Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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 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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cushion the blow

Split shifts make for long days, with a morning shift starting long before sun-up and finishing around sundown. Too many days of this and you'll forget what your home looks like in daylight. This split put me on the 441 Breeze early, followed by a late afternoon trip on the 109 returning downtown Miami workers to their homes in west Broward.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew was churning up to a Category 5 storm down by Venezuela. He was puckering up to give Broward a gentle kiss next week, with enough forceful passion to curtail weekday bus service to a Sunday schedule for a couple days. Since the Breeze doesn't run on Sundays this was to be my last run on the Breeze for awhile. To extend this final voyage, I was issued a New Flyer time machine bus a decade old and one of the first artics in the fleet. It was a slow old beast with no middle doors, forcing passengers to make a long walk to the front or back.

This wasn't the first Breeze of the day, or the 2nd or 3rd, but sure felt like it with a 6:30 am departure at the tail end of the night's blackness. My day was only beginning, but the casino worker waiting at the first stop had wrapped up her night shift and was upset. She had just missed the Route 19 bus that blew by, and didn't want to wait 20 minutes for the next one so she hopped on our bus. The Breeze is limited-stop and doesn't service her local stop, but the adrenaline was running and she was hopeful we could catch up to the 19 in time for her to transfer.
   'Is the casino busy in the middle of the night?' Not being a gambling man, I wondered if it paid to keep the lights on 24 hours behind the hanging gardens in that Babylonian palace of chance.
"Night is the busy time." She said flatly, still focused on catching her intended bus. I got the impression she left work behind once she walked out the door.
   'You're a night owl.'
"Hooo hoo. Alright, bus driver!"
We didn't catch her bus.

At Kimberly Blvd a waifish young man boarded, dour while sliding his Family Pass through the box slot.
   'The Golden Ticket!' That's what I call these annual passes, issued to Transit employees and shared with family members.
"My Platinum Card." The blank look was replaced with a simple grin. "It's a good thing my sister's bangin' the bus driver!"
   'It's payin' off for you.'
"A year with no bus fare? WHAT?!" He bragged with flamboyance before sliding into the cabin. A man snickered nearby.

South of Stirling Road the confounding street-widening project continued to constrict traffic into a brutal snarl. Lanes were reduced and realigned as we skirted the edges of excavation pits that could swallow a bus.

We'd done a round trip and were on our next to last trip of the shift when an older man squeezed on to the bus. He was not large, but he carried a cumbersome sofa cushion. The assumption was he wanted a soft seat on the bus, but instead he set it on the luggage shelf and stood up front to look out the window. When we got to Taft Street, the intersection allowed a partial view of Hollywood Memorial Gardens with its green expanse of graves pushing up to used car lots.
"I'm getting a settlement soon for my leg injury." The man piped up, inspired by the cemetery where loved ones lay at rest. Suddenly the cushion made sense. "I'm going to buy a $1 million insurance policy to leave to my son and two grandsons. $2 million if I die in an accident. Then I'm moving to Vegas in 5 years for the dry weather."
I had to praise him for looking out for his family that way, while also acknowledging the bitter truth that we are often worth more dead than alive. Life is the most powerful force in the universe, even ahead of Love, yet at the same time as flimsy as a breath.

Later in the afternoon on my second shift I crawled the express bus up the crawling Turnpike northbound. At one point, the southbound lanes on the opposite side went completely empty, but the cause wasn't immediately visible. Safe money would go with yet another critical car crash. Then, flowing over an overpass like an army of ants came one motorcycle after another. They were countless as they created a solid screen around several black SUVs, low floor white vans, and two ambulances.
Another bus driver called over the radio to find out why he couldn't go south since the highway was closed to traffic at the height of rush hour.
"Candidate Clinton is in town," was the brief reply, with the understanding that he would have to wait it out.
Gawkers and sheer volume of cars delayed our own progress and extended my already long day.

Storms will threaten and storms will make landfall, politicians will visit and leave, and the final rest will come soon enough. In the meantime here we are, moving through it all no matter how hard it gets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Back on our feet again

Saturday blended into Sunday for me, as I was issued with the same bus from the day before - though it was a different route. Instead of an interminable trip up and down University Drive, today would be a series of short skips back and forth across Atlantic Boulevard. The engine retarder light still blinked at me from the dash.

