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.

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