Sunday, December 13, 2020

Beach blur


COVID Chronicles
All the stories on the blog up to now have been about the time before 'pandemic' entered our daily vocabulary. Although those stories and others deserve to be told, I am skipping ahead in the timeline to share stories from this unique moment in our collective history. These new chapters will document the early days of life under lockdown and the ways we've been adjusting since. Stay strong. Bless you all.


A bus driver's schedule often doesn't resemble your standard Monday-to-Friday the normal world uses. My "Monday" was actually Thursday and involved a ten-hour stint on Route 11. I've written about this multi-faceted route before, how it's a long one that primarily covers the beach road before heading downtown and the northwest section of Fort Lauderdale proper. The main difference this Pick is that it was early March and Spring Break was underway. The beaches were still open and no mask mandates were in effect.

Miss Sheila drove several of us bus operators in the crew van to our relief point at Federal Highway. I was not the first one scheduled to leave, so I waited it out in the van. When the relief time cam and went, I started getting concerned. It usually arrived early and it's never fun to start a shift in the hole. The driver finally showed up and I hopped in the seat, not needing to ask why the delay. I was familiar with the A1A parking lot created by 100,000 college kids. The other driver mentioned the bus stalled out a couple times, so that only added to the lateness. The bright, sunny, clear day and the crowds such a combination attracts would be the biggest factors until night fell.

Starting out about twenty minutes down, the best I could do was just keep it moving. We rolled down 14th Street Causeway over the Intracoastal, and made the tightest of turns onto A1A. A regular who's a chef (and part-time DJ) waited at one of the first stops. With beach towel in hand along with a five o'clock shadow, he clearly wasn't heading into work. Big sunglasses hid his eyes, but a big lazy smile said he was feelin' good.

We finally reached The Strip south of Sunrise Boulevard, the most popular stretch of beachfront. A couple teen boys who boarded uptown didn't dare blink now, lest they miss the scenery of collegiate thongs.
"Check out those water-malones!" one announced without shame.

Red-blooded young men may never change, but the times were stirring others out of their comfort zones. As soon as we turned on to Las Olas, an unmistakable downtown denizen was waiting to board. In so many years, I've never seen him stray from his home turf, yet here he was where the road ran into the ocean. Some mumbling and a handful of change would suffice as his greeting, I invited him to have a seat, shocked at his presence as a passenger. It may have been regrettable for the other passengers as he felt compelled to blurt a four-letter expletive loudly and repeatedly.

Three other #11 buses passed us on Las Olas going the opposite direction. Two would have been a sight, but three within a 10-minute span were proof the route was broken today and the schedule could be thrown out the window.

Soon after leaving Central Terminal, the bus decided to stall out on Sistrunk Boulevard just before Bass Bros. Market, as the previous driver had warned. It restarted a minute later to the relief of everyone aboard.

Rolling our way up 21st Ave we came to a young regular who seemed a bit anxious.
"Bro! What happened!? I've been waiting two hours!" He had to share his upset.
I'd been in the seat about that length already, and rather than recount the reasons for our delay, I chose to sympathize with the young man.

More congestion at the end of the line was the perfect capper to a trying journey, and ensured that the deficit I started with was now doubled. No breaks for this driver, we serviced the last stop and kept it moving.

Every new trip is a chance to be reborn, and hopes were high that things would stabilize after the first one. Like clockwork, the bike rack filled up at Oakland Park Boulevard which meant the next bike would be out of luck. Making our way through Roosevelt Gardens, sure enough a bike tire came into focus. An older man held on to it, and fortunately the rest of the bike wasn't with him.

Back over beachside on A1A, the road flowed nicely once we cleared the Strip. Big Jim leaned on his walker by the curb, anticipating the bus door pulling up to him. I complimented his floral shirt, the man was stylin'.

Where the public beach gives way to condo towers, I picked up my regular under the sea grapes. A sweet little older woman, whoever has her as their grandmother is lucky as can be. She wasn't upset, but genuinely wondered why we were late. This stop is out of sight of the chaos we left behind, so I said simply: "Spring Break" and she understood.

Again, there would be no break at the end as we kept it in motion, whittling away at the schedule. The sweet lady hadn't wasted any time doing her errand and waited for us on the return trip.
"Robert, thank you for coming back." She greeted me the second time.
   'That's what I do.' I reminded her.
"They don't always come back..." she replied with an air of sadness.
   'Well, let's not jinx it,' I implored her, well-acquainted with all possible reasons a bus may discontinue service.

