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.

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