Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sunset on Sunrise

A bus driver can pick from a variety of shifts. I was back on afternoons nights with a mixed run for the week, or a "variety pack" as I call it. This keeps me in touch with various parts of town over the course of a week, preventing too much familiarity over the next several months.

This was Tuesday, still early in the week yet a kind of sweet spot where folks are focused on productivity. My day would consist of a ten hour shift going back and forth on Sunrise Boulevard, serviced by the notorious 36. Three of us drivers took a taxi from the motor pool at the garage and headed down to Lauderhill Mall to make relief. While there waiting for my bus to arrive, I bumped into my old classmate Vianca. We started with the County at the same time, and I have a fondness for all of those who were in our training class.She had long since transferred to the south garage, so this was a pleasant chance to catch up and wish each other well.

My bus arrived on cue, I hopped into the driver's seat, made my adjustments, and booked it out of there. We rolled west and thought I'd made out pretty good with the after-school crowd when I picked up over a dozen students across from Plantation High School. They smiled as I complimented their t-shirts and other signs of self-expression. Most were going all the way to Sawgrass Mills Mall at the end, perhaps for part-time jobs or just to hang out with friends.

The shift had barely begun and I had yet to do a full round trip since I'd taken over in the middle of the route. Now we could begin in earnest, doing a full trip eastbound from the mall. Still early enough that traffic wasn't a delay, but just in time to get buried by the second wave passing through the school zones. By the time we emerged into an open stretch, we had a full standing load. Our cabin at capacity, we skirted along Deepside before cresting the hill of the Turnpike overpass. Changing lanes at the opportune moment and letting the rush of gravity propel us downward, a sea of young eyeballs looked ahead, unblinking.

We pulled into the Hill seven minutes down, but thanks to the scheduled recovery time we pulled out back on track. Made our pick ups at the Swap Shop and other usual hot spots along the way. At 7th Ave, my blessed and highly favored friend awaited. His pronounced limp as we exchanged fist bumps didn't seem like much of a blessing, but he was still mobile and thankful for that.

A bridge delay at the Intracoastal set us back a little, but left me few minutes to get out of the seat after crossing from the Everglades to the Atlantic. That break would soon be a distant memory as we headed back west. This was the height of rush hour on a street infamous for its congestion. The next fifty blocks were three lanes of solid gridlock. The mass of cars and trucks finally broke apart and flowed better after Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, opening up a stunning sunset vista. The flashy bright colors and glowing neon of the Swap Shop met their match in the vivid watercolor taking shape overhead. Wispy sand dune clouds stretched into coral pink streaks before our jaded eyes.We chased the receding sun to the end of the line at Sawgrass Mills.

Back on the road and heading east, the rest of the evening promised to be smooth since the earlier chaos had dissipated. At 56th Ave, where the countless back streets of Deepside spill out like an asphalt delta, a 30-something woman in a floral dress with spaghetti straps stepped on, sniffling.
"I just got out of jail." She greeted me, her way of both asking for and explaining why she needed a free ride.
   'Welcome back!' I replied, keeping the mood light and non-judgmental. She'd had enough of that from other civil servants, no need to pile on.

We got to the east layover and I finally had some time to catch my breath. At that time the regular layover stop east of the bridge and next to Birch State Park was closed due to construction, so we parked at a temporary stop west of the Intracoastal, across from The Galleria. I still had a few more hours so I took the opportunity to walk over to 7-Eleven for a snack. The petite girl at the cash register was friendly.
"Which bus are you driving?" She asked.
   'The 36.' I sighed.
"I used to ride the 36. I remember fights."
   'Tonight the fight was on the 60.' I semi-joked. She chuckled.

The break was over and we went west one more time. In the mall courtyard a group of guys in their 20s were smoking something especially pungent in the shadows. My 10:15 trip out of Sawgrass was a full seated load, becoming a standing load by the time we reached Nob Hill. The shifting colors of the sunset were probably over the Pacific right now, but the weeknight machinery on Sunrise Boulevard was not ready to shut down just yet.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Believe in now

The days of waking up in the middle of night and reporting for work before the sun rose were over. It was a good run, being part of the team that got the machinery of the city going again after a few hours of idling. To be the one getting my neighbors to work, school, and errands had been an honor. Now I would mostly be taking them from those places, and tuck the city into bed at the end of its long days.

One of the issues with morning shifts is they essentially require you to go to bed early the night before. That limits what you can get done after work and certainly eliminates any kind of night life. Being a night owl by nature, those endless mornings were a challenge at times. Since I couldn't have a night life off the bus, I'd work late and have it on the bus.

This shift was a split: a brief stint on the 31 starting after lunch, followed by a couple hours of unpaid break and finishing with an evening on the 19 till about 1 a.m. The first piece was a school tripper, a single journey south on NW 31st Ave (aka MLK Blvd, aka Lyons Rd depending on the stretch). It coincided with the release times of several large grade schools. Today was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so the stops were expectedly devoid of students in observance of the holiday. Someone else would have to provide the excitement this trip, and they showed up right on cue as we approached Oakland Park Boulevard. A couple dozen Bike Lifers swarmed the southbound lanes, threading between the stacked vehicles. We and all the cars around us were forced to sit still until the thundering storm of growling exhaust pipes and squealing rubber had passed. The traffic signals changed a couple times, rendered meaningless by the rule-breakers dominating the street. Perhaps they weren't breaking the rules so much as making their own rules; an advance guard of bikes and ATVs formed a road block clearing the way for their friends. The volume was deafening, preventing conversation or focused thought - all focus was on the storm as it veered on to the boulevard.

