Sometimes, when one visits a locale one has been to before, the calling to "see it like a tourist" can be stronger than the draw of seeing it like a native.
We have all been to or lived in a town where we see tour trams and trolleys, the driver spieling interesting facts, and allow the experience to slip by as one of those things that tourists do.
I would like to tell you right now that our initial experience on the Red Train was so incredible that once we boarded we chose to remain for the entire circuit (which is a lot of stops and considerable time).
Why, you might ask?
in a word - Smokey.
Spell it with me:
S M O K E Y.
You see, any offering is only as good as the people who represent it. Smokey (not his real name, btw) brings to life the city streets and mossy Oak canopied lanes in a way that can only be born of passion to serve. People expect excellent guest service when they go to Walt Disney World, or dine at a five star, Golden Spoon restaurant.
But to get this kind of experience on a tram? Not the norm.
The product itself, a tram where you park and then board and disembark where you please, is exactly how you might expect such a thing to be: a matter of convenience.
Smokey exceeds expectations. While still mindful of his time constraints (it is a tram, therefore paid public transport, and must keep a schedule) his diligent research and delight in sharing things the average person might just wander by and not discover (embedded cannon ball, anyone?) make for an experience that will have you looking at your significant other and asking, "want to stay on? me too." Smokey brought the city of St. Augustine to life, instilling in his passengers a joy in hitting the tram jackpot.
Smokey should be the trainer for all tram drivers and pilots, as he proves himself more than capable. He demonstrates the ability for a single person to speak for close to ninety minutes, only offering the best and most positive takes on his city, displaying what is clearly brilliant understanding and wit. Smokey could have been wearing a Conquistador outfit and it still would not have upstaged his enthusiasm.
When he had to disembark himself, we (and a large group of others) chose to disembark at the very next stop.
This had a great deal to do with the fact the next tour guide was a grizzled broken man (I won't mention his name here, but remember how Bogart said "Play It Again..." and who he was talking to and you'll know) with the personality of a broken soap dish, and less to do with the fact Smokey was no longer with us.
When in Saint Augustine, you'll have lots of options. But there is only one Red Train, and definitely only one Smokey.
Ask for him by name.
Remember: you are paying for the transportation, but with Smokey, you are getting entertainment, passion for America's oldest continuously inhabited city, and an education.
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