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?'

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.