A substantial delay, but quickly made up by the time we got to Central Terminal. I was taking it back to the garage when I got the call to head up to Pompano and swap with another driver. It meant a shorter down time between pieces, and a little overtime.

Mid-split break was over, time to clock back in, and take a taxi to relieve a driver on the road. Traffic was crawling and I got there a few minutes late. No sign of my bus, I figured it was delayed by the congestion and waited for it to show. Dispatch called to inform me the bus had already passed and was waiting at the next light. This type of confusion tends to occur at the start of a new pick, until the wrinkles are ironed out and we settle into a routine.

Our bus was full, a hundred anxious eyes watching the transition of drivers, hoping it wouldn't take too long. An unfamiliar rider came up to the front. The cozy confines of the bus has a way of connecting strangers. His lament was for the masses of people around us, hurrying about in their motions. He spoke of God, Force, and Gaia.
"People have nothing to believe in now," he opined as he considered the lack of purpose in our ceaseless frenzies. There was no judgment, simply introspection.

"How's your holiday?" I was greeted at Oakland Park Blvd by an older man who occasionally rides, but is more frequently seen panhandling at red lights. He put what change he had into the box.

It was a late start to the shift, but we made it down to Lauderhill Mall just in time to pull out. Also at the Hill was my leader bus, out of commission and awaiting a mechanic. I took all his people in addition to mine, and now we had a fully loaded 60-footer going back north. There was a high percentage of sourpusses, no doubt from the extended wait after a long day.

Only a few stops in and a blast from the past appeared. It was Jaws, so-called due to his perpetual bared teeth. It limits his ability to speak, so at best my greeting gets a grunt in reply. Way back when, he used to load a small bike with a big chain onto the rack. Now the bike was missing but the familiar grunting remained as he sauntered on.

Under the spreading tree limbs of the Atlantic Boulevard stop, an impressive beard emerged from the shadows. An equally impressive smile spread brightly above it. Charming sociability covered his shortfall as he discreetly slipped a bill in the box.
"Another driver called me Gandalf when my beard was white." He continued his affable entry, commanding the spotlight. Homeless but far from helpless, he was going to Boca to hustle a duffel full of DVDs.
"Have you seen 'Peculiar Children'?" he asked as he switched to sales mode. Then again, perhaps he'd been in that mode from the moment we pulled up to his feet. Told him I'd never heard of it, and asked for a synopsis. According to him it was too bizarre to describe, except to say it was unsuitable for children. The layover at Sandalfoot eventually came into view, and with the hissing air of the doors the wizard disappeared into the suburban silence.

Another mystery occurred when my leader bus showed up while I was on layover break. He took the single passenger who'd been waiting there, and ran it late. That lateness meant a quiet trip for me heading back south. The bus was empty as I departed Boca Raton, and stayed that way until Turtle Creek. A bus without people is eerie and unnatural, so it was a relief when a gentleman boarded and I welcomed him with extra hospitality.
   'Any seat you like!' I offered, gesturing toward the empty cabin stretching back forever. 'It's good to have choices.'
"My own chartah! I can see that." The man exclaimed when he realized his good fortune. Fifteen minutes down the road and he was still the only one.
"I never seen anything like this!" He sat on the edge of the seat with delirious joy.
   'You better remember this.' I responded, for both our benefits.
A few blocks later a young woman boarded and the spell was broken, the surreal moment passed. It was good to be back in the business of transit, the natural state of a bus and its operator. So long as we are visited by wizards, there would be more magical moments in this space. Believe it.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Over the bridge

Last days on a run can be bittersweet. It means being on new roads the next few months, separated from the developments and experiences of a part of town I'd snugly settled into. It also meant informing regulars so they wouldn't think I'd quit the bus when they didn't see me next week.

This last day was a Saturday on the 55, rolling east and west on Commercial Boulevard, making the big loop at the west end from McNab Road down to Oakland Park Boulevard, then back up to Commercial on Nob Hill Road. As an aside, Nob Hill is a lengthy street in its own right, but I have yet to find the hill called Nob.

I reported to the Dispatch window a little before 6 a.m. Supervisor Ironman was there, a welcome surprise since we generally only interacted via radio as he assisted with traffic control and break downs. He gave me the bus number assigned to my run, the same one I'd been driving every weekend. It is one of the older buses in the fleet, the type of old workhorse I describe as a Gillig Time Machine. Its age and mileage are so ingrained into every seat and stanchion that you are immediately transported back a decade and a half to the year it was manufactured. This beast and her rattling panels was in service the last time the Florida Marlins won the World Series. The team has since altered its name and been in their new stadium for several years now, while this bus goes about its appointed rounds. She may be aging, but she's still spry and I knew she'd see us through the day.

"Good morning, Broward County." I whispered my greeting to the dark-seated cabin before bringing it to life and turning on the lights. Many people other than myself were going to spend part of their day in this space, it couldn't hurt to fill it with a simple blessing.

Our pullout and starting point arrival were both timely, making for a relaxed start to the workday. The clock told us it was time to go into service, the brakes were released, and we slid into the suburban darkness. About a mile in, a young suburbanite boarded.
"I'm taking six buses today, is it better to get a day pass or just pay on each bus?" She asked.
I did the quick math aloud and she opted for the pass.