There's nothing sadder than an empty bus in service, but to be empty from Sistrunk to the western end of the line was surreal. My leader soon revealed himself a short distance ahead, doing all the picking up. Our next trip would see a return to normalcy. The evening hours were upon us and the earlier heat had subsided.

On State Road 7, a young man made a funny gesture as I pulled up to him, his mischievous grin gleaming in the night. After he exited, an old woman using a wheelchair boarded, making a timid complaint about a bus passing her as I pulled her chair on board and set the brakes, while she made her way to the upper deck.

Wake-up calls come our way frequently, and I got a jolt as an errant taxi drifted into our lane on A1A. A tap on the horn alerted it to back off and from there it was smooth sailing. 

After seven straight hours in the seat without a break, I finally had time to catch my breath at the end of the trip. There were still a couple hours left on this lengthy shift, but the party people were off the street and in the clubs so there would be no more surprises tonight. We could cruise peacefully into tomorrow, when we'd do it all over again. For now, young men and women could enjoy each other's company, blissfully unaware of how their frivolity would soon be coming to an abrupt halt.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Doin' something else

COVID Chronicles
All the stories on the blog up to now have been about the time before 'pandemic' entered our daily vocabulary. Although those stories and others deserve to be told, I am skipping ahead in the timeline to share stories from this unique moment in our collective history. These new chapters will document the early days of life under lockdown and the ways we've been adjusting since. Stay strong. Bless you all.


A bright Spring day with lots of clouds. That's how we do it in South Florida most of the year. I drove myself and three other drivers in a taxi from the garage to our relief point for an afternoon on the 441 Breeze. It would just be a few trips, but they were fairly long: from Coral Springs down to Miami Gardens, about 30 miles one way.

The previous driver delivered the bus plenty early, so I had time to do a proper walk-around inspection and adjust the mirrors. When the appointed time arrived, I shifted into gear and merged into traffic for the start of a nearly two-hour trek down south.

The Breeze is limited stop, generally only at major intersections along 441. It's easy to keep track of where you are and you're unlikely to miss a stop. We marched right down the line: Sample Road, Copans Road, Coconut Creek Parkway to start us out. After servicing Atlantic Boulevard, I beeped out a love tap for the Statue of Liberty. It was tax season so a woman stood by the street in her costume, waving a sign for Liberty Tax.

Down at Oakland Park Boulevard, the left lane was closed for road work. This forced traffic in the other lanes to get over. We were still in the  middle lane when one car cut ahead of us like it had no brakes, so we missed the light. That makes the bus late, but also gives more people time to get to the stop. A dozen plus boarded there and all three bike rack slots were filled. I helped an older woman pull her fully-loaded folding cart on the bus and someone called out: "You should be the mayor, you help everyone!"

An hour later we arrived at the end of the line in Miami Gardens. The Park & Ride facility is nestled beside Golden Glades, a massive interchange where numerous highways and surface streets converge from all directions. We had a little wait, and I boarded one woman who was already there since she'd be more comfortable in the cool cabin. She may have been the only passenger from the start, but we got company going back north. The crowd of folks transferring at Miami Gardens Drive with their blue-inked Miami-Dade Transit transfers; the benches at Ives Dairy Road lined with people waiting for other buses (though we waited for a runner in his red Donna's Restaurant uniform); then Countyline Road before re-entering Broward County and its stops: Hallandale/Miramar, Pembroke Road, Hollywood Boulevard and all the rest.

An Atomiko orange that wasn't visible on the trip south was now smiling back at us from the wall of Metro Signs at Plunkett Street in Hollywood.

The school crossing guard at Riverland Road waved as she must at every bus. Most of them don't, so I'm sure to wave back for those that do.

Just about an hour and a half later we're back up to Atlantic. Not sure if the Liberty lady was still posted across the street, but it had been a smooth trip and we were only about five minutes down. With three more stops before the end, we'd make up that time easily.

While at the Turtle Creek layover, my friend Rockland appeared. A sometime-DJ and fulltime hustler in a good way, he had a mixed bag of news. Just out of jail over a misunderstanding, he lined up a construction job in Little Havana for the next morning. It was an early start, so he was heading down to spend the night there. First he wanted to panhandle up here for a couple hours, hoping he'd cross paths with a generous winner leaving the casino.

