Photo of Calvin Ray Davis alongside the cover of his new book.
Real talk—we have some of the best of the best working at PSTA. While we’ve been diving into complex topics through our “Deep Drive” series, we wanted to create a series that spotlights the individuals who make PSTA the best transit agency in the nation (shameless call back to winning APTA’s Most Outstanding Transit System of 2023).
To kick off this new series of personal stories, we could think of no one better than our multi-talented writer, poet, artist, and bus operator, Calvin Ray Davis!
Calvin grew up playing in the swamps and bayous of his hometown, Eunice, Louisiana. He and his brothers were dauntless in the face of the snakes, spiders, and other creepy crawlies found in the mysterious bogs—after all, there were adventures to be had and monsters to defeat. And there were certainly plenty of monsters to find considering the rich tapestry of myths so alive in his community. Such creatures were the boogeymen that parents would warn little ones of when they misbehaved.
Artwork by Calvin Ray Davis.
With a grandfather steeped in Cajun songwriting and a poet and artist for an aunt, Calvin might have been destined to become an artist in his own right. He began creating art at age 10, writing poetry at age 12, and writing full stories at age 13. In fact, in his recently released novel (don’t worry, we’ll get to that), the first 70 pages were penned when he was only 17.
While Calvin’s childhood was far from idyllic, art was a reliable escape from the tough times. And through this magic-infused setting, abundant in Cajun folklore, it’s no wonder such an upbringing would lead to his new novel, Lord of the Swamp: The Search for Gold.
The Lord of the Swamp Series
Calvin is no stranger to the publishing world; he boasts three previously self-published novels and poetry, was a columnist winner for Colorado Voices, and contributed writing for Firestarter. However, with the September 2023 release of Book One in his Lord of the Swamp series, Calvin taps into the lush landscape of his childhood with a coming-of-age tale about bravery, perseverance, and the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood.
Set in the late 70s, 13-year-old protagonist Ryan spends a summer on a houseboat with an older cousin, deep in the nation's largest river swamp, the Atchafalaya Basin. The same stories Calvin grew up hearing play pivotal roles in Ryan’s journey in search of a long-lost, sunken pirate ship said to be filled with gold in a remote lagoon. Although the gang encounters expected foes like alligators and snakes, other more fantastical beasts creep into the adventure, namely the legendary Rougarou.
Cover art for Davis' new book.
The Rougarou is a werewolf myth borne from Cajun and French Canadians, often described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog. Although the Rougarou was often used by parents to persuade Cajun children to behave, Calvin’s characterization of this wolfish creature puts a delightful twist on what has historically been a relatively uncomplicated bogeyman figure.
The first 70 pages of this tale were completed when Calvin was 17, which he described almost as a fugue state. “I was just the tool writing the story, and the story demanded to be written,” he recalls. While he took a few years away from writing to start the adventure of life, he would return to Lord of the Swamp while working at PSTA. Again, writing was like a compulsion, allowing Calvin to complete almost all five books in the series within a year.
How PSTA Supports Calvin’s Art
Perhaps one day, we will live in a world where creatives can support themselves solely with their art. But until then, Calvin has always known that working full-time would allow him the stability to continue his art. Early in his career, Calvin left Louisiana for Colorado to start working resort jobs, which allowed him to go on his own adventures and travel around the country. From working at luxury bed and breakfasts to exploring and working at the national parks in California and sleeping under the stars, Calvin got a big taste of all the beauty and excitement America has to offer.
Around age 24, he began driving buses for Beavercreek Transit, navigating the snow and ice of Vail, Colorado. “Compared to the dangers of black ice, driving a bus in sunny Florida is a lot less stressful,” Calvin says, recounting a harrowing story where black ice on a steep slope caused his bus to make an unplanned 180. While all passengers were safe (some even enjoying the unexpected “ride”), Calvin stayed cool under pressure and navigated the vehicle to safety.
Acrylic pour art by Davis.
When he moved to Pinellas County nearly ten years ago, he drove for Uber and Lyft for a time until one day, a passenger recommended he join PSTA. Although he had long let his CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) expire, he was attracted to PSTA due to the in-house CDL certification and the pension. PSTA could help him retire and allow him the freedom to dive into his art.
For five years now, Calvin has balanced his life as a PSTA bus operator and an artist. On days he works the nightshift, he wakes up early to write or paint in the morning before he reports in for work. And like many creatives, he’s also branched into other hobbies like gardening and carpentry.
Calvin believes public transit is an essential service for Pinellas County, and taking the bus is the number one way to lower the number of car accidents. “With onboard Wi-Fi, passengers can spend time on their smartphones without endangering other drivers,” Calvin argues.
Although his heart truly belongs to his writing and art, it’s crystal clear that Calvin takes great pride in what he does. “This book wouldn’t be published without PSTA and the freedom it has allowed me,” he says, “I’m able to do a well-paying job I enjoy that helps the community while also having the time and money to spend on the art I want to make.”
You can purchase Book One of Lord of the Swamp: The Search for Gold at Archway Publishing, Amazon, and everywhere else books are sold. Book Two of Lord of the Swamp is expected to hit shelves in the fall of 2024!
A huge thank you to Calvin Ray Davis for sharing his story and art with us!