Midway through the trip, we approached Rock Island Road. A young man with short, bleached dreads stepped to the curb.
"I'm just going over the bridge..." He begged without going into lengthy detail, pointing meekly toward the upcoming curve where Commercial flies over the Turnpike. An undeniable strong baked scent followed him like a shadow - and it wasn't a loaf of bread.

We crested the overpass and glided down with the aid of gravity toward 441 on our eastward trek. Waiting at the end was the unintentional regular, who on previous Saturdays informed me that the bus ahead of mine never showed up. After too many weeks of waiting, he didn't even try to catch it anymore. He just adjusted his schedule for my bus.

At this time we were not laying over on A1A, but rather a side street along a shopping center close to Oakland Park Boulevard. The added distance ate into my break time, but I was still able to stretch my legs before heading west.

Leaving this layover, we go north on A1A to Commercial.  That intersection is the heart of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, a slice of old coastal Broward complete with multipurpose Town Hall, seafood restaurants, family businesses lining the main drag, and Anglin's Pier jutting out into the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

A young couple waited patiently at the first stop on Commercial. It was the cycling pair from earlier in the week when I was driving a different route. The lady who had been so inquisitive about bus driving back then was reserved today. Presumably I'd answered all her questions.

Another cyclist was waiting on the flip side, after we'd turned around. A self-described "old hippie vet" with a huge bike. It was his first time using a bus bike rack, and he'd perched it on there precariously. A little assistance from the driver, and he was a pro.

Once again we flipped it around, back west. Out at Pine Island, a horrific accident had the eastbound lanes completely closed. A compact car was wrapped around a tree. It didn't look good, and we could only hope for the best.

A call went out over the radio with detour instructions. The driver of the bus ahead called back with a slightly faster route. We'd just turned back on to Commercial after a scenic detour through the sleepy neighborhood to the south. A husky man was running from the other side, waving a closed umbrella to catch my attention. The landscaped median provided sanctuary for the crossing, thankfully since his other hand clasped that of his small son's. In another example of the thin line between win and loss, if we hadn't been delayed by a detour of unfortunate circumstance, they would have missed us and had a lengthy wait for the next bus.

Good time was being made, and it looked like I'd get a few minutes out of the seat at the Galt layover. Then the gates came down and crushed that hope.The long, thin white and red poles of the Intracoastal bridge gates made their horizontal descent to the piercing chimes of clanging bells. The delay added ten minutes to our schedule deficit, too much for the recovery time at the end to compensate for. I still took a few minutes to jump on to solid ground and shake the legs.

Our final westbound, only about five minutes down and every confidence of making that up once we got rolling. It was not to be. The same bridge that denied us on the way to the barrier island was now denying our exit. Something must have been going on in the Intracoastal below, since openings are timed to avoid such inconvenience. But there it was, an upright bridge, our immovable object. We were soon down by double digits on the clock. That, coupled with a train delay at the FEC RR, put us into a hole with no chance of recovery.

Still, sometimes it doesn't matter how late we are or what caused it, so long as we get where we're going. A woman with a scrutinizing look was happy to see us when she got on at 441.
"Pale kreyol?" She probed. Perhaps I'd greeted her with some limited vocabulary before.
   'Ki jan ou ye?' I responded. She laughed.

The simple moments override the frustrations of uncontrollable delays and obstacles that are part of life in general, and multiplied endlessly for those of us spending our workdays on the street. There had still been time through the course of the day to reminisce over landmarks of younger days (Sunrise Musical Theater), to commune with the ghosts of Broward bus drivers of yesteryear (and their goats), and to otherwise enjoy this day with people I would probably not be seeing on my new routes. I'd be shifting gears from mornings to nights, but I wouldn't be far. Just over the bridge.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Nuthin's gonna take my smile

Friday the 13th on University Drive. This would be my last eleven hour shift for the foreseeable future. As a bonus there was no school today, which generally promises lighter traffic. The streets were slicked by an intermittent drizzle, nothing heavy. The temperature was a welcome neutral, neither cold nor hot. The ridership going north out of West Terminal was a bit on the cold side, if only because it was lighter than usual.

Going south on the next trip was a continuation of the first, with light traffic and no delays to make us late. At Sunset Strip, an older woman who's a regular on this run boarded with a motherly smile and focused on the fare box.
   "Good morning," we both said simultaneously. She must not have heard my greeting or seen my lips move as she was looking at the box, since she repeated herself in a slightly sour tone. I gave her a few extra Good Mornings for good measure. She liked that and the smile returned.

In Davie, a man handed me some paper as he exited. It was a paycheck, uncashed and forgotten. It would be deposited with Lost & Found at the end of the day.

We got down to the layover in Miami Gardens with ample time to stretch the legs. A woman boarding there held up a French coin in my face, claiming it was worth $2 and asking if she could use it as bus fare. At that time we only accepted U.S. legal tender, so I politely declined her offer. After that, she found the proper currency.

We pulled out of the bus line heading west on 207th St. Vultures clustered in the middle, pecking at an unidentifiable red spot.

Traffic picked up around I-595, though it wasn't quite lunchtime. We rolled in to West Terminal with a few minutes to recover. Everyone could exit or board at their leisure, including a familiar regular.

An older gentleman with a Redd Foxx walk and a friend to everyone he met, for years he had been inseparable from an enormous flashy beach cruiser which was conspicuously missing today. To see him without it was like seeing an amputee.
   'No more bike?' I asked out of curiosity.
"No more bike. I fell down too much." He seemed wistful over his sporty wheels, contentedly resigned to keeping himself free from injury.