I pulled out empty for my final trip, which isn't unusual when leaving that layover. Passing the Sample stop because it was empty was unusual, however. There's nothing sadder than an empty bus that's still in service, and fortunately the dry spell was broken at the next stop as a regular in his Bravo Supermarket cap boarded. Heavy congestion after Atlantic didn't affect us as we switched over to the middle lane and bypassed the Southgate back-up. 

Another decent crowd got on at Oakland Park. It may have been there, or a couple stops later when a woman labored aboard.
"Whenever I see you, I think you should be doin' something else. You're too intelligent for this. I mean it." Her deep, weary eyes told me she truly did.
   'You're the best.' I replied, and meant it too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Whatever happens


The previous shift on Route 40 had been an epic effort in futility and perseverance in the midst of chaos. From starting out late to an endless stream of delays. Sometimes those delays are the stuff Life is made of - and where are we really going in such a hurry anyway?

Today's shift on the notorious 40 started about the same as that other one, including getting the bus late. Now, I've done my share of delivering the bus late to the relief point myself, and been on the receiving end of an impatient driver's ire. I resolved long ago to take these times in stride and not give another driver a hard time over something that's out of their hands. So long as the equipment is intact and everyone's safe, it's all good.

The first few hours were a push to keep from falling further behind and amazingly we eventually got got back on schedule about a third of the way in. Sure, there were a smattering of potential time killers: the bus wasn't announcing so I did it Old School; a vehicle transporter pulled in front of us ever so slowly at an inopportune time; an ambulance downtown triggered the lights to change so we missed a cycle; a street fight at Government Center; lost passengers; and a mass of cyclists all did their part to slow us down.

While I was grinding through the workday, beachgoers lounged lazily on the sand, soaking in the sunshine and sipping cool drinks. No resentment on my part - it's good to know someone is out there having a good time without a care in the world. We all get to enjoy the salty ocean air equally.

When we got to the end of the line, a guy who boarded at the terminal showed no signs of exiting. 

"Do you go on Sistrunk at all?" He asked, obviously unaware there are two 40 buses at the terminal, an eastbound and a westbound. He'd boarded the former when he needed the latter. A common mistake, and a reminder to always ask the driver if the bus is going to your destination. He didn't seem in a hurry, and the view out the window was fine.

So we turned around to head back, essentially on time now. Naturally that meant we were due for a delay, and we found one at the 17th Street bridge, one of three drawbridges on this route. This signature bridge that greets visitors to Port Everglades is one of the largest in the county, and speed is not a feature. It took even longer since vehicles were stuck on the span thanks to the infamous congestion on that street in the afternoon. Transportation planners have publicly admitted nothing more can be done to alleviate the gridlock there. Except perhaps get more of those drivers on transit. From the sttep slope of the birdge's incline we could enjoy the view of moored yachts at Pier 66 and a single freighter at the port itself. The clear vantage of downtown's skyline to the southwest was dominated by the construction cranes of ICON Las Olas, at that time the tallest tower under construction at 455 feet.

We rolled throught he surging city core and emerged onto Sistrunk Boulevard for our misdirected passenger. I'd made up about half the deficit from the bridge delay, but I was still late getting to Sunrise Boulevard where I caught my leader bus. He spotted me and went into Drop Off Mode all the way to the end at Lauderhill Mall. Once there, he got instructions to get back on schedule. That meant he left empty while I had a busload out of the mall, including a wheelchair.

Despite the heavy start to this trip, we were on time and rolling smoothly. At the fire station before the Swap Shop, a young man in a Publix uniform boarded asking what happened to the bus before ours. I apologized for the wait and thanked him for his patience.

Several folks begged for rides at Central Terminal: a teenager needing to get to work on 17th Street and two homeless men saying the shelter told them they could get free rides to the feeding on the beach. Everybody rides my bus, so it wasn't a problem. At least they took the time to come up with a story.

Once we got to the Galleria at the end, I was able to get out of the seat for the first time this pick, since all previous visits had found me running too late to take a break. After a much-needed ten minute stretch, we headed back.

At Bahia Mar, there was only a handful compared to our ususal post-feeding crowd. The others must have taken another bus. Now we had an elderly man in a wheelchair. Also a younger man in his 30s with long thin dreads. His woman and infant child were with him and I could see the brokenness in his eyes as he asked in a heartfelt and humble tone for a ride to Central Terminal. Welcome aboard, have a seat.

