- By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
News item: Brightline, the new commuter rail service in South Florida, said it will hire “safety ambassadors” to stand at railroad intersections to advise pedestrians, cyclists and motorists not to cross the tracks once the gates go down and the lights flash to signal an approaching train.
OK, sir, I’ve looked over your résumé, and I have a question about an item you listed under “work experience.” It says you worked as a “railroad intersection safety ambassador.” What’s that?
Yes, I worked for a new higher-speed commuter rail service in South Florida called Brightline. After the first week in operation, three people crossing the tracks were hit by trains. And there was a lot of concern about that.
So the gates didn’t go down?
No, it wasn’t a problem with the gates.
The red lights didn’t flash?
Not a problem with the lights either.
I don’t understand.
People just went around the closed gates thinking they could beat the trains. But they’re going up to 79 mph, which is faster than the usual freight trains on that track.
So, let me get this straight. You were hired to stand there at railroad crossings, and when the gates went down, your job was to discourage cars, cyclists and pedestrians from trying to zigzag around the gates before the train passed?
Yep, that’s the job.
Instead of just putting warning signs at the intersections?
No, the safety ambassadors were in addition to the warning signs. After the first couple of incidents, they put up signs that said things such as “More & Faster Trains” and “Stay Off Train Tracks.”
And that wasn’t enough?
It’s Florida, man. What can I say?
Just curious, so what kind of experience did you have to make you qualified to be a safety ambassador at a railroad crossing?
It all started because I won the Tide pod challenge in my college dorm. Jeez, was that a mistake.
Nobody told me that chewing on liquid laundry detergent packets was both really stupid and life threatening. After that, it was like, man, I’ve got to devote my life to warning people not to do things like chewing on packets of poison.
I would imagine it might be tough finding employment in that field.
Yes, I tried for a while applying for jobs at the mall, where I envisioned I could stand next to electrical outlets and warn shoppers not to stick their keys in the electrical sockets. But nobody wanted to hire me for that.
And then you saw the job for safety ambassador at railroad crossings?
Yes. It was like a dream come true.
But it says on your résumé that you only did it for six months.
True, but it wasn’t because I didn’t like the work. It was very rewarding.
Tell me about it.
So like, you’re there with your flag and your vest, and once the gates go down and red lights start flashing, you take your position at the crossing, giving everybody the fish eye so they don’t try to cross the tracks.
And that’s really cool. Every once in a while, I’d sense there was a “darter” — that’s what we called them, darters — and I’d point with two of my fingers to my eyes and then to him, as if saying, “Yeah, I’m watching you, buddy. You’re not getting into my end zone.”
So why did you leave?
OK, let’s say it’s the 12:55 p.m. northbound train from Fort Lauderdale. Zoom, it goes by, and you feel that elation that comes with a job well done. But then you’ve got nothing ‘til the southbound 3 p.m. train from West Palm Beach.
That’s like nearly two hours. It’s a lot of time to stand on the side of the road with nothing to do.
So the down time was killing me. Then I got this idea that I could multi-task and work as one of those sign-spinner guys between trains. You know, stand there next to the tracks and hold a sign advertising some local food joint or tax-preparation service.
And so you did that too?
No, I wanted to, but the Brightline people didn’t think it was the right image for safety ambassadors to be promoting two pizzas for $10.
So you quit and now you want to work for us?
Yes, I thought it would be a good fit.
We appreciate your interest, and we’ll certainly keep your application on file. But to date, our craft store hasn’t had a problem concerning customers running with scissors.