He settled into a seat near the front and struck up a conversation with a woman around his age. They immediately began comparing emotional battle wounds inflicted upon them by loved ones.
"My kids and grandkids went bad! My daughter hates my guts." He stated with the same resignation he showed for his beloved bike.
"My addict brother took advantage of my kindness." She responded. "Nuthin's gonna take my smile, not me, ha ha!"
The back and forth continued, all at loud volume so nothing would have to be repeated. When he exited up the road, I thanked him for bringing good vibes on the bus - and to stay safe out there.

Over time, we'd been up to the north layover at Westview Drive, and found ourselves all the way down in Davie on the last southbound of this shift. Still, I was only about two-thirds through the endless hours.

At Griffin Road, a red light caught us and held us. A Honda SUV glided to a long stop in the lane next to us. The driver's window almost lined up with mine, which is always open regardless of the temperature. The woman driving gave me a kind, knowing smile which caught me a little off guard. Did she need to cut in front of the bus? No motions in that direction. Then the rear windows, tinted black as a limo, rolled down. Inside were a couple children very excited to see the bus.
"Hi, Mr. Bus Driver!" They called out in squeaky unison.
   'Hi guys!' I called back, with an added wave before the light turned green and the moment was gone.

There were still hours to go before I clocked out, and unexpected encounters were sure to meet us on the way. But the cheers from our youngest bus fans would help me keep my smile for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Making our case

My days of working the morning shift were coming to a close. Very soon my schedule would be flipping upside down and I'd be back on nights, where I hadn't been for a couple years. The people would be different, and the familiar old streets would become new terrain when the sun set. For now I was still a morning driver, and my focus was not on the future.

A chill Monday on the 10, cruising Federal Highway from Central Terminal to Boca Raton. The temp was 51°, so at least we were out of the arctic 40s from the day before. This was getting old and we needed the warmth to return or it would be time to head south.

The glitch-prone onboard announcer was again mute when it came to announcing stops. Instead it would randomly interject our journey with an especially maniacal Max Headroom cackle
"Formatics bootloader AHAHAHAH..."
No microphone available either, only a stump where it had once been, before years of stress had separated the connection. We'd be announcing stops old school style today. Hopefully with enough volume to reach the back seats.

The day of the week and the unpleasant freeze seemed to have paralyzed our tropical activity. We'd nearly completed a full round trip without incident. The load was light and the traffic was easy.

On Broward Boulevard, half a dozen news crews camped in front of First Baptist. A hundred SUVs covered the little lawn, the sidewalks, the courtyard. It was the airport shooter's first day in federal court across the street, and made for a natural media story of the day.

We did our time at Central Terminal and were back on our way. The previously wide open road was now blocked at 5th Street by a construction crew. Located a safe spot nearby to accommodate passengers.

The next stop brought us the two Greek Spice Grill waitresses, one with striking angular facial features on par with any catwalk model. Both were preparing to work for the lunch crowd.

More construction underway in Boca, this time at the Tower 155 site just past Palmetto Park Road. A backhoe was excavating an enormous pit in the sugar sand. A truck waited nearby with a load of steel piles to hold that sand back.

Heading back south after a ten minute layover, I picked up another bus operator. He was on light duty and was on his way to an afternoon shift at Central to work the information table.

A couple loaded their bikes on the rack, she commenting that it should hold more as they boarded. I agreed and could certainly sympathize with missing the bus myself when there wasn't an open slot. They were both sociable, but he remained quiet whereas she was immediately inquisitive. She wanted to become a bus operator and grilled me with a pleasant Trini accent. When she said there were no openings listed online, I could only recount to her the process I went through and encourage her to be patient. These inquiries come at me regularly, and I wonder how many see it through.

A beloved regular awaited south of Atlantic: the Penny Lady. An older woman who could be both curt and kind by turns, I asked her to wait so I could lower the bus just for her. She had been poised to grab the door handles and climb on, apparently forgetful of previous times when she all but demanded that I kneel the low floor. Her outsize smile was all the thanks I needed.

Down to Commercial Boulevard, where an older gentleman took his time loading his bike. He wasn't struggling with it, and didn't seem unfamiliar with the process; in those cases I am quick to jump out of the seat and offer assistance. No, he was just on his own time and in no particular hurry. Just as the green light was also on its own time and decided to turn red to teach us patience. With my internal patience knob turned up to maximum peace and calm, the man finally boarded, hands in prayer and supplication.
"Hey brother, can I just get a ride to Sunrise? Thanks, man!"

Our final trip, going north to be relieved at Copans Road. The bike rack was full again, but there were no time delays.

Commercial came up again and my friend the Outlaw got on. That became his name after someone had a dream of him as Jesse James. When the criminal is also a folk hero, the comparison is not an insult. As far as I know, the connection is only as solid as a stranger's dream. This 'outlaw' was on a different path.
"I gave the homeless guy 70¢ to buy beer."
That stop is a popular hangout, and at least one man had no need for the bus.
"Like when my dad gave me $10,000 and sent me over to Israel. I lived in a kibbutz for five months, working the land. Also worked in a banana chip factory."