A Florida East Coast RR freighter doubled our five minute deficit after leaving the terminal and ate up any break time I hoped to see at the end. Two engines, those trademark camel-humped quarry cars, and endless containers presented a rusty moving barrier to our forward progress.

Our last trip of the day, we'd entered the quiet cruise of evening. I pulled out of Galleria with an empty bus and stayed that way for nearly ten minutes, unusual for even for the time of night. It was just me and the one passenger until we got to Pier 66. There we picked up one of its longest residents, who always pays with a row of quarters. This bus gets him over the bridge to the bars and restaurants that 17th Street is famous for. Today is his birthday and he's ready to celebrate. He's grown a little bitter over the years, tells me he's had it with the USA and is moving to Monaco.

Burning off a few minutes at the terminal, an older Jamaican gentleman shared something nice from a day he rode my Route 2 bus.

"I was shot, and you gave me a ride." he recalled. I meet a lot of shot folks and didn't exactly remember that encounter.

Crossing over Sunirse Boulevard, the drive-in movie screens at Thunderbird punctuated the darkness. Race cars exploded as we passed.

Somewhere before we made the last turn on to 441 to finish the route for the day, a woman walked up to prepare for her exit. She emitted a positive vibe with a smile and bright eyes behind glasses.

"Always smile whatever happens." She encouraged me in a lilting accent.

'I like that." I replied, and took her advice. The equipment was intact, everyone was safe, and it was all good.

Monday, August 24, 2020

So slow, so fast


Less than an hour into a late night on 441. The evening was young, yet late enough that rush hour was over. We'd made the first of several trips north, just a few stops left before crossing the county line into Palm Beach. An older woman boarded at Johnson Road with no greeting or mention of the fare, only a judgmental comment about the blank headsign on the front of the bus. This was followed by general disgust about poor bus service, and somehow related to a quote she recalled from an 80s business book:
"There's no shortage of money; there's a shortage of ideas."
Clearly she believed there was a lack of focus in the way services are rendered.
"People are distracted today, and don't spend time thinking," she went on, as she loosely connected a short-sighted approach with the fact there would be no bus for her to catch in a couple hours when she needed it most.

We made the Sandalfoot loop in Boca Raton and slid into the layover slot. A 20-something guy wearing a backpack to accessorize his colorful hipster outfit wandered on board before I could leave the seat.
"I lost my backpack on a 19 bus," he started with a soft-spoken manner, looking at me through smart glasses and impressive thick shoulder-length braids framing his face. I might have begun to point at the backpack he already had, but that was too obvious.
"It has a firearm inside," he explained, whispering the confession.
I advised him to call Customer Service and offered him a ride south, but he was going north.
"It's like life went to shit so fast..." he thought aloud as he stepped back on to the sidewalk and drifted away.

That disturbing encounter was left behind when I got back down to Lauderhill Mall and bumped into a regular. The shift was about half over and we were into the 10 o'clock hour. My friend caught my bus to hit a bar uptown.. We took the good times on the road as we left the bus terminal and turned on to State Road 7. A couple stops in, an obviously inebriated gentleman boarded with a vacant smile. He stood up front, presumably not to miss his stop. His vision must have been blurry, since he stood too close to my friend and stepped on the toes of his new boots. That flipped a switch in this man who had been joking only a moment before. He got dark fast, reaching in his pocket and threatening to pull out his pistol. He was disrespected and demanded an apology. I worked to calm him down, pointing out the offender was drunk and didn't do it on purpose. He calmed down till we got to Oakland Park Boulevard, where he exited and stood just outside the door, taunting the hot-stepper to get off too. The other guy was still oblivious of his wrongdoing, so I offered up the apology the situation demanded, and thanked him for his patience to boot. Sometimes the best way to de-escalate a tense moment is to just close the door, so that's what I did.

The toe-cruncher remained aboard and needed assistance locating his stop. I was happy to remind him when we got there, he gave me thanks and a fist bump. It was as if the trouble he'd initiated never even happened. It's like life went so fast...

