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.