By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"This is where everybody comes to get away from our parents arguing," says a boisterous teen named Mark. "If you get disgusted with stuff, you just chill here and hang out until the police make you leave."
"It's like a spot you can come to and just get free," adds another teen who says his nickname is "Ghost," because if you see him once, you won't see him again. When he turned 16, he says, he was expelled from high school for hitting an assistant administrator. "Ninety percent of these kids you see here were kicked out of school, and they don't have nothing else to do, so they just hang out."
In the early afternoon of January 3, four black teens stand around a large, black, plastic trash can in the downtown bus station. On the can's flat cover, they are playing a card game called Tonk. They slap down cards with great flourish. Crystal, a tiny white 13-year-old with long brown hair, stands beside her boyfriend, Dave, watching the action with intense scrutiny. She is pregnant and starting to show. The pair are regulars at the central terminal.
The group doesn't notice the short, 40-something woman in white tights and a sweatshirt who gets off a bus that pulls into the station next to them. She has on a Rapunzel-length blond wig that falls over her shoulders down almost to her knees. Nor do they pause for the drunk who has wrapped his head in a garland of shiny plastic snowflakes like a white crown of thorns. Nor do they acknowledge the man on the other side of a concrete barrier who is waltzing with his head tilted up to the sky and a big smile on his face.
The four teens also ignore John, a coal-black teen whose hair is wound into "twisties" all over his head. While they play, John careens toward the game, delivering pieces of narration and veering away. "He was just spraying us, just spraying us," he says, holding his arms out as if he were firing a machine gun. He moves away and returns. "So I took him down. I mean down, dog. He was on the ground."
The disinterest doesn't stop John. His eyes are wild as he reenacts the scene. "He run up against a wall, and I reached down and got a brick and wham," he says, slinging an imaginary brick across the bus station. "Wham. Caught him right in the head." The boys continue to ignore him.
One of the card players spots a Broward County Sheriff's deputy who has pulled a cruiser into the concourse and is sitting on the trunk. "That bitch is here," he says. "You know if he's here, he's coming through." They scatter briefly and then return, like pigeons who fly only to the rafters of the building and wait for the disturbance to subside.
Crystal leans against a bus station railing and stares out at the concourse. "You need to leave," one of the card players says. Dave circles his arm around her, and they all cross Broward Boulevard in a pack. "To the library," Crystal says later when asked where they went. They are less likely to be hassled there, she says, so they stayed an hour or so before returning to the station.
Around 5 p.m., Tara and Sha-Q-uawn sit on the stairs near the main bus station's ticket window, which faces Brickell Avenue. They are wrapped around each other, a white girl and a black boy, talking. She is leaning back into the crook of his legs. Her hair is coiled into tight braids that tug at her scalp. Tara is eager, with average looks, kind of on the chubby side. She says she's 18, but she still has the puffy look of a freshly hatched bird. Her friend Sha-Q-uawn is beautiful at 21, with honey-gold skin, green eyes, and kinky blond hair that he has braided and topped with a cap of black netting.
Like Crystal, Tara is already a couple of months along in an unplanned pregnancy. Tara's mother kicked her out of the house two weeks ago, and the girl had to make a choice. "It was either a knitting needle or the Covenant House," she says. She wants to have the baby. The staff at the shelter on Fort Lauderdale Beach will refer her to a place for pregnant girls.
That morning, she received a bus pass from the nonprofit organization so she could go job hunting. It seems, though, that boys are uppermost in her mind. In the early morning, she applied at a couple of places. That left the rest of the day for hanging out. She has been at the bus station for about six hours. The way she relaxes into Sha-Q-uawn's arms, it seems as if they have been together for a long time. But they met only recently, he says.
Asked about his situation, Sha-Q-uawn spins quite a tale. He says that he's from Jamaica and that he was stranded here in the United States last year when a rap tour he had joined fell apart. When he starts talking, he has a Caribbean accent, but it becomes more Southern African-American as he speaks. He says he's 21 years of age and that he has already graduated from college with a degree in graphic arts -- although such speedy matriculation seems unlikely. He says he can't find a job in the creative field. He thinks it's because of his dreads and boho looks. "No one wants to hire someone who looks like me," he says.