Many a reminiscence calls for a modicum of discernment. The internet has removed time and distance from the arsenal of discretion. I’ve been receiving Facebook “friend requests” from two individuals I had on a long-abandoned e-mail list, both of whom departed this mortal coil years ago. So, in a way, the internet grants its own kind of immortality.
Still, I think enough time has elapsed to recount the following yarn.
Capt. Bill was a bit of a character. He’d pursued multifarious careers, ranging from police officer to bricklayer. For a number of years he lived on a somewhat dilapidated houseboat anchored just north of Key West, and spent a lot of time hanging around a jet ski operation run by Big Charlie, a semi-retired biker from Ft. Lauderdale.
The jet ski rental was adjacent to a large motel frequented by tour groups from Miami and points north. There were usually one or two tour buses on the grounds, and lately they’d taken to parking them where they not only blocked the view of the jet ski operation from the main street, but also where their exhaust pipes were a scant ten feet from the small kiosk where Big Charlie and Capt. Bill hung out. Blocking the jet ski place from the street was bad enough in itself, but they would also leave the buses running, presumably to maintain the air-conditioning. The gentle, prevailing southeast summertime winds wafted a steady stream of diesel fumes right into the offended nostrils of Big Charlie and Capt. Bill.
“Hey, brother,” says Charlie, putting on his best-possible hail-fellow-well-met behavior. “Would ya mind moving the bus over to the other side? You’re blockin’ my view, and you know, the fumes . . . ”
The driver, reportedly a Hispanic fellow, merely looked at him blankly, locked up the still running bus, and walked away.
“What the hell?” says Charlie, going back to the kiosk. “Did you see that?” His brother, who had financed the operation, wouldn’t be happy having to bail Charlie out on an assault charge. Remember, he was a retired biker. “What can we do?”
“Let me borrow a jet ski,” says Capt. Bill. He runs out to his houseboat and returns a few minutes later with something wrapped in a handkerchief. Reaching up under one of the front windows of the bus, he toggles a hidden lever and the passenger door swings open. “I used to drive a bus myself,” he says. He takes a small glass vial from the handerchief, and carefully places it on the second step up into the bus, and shuts the door. “Now we sit back, have a cigarette, and wait.”
In a while the driver and passengers show up. The driver opens the door, and the passengers start to board. Two or three manage to get on without stepping on the vial. Eventually someone crushes it noiselessly underfoot.
According to what Capt. Bill said later, the people on board began to open the windows and fan the air. Then they realized that something was drastically wrong, and started to get off, causing a pushing match with those still trying to get on. Eventually they realized what was going on, and all of them got off the bus. The driver had to tell them to go back to the motel, and after a few hours the company was able to get them on another bus for the trip back to Miami.
After that the buses were left on the other side of the parking lot.
“I still don’t see why the driver couldn’t have been a little more reasonable about it,” someone said. “He could have saved himself a lot of trouble.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Capt. Bill. “But, hey, we do Tune-ups.”