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.

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