As the trolley rattled and shook to its westernmost stop at Whiting street, late afternoon beams of sun broke between the buildings and striped the street and the tracks below. To the relief of everyone walking those streets, the heat of the day had finally let up.
The motorman pulled fast his brake, switched off the controls, and walked down the aisle to the other end of his trolley to begin preparations for the journey back. From his new perch he pulled a lever which swung open the doors and passengers started to filter in.
First on were the scrubs. One dressed in cobalt, then one in navy, then one in burgundy all took their places one in a row behind the other. They all had their earbuds in. Each was trying to wash away the lingering vision of vacant eyes and split open heads with ‘Throwback 2000s Mix’; A more innocent time.
Next up the steps came four businesspeople. Two men and two women, all four with collared shirts and different stages of sweat stains but generally cheerful. They preferred to stand holding the overhead rails, and clustered in a circle near the middle of the car, laughing and discussing the general goings on of the day and its implications for whatever business they were in.
Then lastly came the tourists who clambered up the steps all smiling, never having been on a tram. Or was it a tramcar? Or a streetcar? Nobody knew exactly which it was. They took their seats at the front near the motorman. Now that all were onboard, he disengaged the brake, pulled once on the whistle, and started the trolley rattling south down Franklin Street.
Honking and clattering and gaining speed, the trolley passed under the expressway and by Harpoon Harry’s Crab Shack. Leaning back towards the tourists, the motorman recited the story of Harpoon Harry: a failed whaler turned pirate captain, whose valiant life and legacy had been reduced to a restaurant which served mediocre seafood. Suddenly in shade, they passed under the yellow facade of the Hilton, past gently swaying palm trees and turned east at Water Street.
Pedestrians were scattered walking every which way in the plaza on Water street. And though none were careless enough to step onto the tracks, the motorman still enjoyed sounding his whistle right next to a group of them. They jumped in surprise and the motorman grinned an evil grin.
Clinking and clanking steel on steel, the trolley pushed on behind Amalie arena, whose huge glass bulging face scattered the remaining light from the setting sun. A large kettle of hawks circled and swarmed above the arena on top of which they had built temporary nests. From their vantage they could peer down on the waterfront park and the sparkling channel beside it, and swoop down for unsuspecting squirrels and crabs and abandoned baskets of french fries.
Veering slightly north to come along Channelside Drive, the trolley clattered on. The motorman again pulled on his whistle. As they passed near the medical school, the motorman kept his eyes peeled for reckless medical students crossing right in front of his moving tram. Those in his business had nicknamed this stretch of track “Blood Alley”, for a number of times students had been splattered there, hurrying across to be first in line for Taco Tuesday.
Continuing on, the trolley then passed under the shadow of the behemoth Norwegian Dawn, docked in the channel, silently looming, with its 15 decks and weighing 92,250 gross tons. The Dawn was a small cruise ship by today’s standards. Currently, its interior of over a thousand passenger cabins, 15 dining rooms, 11 lounges and bars, 3 swimming pools, 3 water slides, 7 jacuzzis, 8 elevators, kitchens, crew’s quarters, spa, casino, and theater were all eerily empty. But within the week they would be filled with revelers and headed for the Bahamas.
Rattling along next to Channelside Drive as it turned north towards Ybor, the trolley came to a halt at the aquarium stop. Up the steps came a family: a young couple and a child who lumbered down the aisle clutching a plush penguin with an iron grip. At York street station one of the scrubs stepped off and on stepped a man with a thick tangled beard who slumped into the corner seat. At Publix station the other two scrubs thanked the motorman and alighted.
As the trolley continued North, the last of the sun ducked under the horizon and left the sky above a deep blue and the horizon rimmed with an orange glow. The glow framed the silhouettes of the tall condo buildings, the cargo ships and towering cranes in the channel, the gliding egrets and pelicans who landed one by one on the bricole posts in the still water, and the palm trees lining the smooth asphalt streets.
The trolley pulled into its final stop at Centennial Park Station in Ybor, and the rest of the passengers disembarked. The family went looking for a place to eat. The businesspeople went looking for a place to drink. The man with the tangled beard walked south, destination unknown. And the tourists simply had to try smoking a cigar.
Left alone, the motorman pulled the brake, switched off the controls, and started for his perch on the other side of his trolley. He waited a couple of minutes but no passengers showed up. With a sigh, he released the brake, and engaged the power. His trolley lurched to life and started back the way it had come, retracing its steps South into the now pleasantly cool evening. When the trolley clattered around the corner and out of sight, only the empty tracks were left. Then out of the silence and the distance came the sound of a trolley’s whistle.
Picture Credit: Peter K Burian, Wikimedia Commons