A different light had gone out this bright morning: José Fernández, ace pitcher for the Miami Marlins, had died in a boating accident off Miami Beach at age 24. Unsavory details would emerge later to tarnish the shine, but we still mourn our local hero. Several determined crossings of the Florida Straits followed by deportation, and heroically saving his drowning mother in the process, added to the legend behind the perpetual easy-going Cuban smile. Life goes in cruel circles sometimes, like Jaco's brutal coda on Wilton Drive, mere blocks from his childhood home. The same waters that brought José to his new life were also the setting for its end.

Starting out the shift, a regular from the University Drive route was waiting for me. A quirky older woman, always nervous about getting stranded somewhere. She'd dyed her oily lank hair and the gray roots were working their way back into view. She was short on the fare which made her more nervous, so I reassured her it wouldn't be a problem.

At State Road 7, the regular with his Mickey Mouse floppy hat boarded.
"This is my last Sunday. I got fired from my sign job. It's illegal now." He was on shaky ground at this shock, and unsure of his next step.
   'You're a sign waver? That's not illegal.' I was sure the First Amendment protected this.
"They just passed an ordinance..."
   'In Margate? Maybe try another city, like Pompano?' I suggested, looking for another option.
"I'm looking at Pembroke Pines." A drastic move to a south county city.
The somber news made for a quiet trip eastward. We arrived at his stop and he made sure to shake my hand: "In case this is my last Sunday."
   'Don't give up, hang in there.'

Cruisin' back the other way, at Rock Island a red PT Cruiser pulled up in the next lane with a five foot ham radio antenna sprouting from the center of the roof. At the red light he was obvious as he peered over at me with his scraggly white beard and ponytail.
"I used to work at BCT, wanted to see who's drivin'!" He explained with friendly sociability. "I used to be a driver, then a mechanic on road service." Apparently he loved buses enough that he bought an old one and was converting it into a motor home.
   'Must get great gas mileage!' I joked about this eccentric project.
"Well, if you sleep in it every night, you save a lot of money."

We'd finished our first round trip and spun around for the next, when the sky opened up about halfway through. The downpours were heavy throughout Pompano all the way to A1A, where they were extremely heavy and flooding the streets. A morning that began with a serene dry calm had devolved into frenzied, blinding monsoon. East of the Intracoastal the storm sewers were maxed out, excess rainwater burbled up like mini geysers through the lift notches in the manhole covers. At the layover, not one person dared exit the bus and endure nature's wrath.

The clouds drained themselves dry by the time our next trip was underway. A little west of US 1, at her usual stop under fat old oak trees, stood the slight Indian girl with an endearing smile and enviable cascading jet black hair that covered her entire back. An enormous umbrella shielded her from some invisible Totoro shaking raindrops off the dripping branches.

It was now our final eastbound journey, and a man boarding must have misheard my greeting since he immediately began reminiscing about some streets in the Bronx ("Jerome Avenue!"). The mood took a creepy turn when he mentioned a documentary called Faces of Death. He was convinced we'd talked about the movie a couple weeks previously, but I certainly had no memory of that discussion and chalked it up as another passenger confusing me with one of my 'twin' bus driver co-workers.

The Banks Road stop always gets some play on this trip, and a familiar grinning face met us as we pulled up. The type of guy who is your friend at first sight, he wore a new accessory: a bulky medical boot. With his girlfriend there to nurse him along and provide moral support, he ventured out with his injury.
   'How's the foot today?' It's quicker to comment on the obvious when we don't have time for lengthy conversation.
"Meh." He shrugged. "Wanna see the scar?"
   'Not really. Scars freak me out.' Though a collection of them is certainly a sign of an active life.
His random offer hung in the air and I took him up on it when we got to their stop. He peeled down a white sock to reveal the 5-inch wound. It came about during a drunken episode, and the humor of it outweighed any embarrassment in the telling. I wondered whether this man's malady was the end of another cruel circle, and where it began. Perhaps this event was the beginning, another instance of Life knocking our feet out from under us. And another opportunity to get off at our stop, hobble forward, and not look back. Well, maybe a glance - and a grin.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Gotta do something

Taking over an afternoon run generally means relieving another driver somewhere along the route. At that time I try to get a report on the operability of the bus along with any issues on the route (detours, lane closures, accidents). My own operability was compromised this day by a miserable bout of laryngitis, a handicap for this bus driver who likes to make Old School announcements at high volume.

