west on 207th St, north on Douglas Road, then east on Miramar Parkway back to University. At the last stop on Miramar, a well-used stop by those transferring from the 28, was an older man in a motorized wheelchair. The stop is one of a few that are still at ground level, making for a big step into the bus. I kneeled it as low as it would go and swung out the ramp, which looked steeper than I would prefer. The senior took it in stride as he probably did often, and zipped up safely. His service dog came on with him, at home on the man's lap.
"He keeps me alive!" he praised his furry companion. "He knows when I'm hypoglycemic. I tell my daughters he's their brother. He's also the biggest chick magnet I've ever known."

It was well into the afternoon on this final trip, wrapping up a shift that had begun so many hours ago. In Davie, a lanky man boarded with clothing stained and soiled from the work of the day. He told us about the 150 foot tree he'd felled earlier, defying gravity in the rain-weighted limbs filling a space that was now empty. And confirming what I'd thought all those hours earlier, there wasn't any excitement today, not out here. Nope, just the predictable routine of folks heading to work and school and errands.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Make you smile

Delays and hindrances are the bane of many a bus operator, especially on busy routes with tight headways. The later we get, the more passengers we get who would otherwise be on our follower's bus. In those hurried moments, it helps to remember the wise words of a retired driver: "You're not late. You're right where you're supposed to be: in the seat, behind the wheel."

Any weekday afternoon on the 72 is notorious for its frenzied and relentless drive. So naturally, just such a run opened up for me to fill in one fine fall day. A straight eight hour shift sounded good to me, especially on the one and only Oakland Park Boulevard.

I signed out a taxi from the pool and positioned myself to relieve another driver on the road. The appointed relief time came and went, with no sign of my bus. Transit can be a game of minutes, so when it finally showed up eight minutes late I immediately took over and booked it westward.

That meant going through the busiest part of the route as traffic was warming up, and I soon found myself slipping further behind. A man not much older than me loaded his bike on the rack somewhere past Rock Island. His words boarded before he did. On the bus we're all instant friends, there's no need for tedious introductions. This sociable stranger was excited to tell me about his impending move to Virginia, with it's lower cost of living. About twenty minutes later my follower caught me and took over picking up duties the rest of the way to Sawgrass Mills at the end of the line.

I got to Sawgrass twenty-one minutes down. When I'm that late, there's no time to get out of the seat. Load everyone on and keep it moving. That meant another hour and a half of non-stop hectic activity: a packed bus, congested street, and all the other delays that work against us when we just need a little break. By the time this trip ended, I was ten minutes down and just in time to pull out again so I treated the layover like just another stop and kept it moving. No sooner did we turn off of A1A back onto Oakland than the drawbridge warning bells went off and we pulled into the line waiting for yachts to pass through the Intracoastal below.

We were only down two minutes at the next time point and for the first time in two and a half hours I was hopeful things would start flowing more smoothly. Then the Powerline Road back-up came into view. The height of rush hour got real quick, as everyone who clocked out at five tried to get on I-95 at the same time. With the highway on ramp only two blocks from Powerline, that intersection gets crushed. All three lanes were jammed, with an extra helping in the right lane, our lane.

The ever-advising marquee at Allied Bath was in view for quite awhile at this time, certainly long enough to read it leisurely since we weren't even moving:
SURROUND URSELF WITH
PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU
SMILE MORE

A middle-aged man stood up front as we crawled our way to the light. Perhaps it was one of the utility poles beside us that reminded him of the horrific accident that nearly ended him. His buddy was driving and he was in the front passenger seat when they plowed into a wood light pole at ninety miles per hour. He was in a coma for ten days. When he emerged, he had to learn how to speak and walk again. His plans to become an aeronautical engineer were dashed. I could only tell him he was a Miracle Man. He shared some colorful stories about childhood summers with his fire and brimstone preacher grandfather. His father drove buses for Greyhound. He was treated for his injuries at Broward General, where I was born.
 