On the bus we all get our preliminary hearing whether outlaw, server, cyclist, senior - even bus driver. We leave the ghosts of the day there to deliberate among themselves.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Gray world

The weather app told us it was in the high 40s that Sunday morning, perhaps our coldest day of the year and downright freezing. The sort of temperature drop that makes you layer up to keep the shoulders loose.

My assigned bus was a ghost, nowhere to be found in the yard. Got a replacement and pulled out late. This new unit had no announcer, so I'd be calling out stops along the line today. Again, it was Sunday, that notoriously slow day of the week, so other than running late this first trip the day promised to be a breeze. As we rolled ever northward out of Central Terminal, the schedule deficit grew ever larger. At these times, it's tempting to push the machine just a little harder to keep things from getting out of control. Then the world reminds us how very little indeed is in our control, mostly just our response to the situation at hand.

We'd serviced the Via Mizner stop past Camino Real in Boca Raton and approached the Mizner Boulevard curve which would lead us back south. Before we could close the gap between the turn lane and the other lanes continuing straight, dozens of motorcycle roared by, steel thunder to shake the sleepy dew off the overspread poincianas lining the idyllic side street. My response was to yield and let the tempest pass through. When the undeniably impressive mass had cleared, we could then cruise in peace. Around the curve, I slowed again for a lone biker. This one was on the leg-powered type. He was in the bike lane, technically going the wrong direction as he pedaled toward us. He only had one leg, so this may have been his way of keeping a wary eye on nearby vehicles.

My friend with the frozen hand boarded after the loop. He camps out at night and his single thin sheet had been useless in last night's chill. He was going to the thrift store to get a second sheet, since it would be easier to carry than a heavy blanket.

The ever-cheery Weatherman stood by the curb down at Sample. Of course I had to ask about the forecast - and await the clever response.
"It's Mexican weather: Chili today, hot tamale!"

Down a bit further, a familiar bleary face was waiting, already drunk. Originally from upstate New York, she'd been in Florida thirty years and she wore no socks inside those flip flops. She was cold.

The first round trip in the books, it was now late morning and we were settled in to our groove. We may have been a few minutes down, but that's preferable to a few minutes hot. Unless you're a time traveler, then the clock is irrelevant.
"Is today Sunday or Monday?" The older man with white goatee asked with sincerity.
When he discovered it was Sunday, he changed his plans and didn't care to go any further. Time may be irrelevant, but apparently the day of the week is important.

Back in Boca again, a woman near the front was talking to herself in a Jamaican patois. Her body odor was talking to the rest of us. She finally addressed someone outside her own head, asking about Pompano and then verbally upset to learn we'd already been there. Her anger was directed at me and unidentified people bothering her.
"It's not a black world. It's not a white world," she proclaimed. In an effort to calm her, I reminded her we'd be turning and go back south. We got to Atlantic and her vinegar had miraculously turned to honey. She called me Sweetie a couple times as she exited. A simple word like sunshine on a cold day. Just enough to keep the shoulders loose.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

When the fog clears

The latest friction cycle appeared to be winding down and smoothing out. An eleven hour shift began when I reported for duty a little before five on a Friday morning. It looked to be a good day on the 2: end of the week, people heading to work but happy about the impending weekend. Still, it was going to be a long day.

A few things slowed me down on the way to my starting point at West Terminal: yielding to the gate arms at the CSX tracks for a train that never showed, red lights galore, and a cool, heavy fog that softened the sharp edges of the city but meant driving slower through the the reduced visibility.

I ran a little late the entire first trip, which still worked out since it was the less busy northern half of the route. We would be pretty much on time the rest of the day.

Soon into the southbound trip our friend Francois boarded. He's a bus fan and loves to keep up with his favorite drivers. It seemed unusual to bump into him this far west and this early, since up till now I'd picked him up on east side routes later in the day. We greeted each other with a friendly fist bump as usual and the where or when no longer mattered.

At Sunrise Boulevard, my old friend Mister boarded. In actuality he's probably young enough to be my son, however his signature professorial wardrobe of pressed khakis and sweater vest paired with a friendly formality compel me to call him by a respectful title. He was taking advantage of casual Friday by sporting a ballcap and sweatshirt.

These two classy young men are always welcome on the bus I'm driving. They inspire and encourage me as reminders of youthful vitality and timeless manners. Their tireless initiative and industry were a marked contrast to the gentleman who boarded down near the county line. Going extra casual today in slides and socks, he filled the cabin with residual fumes of an intoxicating herbal baking session. When we got to the end of the line, he was found sleeping across the back row. When we were in training, my class was told it's the highest compliment when a passenger falls asleep on your bus. Smooth driving and all that.

The next couple hours heading back north were uneventful, that golden time before lunch when work and business get done all around us.

Not long into the next southbound, a woman felt compelled to inform me that she's a foot model insured by Lloyd's of London.

A young father boarded with his young son and lugging a folded stroller.
   'Hey big guy!' I greeted the little one, nodding at Dad. They both had big grins.
"He's having a blast! It's like his second time on the bus." Dad explained as junior examined the innards of the cabin.
Another young bus fan in the making, who perhaps will drive us around town some day.

Before Atlantic, a man was walking scissor-legged across the street, making good time as the mass of traffic approached. We were the reason for his hastiness.
"It was a brisk walk!" was his description of the quick footwork which helped him catch the bus. He just as quickly disappeared into the back.
Near Nova Southeastern University, a couple female cyclists shared the road with us, their tight spandex uniforms proving the exercise a success. The hot-stepper walked up to the front to observe them.
"Thank you for the smooth ride and witty banter!" I'm not sure if he was talking to me or the ladies.

