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.