We lost ten minutes trying to cover a few blocks, and as soon as we cleared the highway overpass the railroad warning bells sounded and it was a train's turn to delay our forward motion. As bad as these delays were, so early in the trip, once we reached 441 we were obliterated. It never snows here, but we get the snowball effect on a regular basis. Once we fall behind to a certain point, there's no catching up. The time deficit gets larger and larger. Fortunately that's where teamwork comes in, and when my follower caught me at University Drive we did the Sawgrass Shuffle to put some space between us. Again I would have to stay in the seat and keep it moving for the next trip. It meant starting about five minutes down, but I would no longer be down double digits this shift.

The worst of the traffic was now going the opposite direction and I was able to make up a few minutes as we serviced each time point: University Drive, 441, Powerline, US 1 and ultimately Galt Ocean Mile. The Galt is our layover and for the first time in five hours I had a few minutes to get out of the seat.

It felt good to finally be on time when I pulled out for the next trip west. As we approached the last stop on A1A, I spotted a squat, brawny figure desperately running across the street to catch the bus. He dodged impatient cars across the few lanes and made it in time. This was the first time I picked this man up, but I knew him well. It was Ciccio, the artist whose airbrush murals are seen all over town, especially on the east side. He didn't recognize me, probably because my appearance had changed considerably from when we last saw each other years before. Back then, I spent a fair amount of time visiting him almost daily at the site of his most ambitious local project, documenting the progress of his massive mural at Jaco Pastorius Park. That project did not end well and the artist seemed to disappear from the scene not long after. Now here he was in front of me again, in shorts and a white t-shirt smeared with red paint, hyping his friend's new restaurant where he had just run over from. His high strung energy and loquacious sociability were still very much alive, and I didn't want to kill the vibe by telling him who I was and possibly reminding him of a painful time (though it was not my doing). This was enough for me, to see him alive and well and dynamic as ever, telling me about his recent return after a lengthy stay in Costa Rica (naming all the towns), and letting me know to check out Rainmaker microbrewery in the rain forest.

There may always be bridges, traffic, and trains to delay us. We may also be late - but the timing is right and we're right where we're supposed to be.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Looks like Sweden

The drizzle in the early winter darkness provided slicked streets for my shift on the 10. I pre-tripped the bus and hopped on the highway for my starting point downtown at Central Terminal. These Monday morning runs were sweet. Even rush hour traffic barely affected our schedule.

One thing that did affect all of us on the bus was an annoying glitch in the onboard annunciator. Maybe it was a software update, but that uncanny man's voice would randomly  - and often - repeat his favorite phrases: "BOOTLOADER MENU" and "OFFSET ZERO", along with relentlessly long numbers and other techno gibberish. There was no way for me to stop it or even mute it. We would simply have to endure the machine's insistence on providing us with useless information at the expense of not announcing the actual stops. I would announce them old school style with my bus voice when the opportunity arose.

We flipped it around at Camino as the world settled into its groove. A friendly retiree who hadn't retired from Life boarded, asking about my Thanksgiving and if it was traditional. I told her there was no calamari on the menu and she responded by telling me about her Spanish food feast, no turkey.

The intersections rolled by: Sample, Copans, 14th St, Atlantic. A regular in his 30s made his way to the front of the bus as we approached his stop. His uniform was a t-shirt, shorts, and a ponytail.
"Looks like Sweden," he opined with a still-sleepy voice as he got off for another day at the boatyard. The blanketed sky was gray and pale, as if the sun was phoning it in.

Our first round trip in the books, I parked the bus at Central Terminal and headed across the street for breakfast. My friend the German bus fan came out as I was going in. He declined my offer of a breakfast burrito and coffee, and caught me up on his current situation.

The next trip got us pretty far uptown before an unfortunate scene spread before us. A horrific two-car crash forced one vehicle onto the median and the other by the curb. Shards of debris stretched for a block. One of our lanes was closed, but I couldn't tell about the other side. The only plus side to the incident was the location: it was right in front of Imperial Point Hospital.