The relief took place near the end of the route, and the previous driver gave me a healthy bus and a report of clear streets. Ten minutes later I was at the north end layover for the 60, stretched the legs until the appointed moment arrived and we went back into service southbound. The crush of students at Broward College North Campus only set us back a few minutes, but the trip was young. Little more than 15 minutes into a one hour trip, we were in the turn lane on Atlantic at NW 27th Ave. There would be no turning for us, the road was completely barricaded. There was some extensive road work happening on the other side of the barriers, either put up in record time after the previous driver passed through or something he neglected to relay to me. It was a low blow at a crucial time of day, but bus drivers don't cry - we find a way forward. I improvised a detour to get us back on route without missing too many stops. However, the damage was done; we were late to start with and that unforeseen obstacle buried us.

In the midst of our storms, the sun peeks through and reminds us why we're here. Hours into the tumult of the afternoon, when my follower was catching up with me repeatedly, a familiar face appeared. Weathered and wizened by years in the sun tending to nursery plants, her dark eyes shone from leathery wrinkles above a golden glint from smiling caps long worn through. No time for extended pleasantries, I could only smile back at my neighbor. Perhaps I shared some brief greeting in painful husky voice or perhaps merely clasped at my throat, but she stopped time for that bus and the impossible schedule became irrelevant.

Settled in and settled down for the remainder of the shift, my friend at Matco Stone hopped on along that dusty stretch by the railroad. A beacon of brightness in his long-sleeve safety yellow shirt, he sympathized with the ailment limiting my speech, the words flowing quickly with his island intonation testing my accent acuity. He had something important to announce. His lady was pregnant and he was going to be a father for the first time. It was a boy. I congratulated him with as much voice as I could summon.
"You have any kids?" he asked.
   'Nah, kids cost money!' I joked back.
"Yeah, but you gotta do something. I'm 48..."
   'It's time.'
The man who moves train cars full of rock went back to talking shop, comparing our long days. We'd worked all day and the bus was late, but the time was right.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

All the time

Seasons in South Florida change subtly, sometimes only indicated by the slant of light and dryer air. Our region shares the tropical nature of the Caribbean islands, though we are technically part of the North American mainland. During the Gypsy Years, I would venture over to England - another island nation. After Canada, more of Florida's visitors are from the UK and it's easy to see why when you visit. A mile-thick cloud cover blocks the sun and after a few weeks this cold Floridian forgot what the blue sky looked like. They have a magical hour over there, just before dusk when the sun comes low and fiery-bright and cracks the clouds. It is too brief to bring warmth, but everything old shines like gold.

An indicator light flashed on the dash since I left the garage. Nothing to keep it out of service, just a reminder for future maintenance. The engine retarder was glitchy, requiring a little more time to slow down, but still quite smooth.

Early morning workers board in darkness, I greet them in foreign tongue and local comfort. They giggle at the anomaly.
   'Koman ou ye?'
"Pa pi mal."

The unpredictable visitors make their way through the doors: a track star, a fisherman, a man with a carved cobra walking stick. It's also the Sabbath, and Orthodox Jewish families are the only ones using the sidewalk north of Sample.

An older man boards, exuding an immediate sociability he's probably had all his life.
"I don't remember much anymore, but I remember this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He paused for a breath of resignation. "It doesn't happen all the time."

Sometimes the day is cold as the night, and the sun becomes a memory. Just wait, the clouds will split and what's old becomes new.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Easier kept than recovered

Our Sunday morning service starts after the sun has risen. The darkness of the night before is gone, when a full moon brightens the world with its gentle glow. A remnant of our waning satellite hangs low in the white-blue sky. Wispy clouds and the silhouette of a southbound flock of ibis create an active scene above Atlantic Boulevard, pleasant silence in their motions.

   The moon isn't the only thing holding over from the night before. Halfway into our first trip a drunk couple are hung over and nearly collapsing as they drag into the cabin.
   "My crazy wife kept feeding me beers!" He announces in her hearing, jokingly proud of his catch.

