Saturday, March 13, 2021



In training class we were instructed from Day One to 'expect the unexpected'. Those words of wisdom were proven daily as the machine of the city chugged along, grinding all of its moving cogs under the pressure of modern life, greased with the will power of people who never give up.

Up until recent days, that machine was running on all cylinders. A booming economy with a seeming abundance of job opportunities, coupled with the leisure of visiting Spring Breakers, also brought along the frustrations of inconvenience and friction with so many people moving rapidly in close proximity. Societies of the distant past record a history of similar spans of frenetic human endeavor, abruptly halted by natural intrusions into the normalcies we construct around us.

While the previous week had been a lesson in patience and the futility of effort as we contended with crushing congestion, mechanical delays, and encounters with the beautiful chaos of humanity, now we had entered a time of increasing lockdowns and the prospect of mass quarantine.

The day before, the city of Fort Lauderdale took the unprecedented step of closing all access to the beach at the height of Spring Break. The irresistible stretch of sand that swarmed of students from frigid northern towns was now off limits to everyone, including locals who spent millions on their coastal abodes. For the first time in a hundred years, everything east of the sidewalk belonged to the birds and nesting sea turtles.

Into this new normal we rolled on a Saturday. Today would be spent on Oakland Park Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in the county. The eastern segment ends at the Atlantic Ocean but offers only random glimpses of it through the wall of luxury highrises lining the seaboard.

Miss Marcella showed up to the relief point on time - and also for the last time, since we'd be starting new schedules tomorrow. If I didn't give her the best farewell a coworker could give, it may have been because I wasn't really sure it was her behind the movie star sunglasses paired with a new accessory obscuring her face: the now-common N95 mask which at that time was still a novelty.

This shift always started with us going east, and a bridge delay at the Intracoastal pushed back traffic before the span. All these people heading to the beach with thoughts of relaxation were in for a big disappointment.

Soon it was time to head back the other way. A man was waiting at the bus stop on Galt Ocean Drive, prepared to board like a text book transit passenger. There was also a woman about thirty feet away from the stop, standing under a shade tree. Following the gentleman's cue, I made a text book stop at the posted sign. The woman hurried over and brought a teapot tempest with her. She was upset, claiming I passed her on purpose. This triggered a response from the man who'd been waiting diligently, and they proceeded to argue with each other.

Perhaps it was the closed beach and other sudden changes to daily life, that would create such friction on an otherwise beautiful day. More signs of the times awaited at Federal Highway. During election season this corner is a draw for supporters to promote their candidates. Half a dozen TRUMP flags were mounted on cars backed up to the street in the Coral Ridge Mall parking lot.

This westward journey was quieter than usual, and we had no problem keeping the bus on time. That is unusual for this route, and it was an eerie sensation to find ourselves a bit early between time points. The surreal combination of light ridership on a workhorse route and light traffic on a routinely congested thoroughfare reached its nadir when we arrived at the end of the line.

Sawgrass Mills is promoted as the largest outlet mall in the country, and a typical Saturday would create a bustling hive of activity. Today it had become a ghost town. It was completely closed and the parking lot was empty. A sign on the locked doors explained that after discussion with health officials, the mall would be closing for the sake of public safety. This was a shocking development and presented a stark vision of the 'new normal' that had begun. It would be especially difficult for those dependent on steady commerce for their livelihoods.

A single woman boarded there, a far cry from the dozen I would regularly see. We arrived at University Drive in time to catch a red light, a welcome delay on a day such as this. It also gave me a chance to observe my surroundings more thoroughly.




        IS AT HAND

This message was aimed at passing motorists, on an unmanned placard resting on a folding chair. Such enigmatic messages may be common at various corners around town, but this was a new one for this intersection. The absence of a person holding the sign only added to its mysterious nature.


After the light, a familiar man in a wheelchair boarded, quickly positioning himself and declining securement so we could get rolling. He wore his trademark ballcap with hook clip on the bill, and soon hooked my ear with updates on what he'd been doing. Before he left, he was excited to give a music suggestion. "Vitamin S' by Baby Cham, he recommended. "But be careful who you play it around!"

Somehow on my first trip east I'd missed the Allied Kitchen marquee sign after Powerline Road. I'm always curious to see the message on the ever-changing display. This time I'd catch it:



      YOU WILL


Again the good folks there didn't let us down. The world as we knew it was rapidly changing, and those words of encouragement would be necessary in the coming weeks. We finished the trip at the beach with an empty bus, something else I would soon become familiar with.

With a decent break we left on time for the final trip of the day. The late afternoon lowering sun was cooking my lap and lower torso, where the pull shade couldn't protect. Being a Florida boy, I know and appreciate this feeling. Not for any cheap thrills, the simple power of light reaching across 93 million miles and touching us so tangibly.

Now that we'd reversed direction, we could see the flip side of that Allied sign:





A considerably more somber message than its counterpart, but upon reflection perhaps just the other side of the same coin.

As we intentionally crawled across the county to avoid leaving time points early, a couple passengers appeared at stops they normally wouldn't be seen. Everyone was being roused from their comfort zones these days.

Instinct and hunger brought a buzzard swooping down on fresh road kill in the form of an iguana carcass at 94th Avenue. Nature has no worries to surrender. My own would take a bit more effort to release, as I drove an empty bus to the end of the line.

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