A familiar face for years on this route awaited at Copans. He swiped his pass, which the farebox couldn't read, and begged for a day pass since "Other drivers do it." I had to apologize and remind him that I'm not other drivers and can't just give out passes. He rode to the end of the line.

About two-thirds of the way into the shift and we pick up the older gentleman who earlier had a court date regarding an open Corona on the beach. Now he was on his way back to court to finally resolve the issue.

The messy accident at Imperial Point was cleaned up quickly and we passed through the same space that had been chaos and gridlock an hour before.

Our final trip, and relief would be awaiting me at Copans Road. The stop before Atlantic had two slight figures by the sign. They were young Asian girls, with a single Margaritaville beach cruiser between them. It was a team effort to load it onto the bike rack, each taking one end. Their bike brought some color into the colorless afternoon. It was also blue and yellow, the national colors of Sweden.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Homemade angels

Night shifts are the quiet time, when debilitating traffic abates enough to keep the bus from running late. Other reasons can arise to throw us off, however. This was extra work, just a single round trip on the lengthy #81 starting at Central Terminal. My old classmate Alvin seemed surprised when I showed up to relieve him. He gave me a good report on the bus and let me know about the detour on 7th Avenue. We used Andrews to bypass the closure, which threw us off a couple minutes. This route is an hour and a half from end to end so we'd make it up down the line.

At the Hill I pulled into the 36 slot as if that's where we belonged. It was out of habit after countless dockings there. The 81 slot was right in front of the 36, and the folks waiting there motioned me to come to them. I'd already popped the doors open so once everyone had exited, I swung out and pulled forward, slightly kissing the platform with some side rubber. A woman looked on with concern.
"Are you ok?" She kindly asked.
   'We're ok!' I assured her, explaining the mix-up.

We remained a couple minutes down while servicing Hawaiian Gardens, Inverrary, Deepside, and Sunset Strip.  After the last timepoint we were able to more than compensate as we cruised down University Drive on route to West Terminal.

The second trip was the last trip, pulling out of the terminal just before 10:30 pm. Though the hour was late, it was also the first of the month, so I shouldn't have been too surprised about the three baby strollers we picked up before we even got to Sunset Strip. We went back the way we came, again through the endless apartment blocks in Deepside, a last pass through the curves of Inverrary, and a slow crawl around the dark corners of Hawaiian Gardens. We serviced the correct slot at Lauderhill Mall this time, glided through the neighborhood south of the Swap Shop, and finally emerged onto Broward Boulevard.

This was the home stretch, 30 blocks till the end of the run. We crested the I-95 overpass and came to a stop behind a 22 bus waiting at the red light. A frantic woman on the sidewalk was waving her arms, first at the bus ahead and getting no affirmation, then my way. I never wave or direct someone to approach the bus through traffic, but she took the initiative and when she stood at my doors I couldn't just leave her exposed out there. She boarded with pass in hand, talking to no one special about a trip "way out to Bumfuck, Egypt". It sounded like an adventure. She rode to the end of the line downtown, and while shuffling off took a moment to tell me I was her angel tonight for getting her home safely. She gifted me a small card with hand drawn art: colorful praying angel on one side, the opposite side reading Love Joy  ♥.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Nothing is something

Halloween morning on the 10, my bus number started with 13 and was acting up. The headsign would randomly go blank, confusing passengers waiting at stops served by multiple routes. One of those passengers was Dierdre, waiting under the black olives at her usual spot. She was talky this morning about everything on her plate, struggling along the tragic path of her legendary namesake.

The route rolled along, reliable and mostly on time. We pulled into the north layover, I popped the parking brake, and went to unclick my seat belt. Two men with the grit of street life on their skin and hair strolled by my open door, talking about the holiday. With the fresh sun casting gold in their faces, they glanced my way and one almost immediately pointed at me.
"Look at this guy, he's dressed as a bus driver!" He proclaimed.
   'That's my costume.' I agreed, a little pleased that the choice was made for me.