This day on University had been a textbook case of smoothness for a bus route as we began our final trip, going north. We'd been visited by several young men who gave us hope for the future as they shared part of their days before moving on to make their way in the city.

Over the radio, trouble came in by storm. Bus operators on the other side of town called in to report that Fort Lauderdale International was unexpectedly locked down, preventing them from servicing the airport. During a break in the chatter, as those in the control room scrambled to get information, another driver's single-word repetition rang out: "Shooting. Shooting. Shooting." The thought of his transmission being a cruel joke was short-lived, when soon afterward radio control issued instructions for all buses not to service the airport. My stomach sank as I continued on the route toward West Terminal, joined by heavy cloud overcast. At the terminal, I read reports of multiple people shot, dead, injured. No immediate details beyond that, though we would alter learn of another young man visiting our community and creating another inexplicable scene of chaos and waste. More drivers called over the radio with reports of road closures and major back-ups as that area was contained. The next buses in to the airport would be shuttles to evacuate traumatized and exhausted travelers and workers.

The long day got longer as I wrapped up my shift. The morning's fog had long since burned off and the sharp edges of the city were no longer obscured.


The good folks at WLRN covered the story about our stories. You can hear/read it at their website. There's even an exciting interactive route map so you can ride along with us. Many thanks to Caitie Switalski and Katie Lepri for their patience, enthusiasm, determination, and creativity. And of course thanks to all our riders for everything, you're the best!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Cashing in our chips

Life is a gamble and the house always wins. We play our best hand, bluff our way to an occasional jackpot, till we eventually end up with the same amount when we came in the door.

Sample Road in the north part of the county is pretty much like every other major thoroughfare around town: an endless line of commercial and residential properties interspersed with requisite amenities like hospitals and parks. Also like every other road, its flow of humanity gives it a flavor of its own.

Going west from US 1 on this morning shift, the sun was preparing to peek over the Atlantic. The bus glided under I-95 to service the stop at 5th Terrace. Across the street, day laborers awaited vans to deliver them to work sites. A regular loaded his yellow bike, the first color of the new day. Long, thin dreads and a dignified graying goatee. Always a formal greeting. Yes, Sir.

The world comes in the doors on its own time, to remind us that the magic space within is not isolated from the brutal machinations without. We passed the Coconut Creek casino and pulled to a stop at Turtle Creek.
"You been on this route long?" The middle-aged man asked as we resumed rolling.
   'Every Thursday.'
"Did you know Jay?"
   'Younger guy or older guy?' I prodded for a clue.
"Older guy. He was killed last night at the casino. Got run over in the parking lot."
Simple as that, everyone aboard was starting their day with the unthought of knowledge that Jay is dead. Yet the city was still waking up, steadily increasing its living vibrations, despite one member missing.

Many people look at each day as a chance to start fresh, to move beyond what came before. Bus drivers experience this multiple times per shift, just by changing the direction of travel. With a constant stream of sensory input coming at us, it helps to break it up into manageable pieces.

Heading back east toward the risen sun, we were in the middle of the trip when an older man boarded. Mature in years, he carried permanent marks of younger days on his arms: total coverage of green fish scales inked on.
   'How's it goin' today?' I asked, admiring the extensive body art.
"Pain. My back." He replied plainly, not expecting sympathy.
   'C'mon, man! Ya gotta take care of yourself. No fun.'
"I know..."
When he exited farther east, I wished him to feel better.
"It's been like this for 15 years." He commented with stark resignation.
   'That's depressing. It's gotta get better sometime!'
"Yeah, maybe when I'm six under!" He smiled over his shoulder as he gingerly stepped onto the sidewalk. Morose humor has its benefits too.

Traffic had calmed and the street had settled into a quiet lull. We caught the red light at Holiday Springs and watched the side streets take their turn. Through my open window a series of melodic metallic tones tickled my ears. A most unlikely spot to hear live music, on this stretch of road between McDonald's and a golf course. But music it undeniably was, and being played at an uptempo clip with great ability and versatility. I say ability because of the rapid pace of the notes without faltering, and versatility because while my ears told me I was hearing steel pans, my eyes discovered this virtuosic display emanated from a harmonica being played by the driver of a white Audi in the next lane. This was the complete rejoicing opposite of a dirge, as might be appropriate in memoriam of Jay. This was Life, making the most of a momentary pause, singing its song with every breath.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Thanks for the floor show

Some days rate above average in a given friction cycle. Friction happens when things don't run smoothly. There is always friction to some degree, only the amount varies from moment to moment. No one said it would be easy, and by now we should know what we signed up for.

Morning pullouts from the bus yard are a flurry of activity until you pass through the gates, then it's a calm affair until you reach the starting point for the day. I was almost to the highway to head downtown when the telltale clanging bells and flashing red lights of the railroad crossing flared up. Fortunately it was the CSX RR and would most likely be a Tri-Rail commuter gone in a couple minutes. Something was amiss when a long, slow freighter appeared out of the windbreak, somewhat unusual for this time of day. The impenetrable moving obstacle was an early reminder to expect the unexpected and take each confrontation on its own terms.

Over the radio, another driver was reporting a man stalking a woman on the bus. It was happening in the north part of the county, but was eerily similar to a recent incident down south. Drivers are always looking out for the safety of our passengers, and request assistance as needed.