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Allowed to cry


After a rough start to our new selection of routes, it was a blessed relief to have a day or two of slow shifts behind the wheel. I may have even been hoping for a little boredom when I hopped in the seat for an afternoon/evening run on Route 11. This route covers different parts of the County than my previous day on the 62, but the general route structure was similar: Long from end to end with lots of turns and no true dedication to a particular street. However, a considerable length of it services A1A, the beach road, so drivers can be forgiven for an occasional glimpse at the natural beauty of our subtropical paradise.

We started at the west end, heading east. Las Olas was bustling on a crisp January afternoon. Leggy beauties displayed the seasonal fashion of thigh-high hemlines, floral prints, and stockings. Countless yachts filled the tight canals around the finger isles, aquatic yard ornaments showcased by their mansions. Atop the Intracoastal bridge, a couple cops were taking their report for a bad fender bender; no tall ships would be passing through anytime soon.

The lazy nature of a Sunday afternoon and too much time on the schedule meant we got to the beach a bit early. It was the halfway point so we had to wait, and while we sat burning off those minutes a young lady came up wondering why. She was going to be late for work and the Uber app wasn't working. I sympathized with her and reminded her there were earlier buses. It wouldn't help her now, but I hoped it didn't ruin her day.

We glided up the world famous Fort Lauderdale Strip, a slow roll through abundance, comfort, and tranquility. Sometimes Life is about timing, and the time was right north of Oakland Park Boulevard. I crossed paths with two classmates from our days of training as new hires with the County. Suresh on the 72 and Steve on the 55, all of us doing the bus driver wave. Our schedules and routes take us on different paths, but at least part of the journey would be ours to share.

A couple blocks of reminiscing was enough, as I picked up a mother with her teenage son and daughter. They waited patiently at one of the distinctive colorful bus stops you only find in Lauderdale-by-the-sea. And that patience would come in handy. Near the end of the trip, Mom came up and told me in broken English where they needed to go. It was the other end of the route. So if they were in a hurry, they got on the wrong bus. They seemed fine with the situation, judging by the girlish giggles as the son told jokes on the long journey back. Laughter transcends any language gap.

The trio took the grand tour of a wide swath of Broward County by the time we got to the last stop, passing through multiple cities and visiting places usually unseen by tourists. I had about 20 minutes to stretch, and drifted over to the homeless woman camping in the bus shelter. She was familiar to me from other parts of town, but we hadn't had a chance to chat before. It was impossible to have a two-sided conversation with her, so I just listened. She wasn't explicitly asking for anything I could give her, so I lent her my ear. In a calm, flat way she wished aloud someone would give her a key to a house, so she wouldn't have to experience homelessness for one night. Her makeshift headwrap was a halo on her silver hair as she told me how everyone is owned by Satanists, so she doesn't trust their intentions when they assist her. By then it was nearly time to go.
   'You're welcome to ride with us, if you want.' I offered her the only assistance I had at hand.
"I have nowhere to go," she replied with sublime resignation.
   'Good night to you.' I wished her well as I readied to depart, torn no small amount at leaving someone's drifting mother to fend for herself out here.

Our last trip of the day, even though on a Sunday, is no time to lower your alert. Especially if previous trips went smoothly; it can't stay quiet forever.

On 21st Avenue, I picked up the legend of that street. Alternating between vicious verbal cruelty and fervent street talk, she's a classic Earth mother and just as volatile. Fortunately today the gentle version boarded our bus. Perhaps the $20 she just made while panhandling cheered her up. the bus filled with the fumes she was running on, now she was off to the corner store to refuel.
"Let me off at the store, Bus Driver," she requested. It wasn't a designated stop, and not exactly ideal for a courtesy stop, so I was hesitant to oblige. Luckily an angel on her shoulder changed her mind.
"No! Let me off across from the church, so I can pray on my way to the store."
Now we were at an actual bus stop, a couple houses away. The church is across the street.
"I love to pray, but church people look at me weird," she went on, smarting my nostrils with high-test vapors.
   'Don't worry about them,' I encouraged her.
"Tell your mama she raised you right!"
   'Thanks for that,' I returned with sincere acknowledgment as I closed the doors.
Another woman on the bus commented snidely about mixing god and alcohol. Still, you have to be thankful for the good spirits when they visit.

