Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Enjoying a Free Ride out on Anna Maria

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Enjoying a Free Ride out on Anna Maria

Article excerpt

SERIES: BEACH SEASON

ANNA MARIA ISLAND

Brandon Flowers rides the trolley with a skateboard wedged between his knees. There's music on his headphones and a smile on his face.

He rolls north and south, one way or another.

Beach to beach. Pier to pier. End to end.

A free spirit on a free trolley.

"Honestly, I just jump on," says Flowers, 18. "I like talking to people. I like to say 'Hey, how ya doin?' I usually end up at City Pier. Today, this old man gave me some fishing line and I caught a couple of fish, unexpectedly."

When he lived in Bradenton, Flowers went to Bayshore High School. Now he lives in Brandon and works for a car dealership.

On weekends, he heads home for a visit with his sister and a ride on the Anna Maria Island Trolley.

"I stay out here all day -- it's my thing," Flowers says. "This is my transportation. This is my big green limo."

Air-conditioning, too

Manatee County Area Transit operates the trolley with support from the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

The trolley is a bus, really, but it looks like a trolley.

Outside, it's green with gold trim. There's a bike rack on the front end. Above the driver is a sign that blinks "Cat on the Go" and "Free Trolley."

Inside are wooden seats and thin green cushions, along with leather hand straps hanging from bars overhead. Above the windows, wall-to-wall ads for island businesses. Below the windows, a cable to pull for your stop.

Most riders look pretty happy, even if it's their first trip and they're not sure exactly where it goes and how it works. The trolley is free, so they have nothing to lose. It makes a loop on a small island, so it's not like they'll get lost.

Some people say "Hi" to the driver when they get on and "Thank you" when they leave.

No food or drinks are allowed on the bus, so passengers who just bought lemonade face a decision: Gulp their drink, toss it in the garbage can, or wait for the next trolley.

Most choose a combination of the first two options.

In the summer, just about everyone savors the trolley air conditioning. You can hear people sigh with relief from the heat. If anything, it's too cold.

"I brought a jacket this time," says Sally Dunsmore of Bradenton. "The last time we rode it was freezing."

She emphasizes that last word: "FER-EEE-ZING."

Older passengers often carry thick paperbacks in beach bags, younger passengers fishing poles or skim boards. Almost everyone wears shorts and sandals.

Charles Dood, another Bradenton rider, likes to drive out to Anna Maria and take the trolley with his wife and sons.

In the summer, it's a quick trip that might take 10 minutes. In the winter -- tourist season -- traffic backs up for an hour or even two.

Dood shakes his head. The solution seems obvious: fewer cars and more buses.

"I wish they had a free trolley to get out here," he says. "Just put a parking lot somewhere and trolley people out here. …

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