Mid-morning, and we were well up into Pompano. My friend the older Brazilian woman was huffing and puffing to cross the street, cutting it close this morning on her way to work. She made it ok, gasping and glistening from the effort.
   'Bom dia!' I greeted her with some of my sparse Portuguese.
Normally verbose, she could only respond with a wide smile as she paid the farebox and focused on catching her breath.

Late morning and our final southbound trip were both underway at the same time when another mature woman boarded in Deerfield Beach. Her white hair was a sign of advanced years, and she took full advantage of all of them.
"Oh, I have an extra dollar. Senior." She hurriedly offered up.
   'Put in a dollar.' I encouraged her.
"How old do you think I am? Be honest." She asked me unfairly.
   '60s?' I guessed after a hesitant assessment.
"I'll be 83 next..."
   'What's your secret?'
"Nothing." She answered, halting the topic. "I'm going to the church 'cuz my husband died five years ago. Cigarettes."

This quirky box on wheels glides up and down a major artery through our cities; a single cell among thousands containing a world within. What it holds will come and go, giving and taking in equal measure. Ain't that something.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Glorious wind

Saturday mornings on the 55 were always a relaxed affair. I'd start at the west layover by the 7-11 at Commercial and NW 94th Ave and head east to A1A, then down to the layover at Galt Mile. The bus never filled up and we could generally stay close to schedule. Old men who paid their dues and gave of themselves for our country would ride out to the VA clinic. Concerned friends would head the other way to see sick friends at Holy Cross hospital.

The day started before sun up at the west end, dark and dead quiet. There may have been a gentle breeze, too gentle to take note of. By the time we got to the other end, palms were whipping around like there was a tropical storm brewing. When you're a block and a half from the ocean, you're at the place where the wind is born. And these newborns were mussin' up hair and flingin' off ballcaps.

We were several trips in and way out on the west loop taking Hiatus Road down to Oakland Park when a living reminder of my days as young bus rider appeared. Several reminders actually, grazing among the scrub palmetto. Many years ago I was riding this route on the way to some store near Sawgrass Mills. There's an undeveloped stretch of what was probably farmland generations ago, on the west side of Hiatus. At some point it was no longer tended by a farmer, and became the domain of a herd of goats. It's hard to imagine this happening today, but back then on that day, the bus driver parked the bus beside the field, got out of the bus, and leisurely tossed food over the fence. The goats were ready for him and some may have eaten the bread out of his hands. There were about a dozen of them now, no longer interested in the passing bus. I had a brief idea to continue that old BCT driver's tradition, but thought better of it. The time for that has passed.

It was time to trade calm nostalgia for relentless bluster as we transitioned from the west side to the east end. At the pull in bus stop behind the beach supply store on Galt Ocean Drive we had a rocky layover, with extremely strong wind gusts shaking the bus. Two men doing their best frat boy imitations complete with small bottles of booze showed up in a good mood.
"Where you from, mate? What country?" One asked with a British accent.
   'Right here.' I replied.
"And you don't love this glorious wind?!" He asked with his arms outstretched, basking in the buffeting.
A question that didn't require an answer. The wind is only here for a moment, long enough to invisibly nudge us as a reminder that so are we.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Traffic floe

School was out on this Friday, but we'd still be at University. I had an 11 hour shift on the #2, covering University Drive from Coral Springs down to Miami Gardens. It takes about 2 hours by bus, and the driver is usually the only one who does the full length.

This driver was out in the bus yard at 5 a.m., looking over the coach with a flashlight to make sure the windows were intact and tires inflated. The annunciator wasn't working and the PA was nonfunctional, so my throat was going to get a workout today as I announced stops the Old School way. Everything looked road-ready and off I headed for a lengthy deadhead to the West Terminal.