Five minutes later we were in The Greens, a low-income housing community nicknamed for its paint color. A woman was hassling three boys playing by the bus stop, giving them an earful like a mother hen. The ceaseless chatter continued on the bus as we slid down Sistrunk Boulevard. She settled for a pass to make her next connection when she learned a pass for the next day was impossible. That released a torrent of thanks and gratitude the rest of her trip, though it had the same vibe as the meandering jabber we'd heard up till then. It was an impressive performance of observation, insight, and even confession.
"I wasn't allowed to cry at my house," she chose to admit as she exited. This was the dry season for our region, and a season in her life. The rainclouds disappear during those months, and talking would substitute for tears here in the heart of broken promises and unrealized dreams.

Back on Las Olas, the horn of plenty overflowed as three clean and classy women speaking German boarded. They would ride way uptown, where the air is fresh and the street is clean.

No sooner did we turn on to A1A for this last beachside trip than a kicking leg caught my eye. A young woman with rolling suitcase had her hands full so she found a creative way to flag us.
   'You know how to stop a bus.' I commended her amusing signal.
"Some drivers don't see you when you wave your arm." She explained, not wanting to get passed by a bus that comes every hour. She was a leisure traveller, simply riding the bus till it didn't go any further, then dragging her baggage along with her into the calm quiet night. The shift had been quiet too, making all the scheduled turns, along with some new stops you won't see on the route map - yet deserving not to be passed by.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

One good Saturday

The first week of the new pick was coming to a close, and after an epic shift on the 40, it would be nice to have a peaceful Saturday afternoon on a far quieter route. Route 62 fits the bill. It's a more or less east-west route in northern Broward County, but also has a considerable stretch of north-south coverage in the northwest part of the county. In many ways, it's a holdover from earlier years in Broward Transit's history, when routes were designed to cover as much ground as possible and weren't necessarily dedicated to a single main street. It promised to be a quiet day in a quiet part of town, a welcome reprieve from the brutal previous day.

The first hour rolled by smooth as you like, setting the pace for trips to come. Out where Kimberly Boulevard ends at 81st Avenue, I spotted my friend Francois on the opposite sidewalk, pointing my way. His beaming smile may have come from spotting me first, not exactly fair since I was in the most obvious vehicle on the road. But it always makes my day to see a familiar face when driving a route, so I pointed back and called his name out the window.

The next trip brought a little more excitement when the quirky older woman who I only run into in Coral Springs showed up. Slight in stature, and thus easily overlooked, I could only smile when her trademark barrage of nervous questions began coming my way. The majority of the questions don't require an answer, but my acknowledging them seems to put her at ease.

Almost halfway into the trip, I picked up a long lost regular from previous runs on the 60 in a much different part of town. He was my Jamaican friend who pushes train cars loaded with rock at Matco Industries in Pompano. Those days he tended to seem weary after the day's work was done, but today he was revitalized telling me about his newborn son turning two months old. He was out apartment hunting to find more room for his growing family. He used to have a car, but let the bank take it when they jacked up interest rates. When his boss heard about it, he gave his hardest working employee a scooter. Just needed to transfer the title.

The day was winding down, just a couple hours left in the seat when we got to State Road 7. An elderly man waited in a wheelchair, a medical boot on his left foot. The advanced years had given him wisdom on life, war, soldiers, and drug addiction. Oh, and a philosophy on love: "You just need one good woman." He talked and I listened the entire way to his destination on this one good Saturday.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Small blessings (or, Open heart surgery)

[Intro note: It's been almost as long as it takes a baby to be born since I last posted a story here. I could make excuses about how I took a break during the holidays, then the world stopped during the COVID-19 quarantine, and subsequent social unrest. But I'm not one for excuses so I'll simply pick up where we left off. Sure, our world has changed dramatically in the intervening months, but our shared histories are still of great worth. So long as that's the case, the story must be told.
Hopefully any memory of the hiatus will be obliterated by this epic saga of a day on the 40, back when it was the stuff of legend. Take your time, don't rush it. There's no hurry. Enjoy and bless up, Broward County.]

Even though I drive the bus for work, I also ride it to work. This allows me to begin fresh-faced, relaxed, and prepared for the challenges that await. I chatted with my coworker Jacqui as she drove us uptown, confident it would be a straightforward afternoon on the 40. This was the first day of the new pick, when all that is old becomes new, and the route was familiar to me as it covered so much of my lifetime stomping grounds.