It was time to put this bus in service at Central Terminal. I'd already pushed the seats up to make room for my regular rider in the wheelchair, who prides himself in getting aboard as quickly as possible.

Only a few minutes into the trip northbound on Federal Highway, a quiet voice with an endearing Kreyol accent spoke up anxiously:
"I too short! I can't reach it!" It was as if her inner thought forced itself into an outer sound unexpectedly. She may have wanted the previous stop, but only realized in time to request the next stop.

A glitch in the bus tech caused the onboard announcer to go mute after Oakland Park Boulevard, except for occasional techno jabber: "Bootloader... Offset Zero... Formatics..." The headsign was blank all the way to Boca Raton. These technical issues are mildly irritating, but also provide an opportunity to interact more with passengers as the quirky announcements elicit curious responses and the blacked out headsign compels intending customers to get the driver's confirmation that this is indeed their bus.

We'd crossed the 14th Street Causeway in Pompano when we pulled up to a forlorn figure. A man in a hoodie, age indeterminate, with a loaded duffel.
"I'm sorry to ask, but... I was jumped last night and I've been walking..." Even the request was forlorn.
Tattoo ink spilled out onto his hands from under the hoodie sleeves, one holding up a cracked cell phone to verify the rough night. He didn't need EMS, just a chance to rest his weary feet on the way to Sample Road.

"Happy New Year, Boss!"A regular greeted me first up in Deerfield.
   'Bonn ane!' I well-wished him in return.
"Oh, pale Kreyol?" He grinned with delight.
'Piti piti. Et bon sante!' Why stop at one blessing?

The streets gleamed slick in Boca, but nothing was coming down.
Soon we were heading back down on the flip side of our orbit. The onboard announcer rediscovered its voice, but it was still intermittent, choosing to speak up when it felt like it. The morning rush was over, and all was quietly humming along at the north end. Apparently everyone was where they needed to be so it was just me and the temperamental announcer for a bit.

At times like this the bus may be moving slowly, but still running fast by the schedule. We had to burn off a few minutes at the Copans Road timepoint, where operators from connecting lines also waited.
   'Hej då!' I greeted one of them with bad Swedish, hoping it would process in his Norwegian vocabulary. It did, though we instantly went to English.

The friction cycle continued halfway through the shift when the farebox decided to join in. An error came up and it just stopped functioning. All attempts to resolve the issue were unsuccessful.

Maybe we were on Sunrise Boulevard, approaching Wagner Tire before easing north on the Gateway Curve. A man with old dreads was on the sidewalk, facing us. He held up his right hand, middle finger extended. It was paired with the biggest, sweetest smile of the day, an ecstatic display that may have captured the flavor of our journey through the city.

In Pompano again, a woman who may not live on the street but competently acts the part made her entrance onto our moving stage. Routinely spotted at various stops, but more or less along the same stretch, I welcomed her aboard. The familiar bleary smile found a seat and I returned my focus to the road ahead. The calm wore off with each passing block until her hidden fury had to erupt. She began cursing and yelling for no obvious reason. The trip was soon over and tempers abated, but it was an unexpected outburst and concerned me.
   'Why so angry?' I gently probed.
"Cuz I feel like it!" She blurted as she exited. It was as good a reason as any, and not to be argued with.
Another passenger who waited for her to exit stage left put the episode in a lighter perspective.
"Thanks for the floor show!" He commented as he made his way past my seat.

Friction cycles are always in play, some more severe than others. External forces pull at our inner tides, roiling otherwise placid waters. The grease that lubricates the chain also attracts the dirt that makes it squeak. A clam accepts whatever is irritating it and transforms it into a pearl.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Licking our wounds

The beautiful mess that is Broward County will leave a mark on you. It's a hungry town so unless you become an urban hermit, be prepared to leave some blood on its streets - or at least some sweat. Bus drivers thread their vehicles through the fabric of the city, passengers contribute their own energetic lines in the tapestry, creating improvised works of art daily. Like any fabric, it can leave a burn when you stumble.

We got a reprieve from the northern cold fronts that drifted too far south, the thermometer had risen back to the 70s, a nice warmth all over. I got to roll on the 10 this morning, one of my Top 5 routes. North and south on Federal Highway amidst all that it contains - and no train tracks to cross.

The bus was full from the start heading north out of Central Terminal. Looking at the standing load behind me, it was a welcome return to normal after the holiday lull. No traffic of consequence, so if anything was going to slow us down it was going to be the constant stopping. But that's what buses do: Go slow and stop a lot. I was thinking the route could use an earlier bus, but where's the fun in that? Perhaps an earlier bus would have prevented me from picking up the nice lady in Deerfield, hair both wild and straight.

A senior gentleman got on at Palmetto Park in Boca, his plastic bag bulging like an overgrown cantaloupe.
   "It's a ball from the Heat's winning season, maybe 1989," He explained when he saw my interest in the unusual package. At least that's what it sounded like he said. Considering how new the Heat as a team were three decades ago, maybe the number he told me was actually the collectible's value.
"LeBron spends $300 to $400 on coffee," he continued with curious trivia. "Cheer up, in 15 years you can retire. I did my 30." His encouragement as he exited was welcome after the busy trip.

Fortunately it would be the only busy trip of the day, which I couldn't have known so early in the shift as I pulled in to the north layover. Trying to predict such things is tricky, however I already knew that what we may have lacked in quantity would be made up for in quality.