The folks I pick up on the first trip north are either getting off a night shift or on their way to their own early-morning sign-in. The wide street is pleasantly empty at that time.

This being a weekday, the University Breeze was also running. That limited stop route has the same northern terminus as the local, but goes even further south to the Golden Glades station. I chatted with the Breeze driver during our layover and made my pullout five minutes before his scheduled departure. He finally caught up with us just before Atlantic, but we somehow kept pace with each other all the way down to McNab. After that I never saw him again.

The sun had supposedly risen soon after we started this trip, but you never would have known it from the heavy gray overcast. Laying over at the West Terminal midway through the trip, another driver came over the radio requesting police assistance. He could hardly be heard over the chaotic yelling in the background. These sort of incidents are unusual in the morning, as most people on the bus have a reason to be there. The driver soon called back to cancel his request since the troublemaker had exited.

Another quirk about this bus is its saggy rack. Even at full height, the bike rack hangs so low that the wheel bracket hits the street and can't swing freely over the bike tire. Repeatedly, cyclists make the same lifted palm gesture asking me to raise the bus. 'That's as high as she goes,' I tell them, and we figure out a way to get everything secure.

A few hours into the shift, the morning rush has abated and we approach Stirling Road. The last pasture on this street sticks out like the anomaly it is, surrounded by continuous development. It's a prime corner and it's obvious the dozen cows grazing there are mostly for tax purposes until the right project comes along. They don't seem to mind the flurry of human activity as they chew their cud under a sober house billboard with a smiling young woman and the headline "I got better at..."

In Davie, we picked up Douglas at his usual stop. He was looking for work today, filling out applications and keeping positive.
"I do opinion polls, so I'm a Research Scientist!" He joked.
When he said he's also a sign waver, I suggested he use a fancy term for that as well, perhaps "Placard Exhibitionist" or "Marquee Exhibitor".

This was during election season and West Regional Library was an early voting site, so a massive crop of campaign signs had taken over the grounds there.

Our final trip south also coincided with lunchtime at the most congested part of the route. After leaving West Terminal and getting back on University, the interchange with I-595 becomes an impenetrable log jam of bumper to bumper traffic for a couple miles. To make the slow crawl worse, the bus schedule is stuck in the 1990s and only allows half as much time as needed to emerge on the other side. The faint whine of sirens somewhere nearby gradually grew louder. Finally, the crying ambulance appeared in the middle of the stopped river of vehicles, steadily plowing its way through accommodating cars like an ice breaker in Siberia.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Bad luck

Early morning shifts haven't been my thing for awhile, I'm a night owl at heart. The plus side of starting early is that you also finish early. This shift on the 34 was over by lunch. First I would pre-trip the bus at the garage, roll it east on Sample Road taking care to pop the doors open at two sets of railroad tracks, and wait at the start point for my pullout time. This was the fourth bus of the morning, and the last moment when the street would be asleep.

The bus was one of our newer models, which meant it was a slow starter. It's a great feature for safety, easing forward so nobody falls down. However, it also means by the time the bus has built up speed someone pulls the cord and the process starts over again.

We were filling up quickly with polite school kids, responsive to my morning greetings in a way that would be out of place on other routes. It indicated good parenting and presumably good schooling at Coral Springs High.

This first trip was a smooth one, traffic was beginning to trickle out of apartment complexes but there was plenty of lane space. After servicing the Tri-Rail station I could make out a dark figure jaywalking ahead of us, so brought the bus to a stop well short of the traffic light in the left turn lane. A man in some shade of green scrubs crossed in a daze, toting a clear hospital bag. After crossing Andrews, he shuffled across the width of Sample to the bus stop. Two others already waiting there boarded before he stepped into the light of the cabin. A cast on his left forearm and a patchwork of bandage strips on the other covered whatever damage had been done to his arms. His face was uncovered though, and I'm sad to say looked like it had been through a meat grinder. Talking must have been painful, for he did little of it except to ask for a ride. Gave him a brief look over to make sure he had no exposed open wounds. Everything looked either covered or coagulated so he was good to go. He stood up front the whole way to 441, holding on to the bag, apparently with his original clothes inside.

