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:

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.


  1. Loved this one! However, be kind to your bladder and the rest of your body. Take a break. Doesn't your Dispatch work with you guys when you're late? Anyway, keep up the good work. You're more patient than I am!

    1. Thanks Deke! Guess I'm just stubborn sometimes...

  2. Thanks for posting this great article and being such a great storyteller. Thanks for putting some positive news about transit out there too.

    1. Thanks for reading, Ryan! I get to spend all day with interesting people, hopefully the stories do right by them.