Checked into Dispatch, located the two other drivers I was sharing a taxi with, and headed down to Central Terminal. We arrived a little late, but still on time since this was the notoriously late 40 - and it would not disappoint today. It showed up about 15 minutes in the hole, I hopped in the seat, rolled up Andrews Avenue, cut a left onto Sistrunk Boulevard and was ceremoniously greeted by clanging bells and flashing lights. A travelling art gallery of graffiti chugged by on the rusty cars of a FEC freight train. With two engines leading the way, it looked to be a long one so I popped the parking brake to wait it out. The first hundred cars were piled high with their white mounds of Miami limestone, the second hundred were standard shipping containers with logos faded from sailing the world. I lost count after that.
"Oh my god. I could been there by now." A young lady in the back vented her frustration with the delay. Her boyfriend joined her by attempting to insult me with a personalized slur. It's not my job to infringe their freedom of speech, so I focused on the task of operating the bus, which was delayed even longer since the crossing arms remained down five minutes after the train had passed. We detoured to another crossing and got back on route. The girl apologized as she exited, and even wished me a good day. I told her to take care.

That fifteen minute deficit at the start of the shift had more than doubled by the time we got to the end of the line at Lauderhill Mall. That meant no break, just time to service the stop and begin the next trip east.

We were at the pull-in bus stop on 38th Avenue, barely into this new trip, when I heard the sirens. Looking all directions, but seeing no sign of a patrol car, I spotted a minivan in my side mirror. It was racing our way, swerving between other cars, the front banged up, and mirrors dangling uselessly. The van's windows were down, giving a wide open view of several teenage boys inside. They whipped a screeching turn onto 19th Street, and we stayed put. Hot on their tails, an unrelenting stream of police cars were in full on pursuit. Their department insignia said they came from Lauderhill, Fort Lauderdale, Broward Sheriff's Office and anyone else in the vicinity. When the caravan reached 50 units, it seemed like a good round number to stop counting.

The coast was clear, so we made the same turn and followed the action. At least for a few blocks. All the players in the drama we'd just witnessed had disappeared, but now a red car was parked in our lane just short of the next turn. Another car to our left prevented us from going around.The driver of the red car jumped out to taunt the occupants of the other car, and a heated argument ensued in the middle of the street, giving all of us on the bus a front row seat. An older woman on board lamented how dangerous it was "out there".

By some miracle we'd made up a few minutes on the way to Central Terminal. Not enough to give me hope of catching up, but at least it was the right direction. The route would soon regain those minutes, and many more besides. Any inkling of momentum was snuffed out by the chaotic congestion downtown.

This trip called for a side shot into Point of Americas off 17th Street, a cluster of condo towers at the inlet to the port. Not every bus goes in there, and this confused an older gentleman who wondered if the route had changed. I reassured him it hadn't.

The street transitioned into A1A, opening up to the beach, and the busy yet peaceful activity on this side of town was in sharp contrast to the frenetic madness we'd already encountered. Daylight was beginning to wane, the ocean was calm and gentle, freighters floated a mile offshore.

A young lady waited at Las Olas, speaking clear English with a vaguely European accent. The peace and comfort outside the bus followed her aboard as she walked through my door. She was going to South Beach, down Miami way. This was not a good place to start such a trip by bus, so I let her out at the next stop with instructions for catching a bus the other way.

Sometimes in our hurry we need to be reminded to slow down. The easy pace of beach life would have been sufficient, but our reminder came in the form of a bridge delay on Sunrise Boulevard, within sight of the end of the line at the Galleria. When we finally cleared the bridge, the bus was 40 minutes late.

Again, no time for a break at the layover. I stayed in the seat and picked up an older couple originally from Tacoma, Washington, on the other side of the country They were fond of ecotours, excitedly describing whale sightings in Alaska and alligators in the Everglades.

About 10 minutes down the road we caught up with the bus ahead of us. I passed her to help service stops. At Holiday Drive across from the former Yankee Clipper (now B Ocean hotel), a lively bunch of construction workers waited. Their weary clothes and trusty hard hats were coated with the dust of the day yet didn't diminish the excitement to be on their way home.

That other bus caught me a few minutes later in front of Pier 66. It turned out I was actually her leader and she'd somehow passed without my notice. I was still more than half an hour late and we needed to separate our buses, so I went into drop off mode. We started picking up passengers again about 20 minutes later, but the fact I was still half an hour down confirmed any attempt to get back on schedule was an effort in futility.