The students piled out at Rock Island, just as polite on the way to their classes.

Farther down the road, on a later trip, a familiar face. He always has something nice to say.
"You're bad luck! You're bad luck for the people, whatever route you're on! There's always bad news!" He greeted me with his regular niceties.
   'What's the bad news today?' I asked.
"Nothin' yet, you're on time." He answered, cooling down on his pleasantries for me but letting the whole bus know how he felt about other "bad luck" drivers, "asshole" drivers, and "Jesus freak" drivers.
"That's my church over there." He proudly informed me. "Actually I'm a member of the Methodist Church at 86th Ave."
   'The one with the pumpkins?'
"Yeah."

Our final eastbound and the sky was overcast, though things brightened on the bus at University when I picked up the Hawaiian man who has a treasure trove of stories and trivia. Not especially talky today, he headed for the seats, and was still sure to see me on his way out.
"You're getting to be an old pro, a veteran." He complimented my driving.
   'We try, we try.'
"Hey, that's all you can do."

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hold on loosely

Sometimes the longest days are the ones you sign up for. When I signed up to work on my day off, I was given an early morning report time, but no assignment. After sitting around for a couple hours, I was cut loose and instructed to return for a PM shift. Dispatch gave me an evening piece on the 62, one of those neighborhood routes not restricted to any one road, but meandering around the north part of the county. Senior drivers favor the route for its low key pace. About the only downsides are the hour and a half trip from end to end, and layovers that are over all too quickly. There are a hundred turns, but some drivers like that.

When my bus arrived late to the relief point at the Tri-Rail Park & Ride, I was ready to hop in the driver's seat and go. A handful of passengers were also waiting, I gestured them on board while getting my mirrors positioned. A young man on the platform asked if this bus went to such and such a place, I calculated he needed the 62 going the other direction and let him know. Shut the doors and away we pulled out.

No sooner were we back on route than I could hear the whispers in the back about my response to the young man, and realized my ignorance had failed us both, at least temporarily. Although we were going the wrong direction for his destination, this bus was the bus he needed since we would be the next one going his way once we turned around at the end. Being a fill-in today, I wasn't familiar with the times between buses on this route.

We completed the trip and looped back around to the station stop. The man had crossed over to the correct platform and I apologized for the confusion. The mix-up wouldn't have gotten him there any faster, but at least he could be comfortable on the bus. He was gracious about it and was actually thankful to just be going the right direction now. He had taken the train up from Miami and was on his way to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery over on 441, to visit the grave of his girlfriend. Jaco Pastorius, the world's greatest bass player, is also buried at Our Lady and although this gentleman wasn't familiar with Jaco, he loved to hear about the connection. She had died a couple months earlier of complications from a car crash. Rather than languish in mourning, he was vitalized talking about her and the positive impact she had on him. He rode with us again on the return trip a couple hours later, impressed by the peaceful setting of her plot, ever grateful she was no longer suffering. Disappearing into the bus, I could hear him streaming an old Jaco video, perhaps Portrait of Tracy.

At 31st Avenue a couple boarded. Sweat-sticky from a day in the sun and inebriated from drinking the loose change given to them through car windows, the man wanted to go to a hospital on US 1, concerned about his mysteriously swelling leg. She would keep him company, taking his mind off his discomfort by nagging him to change his mind and skip the hospital. In the midst of their loud arguing, a polite young lady boarded. Like an angel of peace she glided on. The couple were unfazed, locked in their personal struggle.

