This St. Augustine life: Trolley volleys

By Caitlin Carver |

“Hmm … St. Aug’s a town with a bunch of awesome restaurants and is always packed full of hungry sightseers,” observed a possibly obese entrepreneur one day.

“With all these tourists indulging in huge meals, they must be absolutely stuffed all day long. How can we expect them to run around and spend money in our town if their bellies are so full they can hardly button their pants? How do we keep them from retreating into their hotel rooms and falling into food-induced comas? If only there was a way to build a giant motorized wheelchair—type vehicle to shuttle the masses (pun intended) around town while charging them for it …”

And voila! The trolley industry of St. Augustine was born. That’s how it happened, I swear … Well not really, I might be lying, but I’m sure it was a very similar scenario.

We all know that tourism fuels St. Augustine’s economy … blah blah blah. I really am thankful for the tidal wave of socks-and-sandal-wearing tourists who eagerly spend their money here and over-tip me out of “I’m on vacation” generosity. But I’m telling you, this whole tourism business is a double-edged sword! The large quantity of over-eating vacationers validates the presence of those annoying and brightly-colored sight-seeing trolleys, which at any given time can be seen clogging up virtually every freakin’ street downtown.

Now I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. I’m sure the trolleys are great fun. It’s just that every time I encounter one, I’m not actually riding on the trolley. I’m stuck behind it and I’m in a hurry to go somewhere important. Trolley traffic makes me CRAZY. (To all you New Yorkers, this is the equivalent of being stuck behind a group of slow walkers … yes, now you understand my pain.)

Similar to how animals can sense fear, it’s scientifically proven that trolley drivers can sense impatience. Murphy’s Law 2.0 governs St. Augustine’s roadways: If you are in a hurry for an important reason, (i.e. your wife has gone into labor, you’re late for a flight or the most urgent of these scenarios, racing to Chick-fil-A before it closes), if a trolley can derail your plans, it will.

It never fails. The second I pull into traffic behind a trolley, the stupid thing slows down to a glacial pace and I find my SUV inching its way down King Street while the “butt” of the last trolley car in front of me taunts me by rocking back and forth in my face. Yes, it is about this time that I start tapping into my already shallow patience reserve.

St. Augustine residents will tell you that all trolley drivers, along with an overly bold driving style, possess vocal cords of steel and wicked strong diaphragms, both of which make it physically impossible for them to lower the volume of their voice to anything less than a holler. (Little known tidbit: Lack of voice volume control is actually a job requirement and a highly revered resume booster for them).

Mr. Shouty McMegaphone instinctively knows the EXACT moment when I, or whatever unlucky soul stuck behind his trolley, officially begins to “lose it.” Once he identifies the weak link in our mental chain, he grabs his verbal axe and begins to loudly chop away at our patience until our last nerve is mangled and hanging on by one fraying shred. Yes, at this time he will take the opportunity to yell St. Augustine “facts” into his microphone, “Martin Luther King Jr. once bought gum from Carmelo’s Gas Station before meeting Abe Lincoln for lunch on Cordova Street, the same street where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1992!”

“HE’S FREAKIN’ LYING!”, we angrily yell in our vehicles while smacking the steering wheel. “THAT CAN’T EVEN POSSIBLY BE TRUE!! YOU TROLLEY RIDERS HAVE ALL BEEN @!@$% DUPED!”

Fear not oh riled-up residents, for you do not have a potty mouth. You simply have a disease. It’s called T.I.T. and it affects 99% of St. Auggians: Trolley Induced Tourette’s. While the only permanent fix is moving far, far away to a remote island in the Pacific, symptoms do seem to subside after a stiff drink (or seven).

While the daily deluge of sightseeing trains may be driving us all to an early grave, we’ve got to stay positive! Those appetite-toting, trolley-riding tourists make our jobs here easy. They wander into our shops, our restaurants, even our school and happily pay us to experience a slice of St. Augustine, with little to no effort on our part. Like the baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams,” the 6 million tourists that grace our city every year have proven: “If you build it, they will come.”

So while I still feel intruded upon every time a trolley drives through campus, and a bit offended when the driver loudly comments on us students as if we can’t hear him while the trolley riders take pictures of us like we are wild animals featured on a Disney safari ride, trolleys have become such a quintessential part of my every day St. Aug. experience that I think I’d miss the commotion and chaos if they weren’t here.

In the end we still can’t stand the trolleys, but in this way they bond us together; we all love to hate them. These lucrative lazy mobiles will probably always be around St. Augustine, but we however, will not. Long after we’ve moved away from the hallowed halls of Flagler College, those picture-snapping tourists will still have pictures that immortalize our legacy.

We’re famous guys! For I’m certain that when the tourists return to their homes, wherever they may be, they nostalgically smile and place their framed vacation pictures on their mantles for all to see. I’m quite sure that our faces can all be found somewhere in the background of any number of those happy pictures. We are not the focal point, but we are still somewhere in those photos and we are displayed in their memories all across the world.

While we may not be as popular as Mickey or Minnie Mouse, we are still beloved characters who represent happy vacation memories to millions, and that in itself, makes all that trolley traffic not quite so bad.

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