So again we got no break at the end of the line, just time to pick up everyone at Lauderhill Mall and head back east. At Central Terminal, a wide-eyed young woman boarded and we got out of there, trying to get some momentum going. Naturally, the Andrews Avenue bridge would choose that moment to go up and delay us a few more minutes. Once we finally got over the bridge, the woman asked another passenger if we were going to Lauderhill. It's a common mistake for people boarding the 40 at the terminal to board the one going the wrong way. Please ask the driver when you board, regardless of what the headsign reads. We finished the trip, and by skipping yet another chance for a break, were now only 20 minutes late to begin our next west bound.

Somehow the golden girl going to South Beach was waiting for us again after all that time. At least now she was going the right direction. She stood up front behind me, sightseeing. That's when the glorious chaos arrived. At Bahia Mar, that docking site of the infamous fictional Busted Flush, a crowd waited to board. Their bellies full and spirits high after a feast provided by the charitable chef Arnold Abbott and his Love Thy Neighbor crew, this salty sea of humanity swept in through the door. A wheelchair, a walker, rolling luggage all flowed in relentlessly. The blonde had no choice but to ride the wave into the cabin as the tide rose up front. An especially sociable gentleman brought up the rear, shook my hand, and made his way to the back row, talking to everyone along the way. The noise subsided and we got rolling again. A gentle voice whispered nearby, "I am here." It was the blonde again, laughing about the funny man.
"All these crazy people!" She marvelled.
   'Crazy people? Wait till you get to South Beach!' I tried to play down the rush of excitement, knowing full well this madness was a force of nature.

In short order we had a standing load, before A1A turned into 17th St. We got to US 1, the blonde exited for the next leg of her journey south, and the old Brit limped aboard. Still trim with groomed gray beard, he struggled more than usual thanks to some fresh wounds. He'd been assaulted recently and had several broken ribs. While he needed to talk about it, we needed to go, so I asked him to stand close and tell me what happened. There were no available seats anyway, so his options were limited. His shaky voice expressed disappointment and betrayal as he recounted the vile incident, adding that his phone was stolen the night before.

We followed the S-curve by Broward General, turned onto Andrews Avenue, and serviced the stop in front of the hospital. A middle-aged man wearing a patient wristband tentatively approached the open door, wanting to go somewhere uptown. He would have to take our bus to Central Terminal and switch to another. When I encounter folks released from the hospital, and they happen to be disoriented or unstable on their feet, I dial up the concern.
   'How ya feelin'? Did the nurses treat ya alright?' I inquired to ease his anxiety.
"Yeah." He finally answered, flatly. "I had open heart surgery."

The bus emptied out a bit at Central Terminal, workers making connections to the flurry of other routes passing through. In no time we were back in motion, now almost 40 minutes late. My follower caught me at the end of Sistrunk Boulevard, told her I'd stay in service till the end of the line at Lauderhill Mall and phone Dispatch from there. She booked it to get herself back on time while I continued picking up passengers.

On 38th Avenue, site of the earlier police chase and just blocks from the Hill, a young man about 20 with a puffball snowcap was waiting. He was on the phone, but was kind enough to pause the conversation to greet me.
"No fare. My girl left me on Uber." He tried to explain. We only had a few more stops so I told him to have a seat. Another passenger noticed and commended me for blessing the kid.
"Small blessings become big blessings, Drivah." He philosophized with a squeaky Jamaican accent.
   'I hope so.' I heartily stood in agreement.
The kid stayed up front, continually begging for a courtesy pass. Persistent, but not nasty about it. I asked if he was in sales with that persistence. He chuckled.

We finally arrived at Luaderhill Mall, the end of the line, but not the end of the shift. There was still a full round trip left on my schedule, but I'd been in the seat for more than six hours non-stop and needed to make a pit stop. After taking care of business I called Dispatch for a reset since I was nearly an hour late. I was instructed to deadhead to the Galleria, cutting out an entire eastbound trip. It didn't put me back on time, but it was close enough and the final trip was a breeze now that the frenzy of the day had subsided. The ocean lapped gently at the coast and the city settled down for the night.

When I got back to Lauderhill Mall, the kid with the puffball cap was still there hanging out. He asked if I could take him around the corner since I was going that way anyhow. Told him I couldn't, the bus was now out of service. There would be plenty more buses to take him where he needed to go, it was time to share the small blessings with them. This bus was heading home.