Who should be waiting on Camino Real but our friend with the distinctive shuffle and omnipresent cooler, wandering over to my front door.
   "You're a saint and a half. Happy New Year!" He cheerily greeted me. A fresh injury on his elbow had exposed some blood. He was surprised to see it when I brought it to his attention and told him we couldn't move the bus unless he covered it up. He rubbed it with a finger, deftly applied a bandage to it, and tossed the wrapper on the sidewalk.
Our wounds now nursed, we were good to go. He pulled the cord once we crossed the Hillsboro Inlet, an unnecessary move since he always requested this stop and he was the only one aboard. Sometimes there's a comfort in going through the motions.
   "Stoooop requeeeested." He mimicked the bus announcer in slow motion and with a higher pitch. "That's what it should say. Did you see me put on that bandage so quick and clean? I missed my calling. I should have been a paramedic!"

BCT's joking Weatherman waited for us at Sample. In a cheery mood as usual, jovial under a silvery crown when I asked about the forecast.

We flew by Pompano Citi Centre, an enormous flock of starlings peering at us from the powerlines above, their hollow bones unable to make the massive cable sag.

A few minutes later we were idling at Atlantic, directly behind a silver Prius with the most relaxed beagle in east Broward reclining in the rear window.

We made our trip downtown, flipped it around, and came back up this way. The ball collector from the first trip boarded again.
   "You must be getting tired by now," he opined, though it had only been a couple hours.
'I'm just getting started!' I replied with joyful rebellion. He was a treasure trove of BCT history, telling me about old route alignments. Also of a time before Central Terminal when County buses parked on the east side of Stranahan Park, city buses on the west - before the Main Library was built there.

Ben, a regular on the 50, was down at Central Terminal for our next visit. With his trademark scarecrow hat and skateboard, I blurted out a couple taps on the horn for him.

Pulling out of safe harbor at Central Terminal to service my appointed rounds, I had to share a couple more love taps when we crossed paths with a ghost crossing Andrews Avenue. It was Ciccio, the prodigal son returned to town and active in the local art scene after a prolonged absence. Wearing blue shirt and shorts, his salt and pepper beard trimmed neatly like the last time I saw him on the 72. The beeps interrupted his distracted jaywalking as he looked up, a little preoccupied going the opposite way toward FAT Village.

The day was calm and we paid our fares. The shuttle pushed through the loom and the threads pulled snug, making way for the next line.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Good afteryear

A cold morning on a New Year's Eve in Broward County. The weather app said it was in the mid-50s. The sun wasn't up yet so there was no need to run the a/c, but it worked if we needed it. The horn, on the other hand, wasn't uttering a squeak. This is an indispensable feature on a bus, so we'd have to trade in this unit for another.

Everything looked and sounded good on the replacement bus, but the delay meant pulling out of the yard nearly half an hour behind schedule. It was probably my latest pull out of the year - not bad considering it was also the last day of the year. A pretty good run, I thought on the deadhead to the starting point. Flocks of ibis headed eastbound for breakfast, higher than usual. Maybe it was warmer up there.

The first trip filled the bus nicely, many passengers understandably upset when this bus didn't show up anywhere near on time. That's usually not a good way to start the day.

A familiar man who is a regular on the route was frustrated when I met him at the other end. He'd been waiting for an hour for the previous bus, and reported that it never showed. I had no reason to doubt him, and this news made the concerns of prior passengers even more poignant. If true, then I had no leader bus that first trip. My sympathy meter switched to MAX when I thought of the excessive wait they endured due to two consecutive delayed buses at a crucial time of the work day.

Fortunately, the next trip brought reassurance when I spotted my leader for the first time, essentially where he was scheduled to be. I was still late, however the deficit was now cut in half since I hadn't taken a break at the end of the first trip. Our schedules have varying amounts of "recovery time" built in between trips.That recovery is for the schedule, not the driver.

A long line of people waited outside Fish Peddler East for the doors to open, ready to supply their holiday parties. When we got to 441 a woman boarded and pressed the back of her phone against the fare box. Her move stuck out as unusual on this route but is quite common on routes that service Miami-Dade, where they use tap technology. Often folks will keep their passes tucked into their phone cases. I just remind them we're in Broward County, and they pull it out and swipe.

By the time we got to Galt Mile for the third visit, it was just past noon and the morning coolness was gone. With the a/c now running, a young lady in her Pieology uniform boarded, dreads on her shoulders. The restaurant at 18th Ave was brand new, so we talked about it.

The sun had shifted along with our direction change, and was cooking the driver's area despite the blowing fan. My back was sweaty so I peeled it off the seat to do the bus driver lean over the wheel and let it breathe.

"Good afteryear!" The slight, sprightly senior greeted me as she hiked the big step up on McNab Road, way out west. Her graying braids did nothing to slow her energetic entrance. The excitement was contagious, but was soon tempered by a radio alert to be on the lookout for a missing twelve year old boy. We never crossed paths, so I prayed for his safety and trusted that search would end well.

With the Hiatus loop behind us, we headed back east for the final time. The sun was receding the other way and took the greenhouse steam with it. Our cabin cooled on the way to the relief point, where my shift ended. I passed the bus on to the next driver, saying goodbye to him and the old year.


Thanks for your support, Broward County! It's always an honor and a pleasure to pick up neighbors and visitors as we get around town.
My routes this Pick are: 14, 36, 60, 62, & 441 Breeze. Sooo good to return to my beloved 14 & 60. See ya out there!