The final trip was underway, and a day that had begun more than 13 hours earlier would be wrapping up in another hour or so. On Nob Hill, just south of Southgate, a boy was slowly dribbling his basketball on the sidewalk under the streetlights. I noted it out of habit, using the awareness bus operators have for anything moving in their vicinity. Maybe there was a pebble on the sidewalk, or the pavement was uneven, but the basketball took a sharp bounce out of the boy's control and came our way. I braked as quickly and safely as possible, and laid on the horn as the boy instinctively chased it. He changed his mind as the ball rolled under the still-moving bus and lined up perfectly with the rear wheels before making a POP! sound. There were no injuries, and no damage to the bus. Still, there was reason to sympathize with the boy, for his loss that a moment earlier was unimaginable.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Rosy in the rain

The sky apparently forgot it was Sunday because the drizzle and downpours had settled in for the morning. Rain is a blessing as it brings growth and keeps everything green, but it makes for sloppy days on the bus. Passengers have to keep their belongings covered and themselves sheltered as they wait for us to arrive. It makes for uncomfortable misery and a driver's patience knob needs to be turned up.

Florida's mountains are in the sky, and giant ones were on the horizon ahead of me as I left the garage and headed downtown to start my shift. Central Terminal had a sizable crowd waiting for my bus, another result of the wetness. Inclement weather alters regular travel patterns, causing unexpected surges in ridership. The wheelchair passenger from my previous stint on the 40 was among the couple dozen clamoring for the dry cabin. He finally had his new chair after so long on the waiting list, with slightly cambered wheels that no longer got jammed on the ramp.

Late morning and the rain was letting up. You can feel the earth come to life as light returns and everything leafy drinks up. This time the sunshine was adorned with dreadlocks.
   'Did you bring the sun? I noticed the clouds opening up.' I asked her.
"You know, I like it when it's like this because I don't get burnt out." She commented on the overcast.
   'Yeah, it's not blazing hot...'
"Did you go on vacation?" She changed the subject as she swiped her pass.
   'No, but they move us around.' I thought she was asking where I'd been.
"You have a rosy glow, dahling. Good to see you!"
I didn't look in the mirror, but I was probably blushing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

All in the same bus

Sunday mornings on the 42 were over for me, now I was back on familiar turf driving Route 10. The 10 is a sweet route to start with, gliding up and down Federal Highway from Broward Boulevard to Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

My deadhead trip to Central Terminal was sunny, but still early enough to give way to the shadows of downtown towers. We pulled out of the terminal to start our service on the least-hectic day of the week. At ArtServe, Dierdre was waiting under the black olives. It had been awhile since we'd seen each other over here so it was new to see her in a colorful shirt for a car wash up the street. She was working at Goodwill before and was excited about this new job.
"I worked 9 hours yesterday! Non-stop, it flew by."

A man in fatigues and both arms weighted with luggage stepped up to the curb at Wagner Tire, our last shared stop with the 36 before turning northward. He set one bag down by the farebox to remove his pass from his mouth and give it a smooth swipe before reversing the process and finding a seat.
   'We're all in the same bus!' I offered up out of recognition. Quite some time ago he coined that phrase in response to my tired recitation of 'We're all in the same boat.' At that time he had more luggage and created a minor delay for the bus as he got everything stowed aboard. He was apologetic then and I assured him of my patience since we all have similar predicaments from time to time. Now after recognizing him and his creative contribution, he drew a blank and didn't remember saying it. Remember or not, it was still true now as it was then.

In Boca Raton, we waved Good Morning at old man Mizner's pedestalled statue, with mischievous Johnnie Brown keeping him company. Pulling into our north layover by the Publix, a regular there couldn't wait to board. Half-paralyzed on one side, this was his turf. Perpetually with a portable cooler in his good hand, he set it down to pay his fare and shuffle to a seat by the rear door. Painfully self-conscious, he had no patience for others on the bus.
"People always lookin' at me weird. Makes me sick to my..." He complained loudly with piercing squeaky voice.

It was easy time going back south, keeping on schedule. Someone requested the Greyhound stop.
There are bus fans, and then there are fans of bus operators. Francois is one of the latter. Exchanging fist bumps at Central Terminal, he talked about his favorite drivers as he stood in the slot for another route.

