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!

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