Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Let's rock & roll


COVID Chronicles

All the stories on the blog up to recently 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.


It's a good policy to leave the troubles of the past in your rear view mirror. Still visible, yet gradually growing smaller with distance. In bus driving, we don't often have the luxury of dwelling on the past when the present makes its presence known in new and imaginative ways.

Today was the same route as yesterday, however when the bus I was taking over showed up on time, it brought a new hope. Clouds were moving in this afternoon, but it was bright enough for sunglasses.

We were still accepting fares at this time, and though the farebox took money in ok, it emitted only an unpleasant raspberry when a day pass was expected. Fortunately the driver of the 83 bus laying over behind me was kind enough to issue a few to see me through the shift.

The traffic at the north end wasn't terrible, an improvement over the previous day. The passengers were in no hurry on this side of town, gentle sea breezes have that effect. Two cyclists at stops a couple miles from each other needed assistance with the bike rack, and we soon found ourselves falling behind.

The first choke point appeared after Sunrise Boulevard, when one lane was blocked so Ruben Ubiera could station a manlift as he worked on his latest masterpiece. A riot of tropical color featuring fiercely delicate betta fish and bursting hibiscus blooms flowed over the entire length of the skywalk connecting Westin Hotel patrons to the beach. Perched above the street directly under the span, the artist worked his magic. I gave a couple love taps on the horn as I glided by, to express support without startling him. We shared waves and carried on with our work.

After the sublime sky bridge, the only obstacles to contend with were the masses of Spring Breakers. When they weren't jaywalking but actually using crosswalks, they bravely trusted oncoming vehicles to observe signs posted giving priority to pedestrians.

Context is everything, so while the plentiful parade of skin at the beach was intended to impress, a more graphic display on Sistrunk Boulevard caused us to recoil. A woman came rushing at us from a side street much like someone attempting to catch the bus.She approached without caution, not respecting the enormity of the machine, so I braked accordingly. Her pants had slid down and her rear end was exposed, the face wide-eyed and vacant, clearly under the influence of a fearful psychosis. I kept the doors closed for everyone's safety. As quickly as she arrived, she turned and hurried off. Bystanders observed out of curiosity, giving her a wide berth.

The obstacles continued as we made our way north by the warehouses on 23rd Avenue. A semi truck was backing up to a loading zone, paralyzing the narrow stretch. Sometimes the harder we push forward, the more we're reminded to slow down. If we push hard enough, something comes along to stop us in our tracks. So, like clockwork the bus decided to die as we crossed Commercial Boulevard and came to a silent stop beside Caporella Park. No warning lights, no buzzers - and no restarting. It was thirsty for more diesel and we weren't moving until road service came to our assistance. The passengers transferred to the next bus and continued to their destinations. In the meantime, I'd sit out rush hour with the curious ducks waddling over from the pond.

Gassed up and reset back where I was supposed to be in the rotation, we had a chance for a fresh start. This dynamic town wasn't about to let me glide through the shift that easily. A bridge delay on Las Olas was the first salvo of a trifecta that would remind me of how arbitrary our schedules can be. The bridge funnelled us onto the crawling boulevard, a single lane trickling like sand in an hourglass. At this speed we could vicariously enjoy the sights and sounds provided for the entertainment of outdoor diners and their Friday night reveries. A lengthy train delay after leaving Central Terminal ensured we'd be late the rest of this trip. When we reached the final stop, I stayed in the seat and kept it moving.

The trip back east rolled smoothly now that timeliness was off the table. By the railroad tracks on Sistrunk, I picked up my barback friend from Lulu's Bait Shack, our usual conversation abbreviated to a simple fist bump. A young man at Central Terminal with a cross tattoo under his left eye needed a ride to the beach, and was impressively polite about it. Back on Las Olas, half a dozen bikers in Gideons MC leathers escorted us in a cloud of rolling thunder. They buffered us from an SUV that was intent on cutting to the head of the line as each light turned green. Never did see the kid with the face tat get off, he just disappeared. We may speak to each other with silence, gestures, and ground-shaking tremors, but we get our points across.

For the last trip of the day we started only a few minutes late and I was confident that we could finally get on time since it was now late night and traffic wouldn't be an issue.

An older man in a wheelchair boarded at the start point, the same spot where I'd begun eight hours earlier. He was a bit tipsy and needed my help not to miss his stop. It was Friday after all, and not unusual for folks to start their weekends on a high note. The night regulars emerged from the shadowed bus stops. The Lowe's guy who clocks out just in time to catch the bus, and then the security guard on the way to his graveyard shift. Reserved and quiet, he contrasts with Woody, the man whose post he's taking over. Animated and anxious about missing his connection, he boards with an announcement.
"One on, one off. Alright, let's rock and roll!" 
He stands up front clinging to the stanchions, the anticipation building with each obstacle we encounter until he bounds off the bus in a blur of navy blue.

Our wait at Central Terminal stretched to fifteen minutes as we waited for the other routes to file in from all over the county. Everyone boarded with relief not to be stranded after their long day and we set out on the final leg, usually an uneventful journey through sleepy neighborhoods. Except it was still Friday night and mandated curfews were not yet in effect, so we shouldn't have been surprised to find ourselves in the midst of a block party shortly after turning off Sistrunk. This block party exceeded most, with hundreds of people milling amongst endless cars parked along the street. Squeezing a 40 foot bus through the mass was a game of inches and unlimited patience. Sound systems boomed with a thunder that put the Gideons to shame. As we inched to the intersection to make our turn, flashing blue lights cut through the darkness. Two cop cars closed off 8th Street, their wailing sirens occasionally heard between bass lines. Eventually the bus gets its due respect thanks to sheer bulk, and the cruisers parted so we could break free. It seemed the entire community felt a change was on the horizon, and gatherings like this would soon be rare.

Midnight was nearly upon us as we cruised toward the finish line. The final stop was in sight when more flashing lights came into focus. We needed only to make a right turn on to State Road 7 before switching the headsign to NOT IN SERVICE. That turn would be delayed by a crash scene involving at least four cars, along with police protecting the perimeter. It looked like a tow truck was preparing to remove the main vehicle blocking our path, but they were in no hurry so I secured the bus and walked into the morass to seek answers. An officer had no answer to the question of the road opening, but he did provide a solution by spotting for me so we could reverse and go through the CVS pharmacy parking lot. There were still a handful of passengers on board, and we picked up a couple more who were left behind when their bus bypassed the crash. They all received courtesy stops as I rolled back to the garage. Our sign said we were out of service, but the grateful people inside knew otherwise. The time to shut down would come soon enough. For now, let's rock and roll.

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