Even on the weekend, weekday chaos can make a visit. Approaching Copans Road, a fresh rear-end fender bender was sitting in the middle lane. Our timing was fortuitous as ambulances and police pulled up to the wreck while we sat at the red light. The bus squeezed through the flurry of activity before the scene was closed off.

Any return to the 10 would be incomplete without an appearance by a legend on the route, Miss Patty. This time however, she appeared in name only. Heading back to the garage after our shifts, the other driver in the taxi told me she heard Patty had died. This was the first I'd heard of it, and feared the worst since I hadn't seen or heard of her for longer than I could remember. Life on the streets toughens those who call it home, and also takes them away without warning. It was stunning news, but would be hard to accept without evidence. Time would tell more about her fate.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sigh into Autumn

All good things come to an end, and these Sundays on Atlantic Boulevard had been good. The natural beauty of the ocean at one end and suburban calm at the other helped buffer the crudity of the city in between. Plus the route is shorter than most, offering more chances to get out of the seat.

Our first trip would turn out to be the busiest of the shift, despite the absence of several regulars. As he predicted the previous Sunday, the regular older man was missing at State Road 7.

   "Sir, is there any way I can get a ride to..." asked a stubble-faced man at Powerline. Where he was going exactly came out mumbled. "I been out here all night." His scruffy friend nodded and quietly voiced agreement.
'You have? You've had a rough night!' I sympathized with them.
   "Two buses passed me by." He added to embellish their hardship.
'This is the first bus. You can ride with us.'

A woman whose ample upper body nearly poured out of her clingy top boarded at the same stop, slid her fare in the box, then slid into an upper deck seat. She was grooving to some tunes on her earbuds, didn't hear my greeting, and gave the bus a loud, off-key karaoke show of '80s female pop songs. "Like a prayer..."

A familiar little old man found his way on. He was not a regular, but made an impression with his mute, sad smile and blurry serial number tattooed on his forearm. Small and weathered, his strong arms had no trouble lifting his bike onto the rack.

At least one regular would see me off today, an older gentleman who made his habitual trip to the Publix bakery for a fresh baguette.

It may have been a Sunday, but it was also the beginning of the month, and everyone with government benefits was out and about. The bus filled up and so did the bike rack. A month of Sundays wouldn't see it this busy. We finally got to the east end layover by Walgreens and a crowd was already waiting to get off the sizzling sidewalk and into the bus oasis.

The next trips would be much calmer and allow me to notice things beyond the task at hand. The ever-advising marquee sign at Furman Insurance had a new posting:
THE SUN TIRES OF SUMMER AND SIGHS ITSELF INTO AUTUMN

The smoker was fired up at Malvo's Chill Spot, set up every Sunday on the south side of the street just before the Intracoastal bridge, luring those looking to picnic on the beach with some jerk chicken and pork.

Back to the reason I'm in the seat, visitors in a lazy season paid their visits. The girl with the raining hair wasn't in her usual spot under the oak trees, creating immediate discouragement after so many months of pulling up to her feet. Things were made right when I spotted her a short distance from the stop, running late. Gave her a sign of acknowledgment, pulled over and waited, received her and the grateful smile.

In the middle of it all, at a stop never too busy but always occupied, boarded a young lady with the basic features that might make someone look twice in admiration. The area below her neckline was exposed, prominently revealing inked skin. Italicized block letters read: FUCK ♥ LOVE. A heart between the glaring words was broken.

The final stop arrived on time, my relief awaited me. It was someone else today, filling in. Usually I would take one of our taxis back to the garage with another driver also getting off his shift. Apparently some other arrangements had been made and he was missing also. It fit the pattern of the day with everything being off a click, not quite up to speed. As I drove back alone on this final Sunday of the pick, reviewing memories of all the Sundays before, I sighed and called it a day.