Thursday, October 25, 2018

Two of a kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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