   Things mellowed out for the church time stretch, mostly just folks heading out to shop while stores were less likely to be busy. We'd finished our first round trip and pulled into the west layover, by the fire station on Coral Springs Drive. That stop gets very little play at that time, but today was different: a dozen young men, Brazilian by their speech. Way out here, spitting distance from the Everglades, and all were dressed for the beach. This is about as far inland as you can get in this part of the county, and they had a 45 minute bus ride ahead getting to the part that falls into the ocean.
   Late morning now, things were heating up when all three slots on the bike rack were loaded by Rock Island. The rack was full, but the bus wasn't so when we pulled up to a fourth bike we let him hold it inside by the exit door. His earlier look of dejection at the prospects of either riding the bike or waiting an hour for the next bus was replaced with relief.
   Yes, the day was heating up as people bounced around town. At the stop just before the CSX tracks, a woman boarded with a disturbed look, giving an odd description to someone on the other end of her phone call. Something about hair and clothes color. Her gaze looked past me, so I turned to the left and saw what the disturbance was about. Across the street, in front of a bus stop shelter, a slim, leggy woman with long brunette hair was strutting back and forth in her pink underwear. Her bra was pulled down, the body parts it was supposed to be supporting were bouncing about for passing traffic. This topless exposure had the Brazilian boys in the back going wild, falling over each other to get a look at what would normally be reserved for the nearby strip clubs. Despite the initial excitement of the display, this manic behavior by someone's fallen daughter was a sympathetic scene.
   Her impact lingered as we serviced the transit center and crossed the FEC tracks, new passengers unaware of the reason for the excited chatter in the back of the bus. The distinctive Furman Insurance building rose beside us, the frequently changed marquee sign stoically advising "Character is much easier kept than recovered."
   The bus squeezed through the relic bridge over the Intracoastal and everyone exited on the sandy sidewalk as they shuffled over to the pier. Fortunately I had some good recovery time at the layover so I secured the bus and headed over to an empty beach lot to breathe some salty air and ponder the previous trip. A woman parking on the side street asked me if it was ok to park here; this has happened there before, the blue uniform makes people nervous. Once I set my sights on the endless ocean, everything floated away like driftwood on the silver ripples.

   The shift was half over when we rolled back inland, fluffy gray-bellied clouds growing by the block. A man in military fatigues hawked American flags during the red light at Powerline. From there, the road curves around Palm Aire's massive property before a steep overpass at the Turnpike. Lyons Road lays at the bottom of the overpass and due to the intersection design it is a long stretch between bus stops. The stops there are lightly used that time of week and I was gearing to glide by since no one was waiting on the other side. Some movement behind the bus shelter caught my eye and I slowed. A shirtless man had been laying in the grass and jumped up when the bus approached. He pulled a green Hulk t-shirt over his dirty, lanky brown hair and presented me with a transfer from Miami-Dade Transit. Pompano is about 20 miles from Dade County, so a transfer between the two transit systems was a bit of a stretch.
   "I've been trying to get to the terminal for 3 days, I need to get to the airport." He didn't know which airport, so he opted to go along for the ride. He wouldn't have to sleep in the weeds this way.

  Random people and objects make their way on the bus every trip, and the next one gave us someone's stinky feet, an acapella concert, scabby skin conditions, a jedi, a dwarf, and a white-washed mountain bike (probably camouflage). Just before the Intracoastal, the gate arms came down, the bells sounded, the lights flashed to indicate the drawbridge would be opening. It's a frustrating thing when the end of the line is so close. Fortunately we were at the head of the line and would be the first over when the yachts were finished passing through. We lost our place however, when four crotch rockets pulled in front of us, parked their bikes, and showed off for selfies. The boats floated by, the bridge creaked back down, and we finished the trip with enough time to get out of the seat. At the last stop, the lost traveler in the Hulk shirt asked about the beach and exited. Guess he decided against trying to get to the terminal, or the airport.

   Finally, the home stretch had arrived where I had half a trip left and would get relieved on the road. The east end was sunny, but as we headed westward the clouds massed into solid cover. At Powerline a young latina boarded. Her engagement ring was lovely but for one crucial detail: there was no polished stone in the empty setting.

   A hunched little old man loaded a small purple BMX bike on the rack with his wiry strong arms. Where he boarded eludes me now, but I had picked him up earlier that morning going the opposite direction. He was an occasional regular on these Sunday mornings, we always greeted each other with smiles though I don't recall him actually saying anything. On his inner forearm, the blurred digits of an old tattoo are all the more visible since it sits there all alone. Not being familiar enough to inquire about it, I can only imagine the path that led him here today. My shift was nearly over, and this man's quiet migrations were a reminder that none of us knows what Life will bring at the next stop.