Vinny nearly takes Foley’s crew out on farewell spin

Retiring bus driver’s Skylark trip with his pals ends with an unexpected bump


THE coastal tour to Howth Head and back had been arranged at short notice. It explained the dozen or so middle-aged men assembled in the forecourt of Clontarf Bus Garage at seven o’clock on Sunday evening.

From his perch by the canteen window, where he had just finished a fine cuppa doused with Fig Rolls, a smiling Vinny Fitzpatrick could see the gathering of regulars from Foley’s hostelry below. His passengers had arrived for a special one-hour excursion.

For Vinny, the trip would be poignant, a chance to provide a service to those lads who’d put up with his work grumbles for more years than he cared to remember.

They were all there: Fran, Macker, Brennie, Kojak, Charlie Vernon, Two-Mile Boris, Spider, even Dial-A-Smile, who’d bunked off on his break from Foley’s to be part of Vinny’s last hurrah before everyone headed for a more predictable send-off in their favoured hostelry.

While the corpulent driver still had two weeks to work out his notice, having successfully applied for redundancy, this Sunday jaunt was his first, and only, chance at giving the lads a free spin on the buses.

He’d asked Socket Twomey, the garage chief, for dispensation to borrow a steed for an hour, citing his 34 years of unstinting, incident-free, service. At first, Socket had stalled the ball but Vinny had been persistent.

A favour
“Look, I’m doing you a favour by calling it a day. In return, do me a turn and give us an hour on the road with me mates. Sunday evening is always quiet and I’ll be back on time, as usual,” he pleaded.

While Socket was a stickler for protocol, he had relented. “On the following conditions: no drinking, no smoking and no messing on the bus. You leave here at seven and you’re back at eight, all in one piece. Is that clear?”

Vinny’s shift had ended a couple of hours earlier, allowing him to pop home and cheer one of sport’s good guys, Phil Mickelson, to Open glory. He felt no one deserved to the title of “Champion Golfer” more than ‘Mr Colgate’ himself.

Things had been rather subdued in Mount Prospect Avenue. While the twins climbed on to their Daddy’s large lap, Angie had served a chicken dinner in silence – she even halved her husband’s roast spud allowance.

Angie was still vexed at Vinny’s decision to pull in off the road, having questioned his sanity, stressing he had no job to go to and was most unlikely to get one, at his age, in these times.

Angie had also played the emotive card, pointing out she was working flat out in Boru Betting, where turnover was down and warned of no “bread on the table for the bairns” when the money ran out. Vinny had refused to change gear.

“This is my chance to break free from the chains of uniformity, armed with a few bob in the back pocket. Don’t worry, love, something will turn up. I’m like a cat; I always land on my feet,” he said.

Deep down, Vinny was not so cocksure but he’d followed through on his shock decision to volunteer for redundancy and was not for turning.

Socket had run through the severance terms which, based on Vinny’s length of employment, came to €96,000 – tax-free. For Vinny, this was an extraordinary sum; one he felt he couldn’t pass up.

Yes, he’d miss his regulars, such as Mrs Cadwalder of the Clontarf Warblers, who slipped him a slice of homemade pecan pie on Tuesdays and Fridays, in return for a hairy peck on his cheek.

And a part of him would yearn for the responsibility of getting customers from A to B on schedule, always with a cheery smile. But there came a time, he felt, where you had to either choose the road with wear or the one less travelled.

Redundancy package
As he knew every blob of tarmac on the northside, this redundancy package would provide a chance to spread his wings and do a thousand things. At 55, he knew it wouldn’t come around again.

As Vinny crossed the forecourt, he hailed the lads and pointed them towards a gleaming blue and yellow double-decker Volvo bus, whose engine was running. It was an AV137, one of the last in the garage, and the old girl had served Vinny well.

“All aboard the Skylark,” he cried, as he opened the doors. “Twice around the lighthouse, and back in time for tea.”

The lads trooped on board, most of them staying on the lower deck, although Brennie, typically, skipped upstairs. “Baggsie the front seats,” he chirped.

Vinny carefully nosed the bus out on to the Clontarf Road, indicated left, and was soon heading east towards Black Banks.

At a steady 40 kilometres per hour, the bus shuffled along past Kilbarrack, where Vinny blessed himself at the graveyard, and continued on to Sutton Cross, where Vinny signalled right and headed up Carrickbrack Road.

At Howth Summit, Vinny pulled in at the car park, where they all admired the grandeur of Dublin harbour and mountains – Charlie Vernon likened the view to the Bay of Naples – before descending to towards Howth Village for an ice cream halt.

Over Icebergers and Brunches, the lads saluted Vinny’s unstinting service behind the wheel. “To Dublin’s very own Reg Varney,” cried Macker, while Fran gave a blast of The Wheels On The Bus, which went down a bomb.

Vinny checked his watch. It was almost twenty to eight. “Right lads, time to be moving, lest Socket gets twitchy. Take your seats and don’t leave any wrappers behind. I want to leave a clean bus.”

The trip back was a little sluggish due to the “Dollyer” beach brigade and it was a minute to eight when the bus was parallel to the garage. Vinny indicated he was turning right and waited for a gap in the traffic heading from town.

He could see Socket in the forecourt, checking his watch and beckoning at Vinny. “Relax, Socket, relax,” thought Vinny. There was a break in the flow and Vinny carefully nudged the bus towards the garage precincts.

Out of the blue, on Vinny’s starboard side, there was a sudden shout, followed immediately by a sickening thump. Vinny jammed on the brakes, his face white with shock. “Jaypurs tonight, what was that?”