“…and now for something completely different…” – ISLAND STORIES: FERRY TALE (NOT A FAIRY TALE)

Let’s get this straight: a fairy tale is about something magical, happy and pleasant. Another definition is a fabrication with intent to deceive; something misleading.

What follows fits into the latter definition.

There are two ferries (2,000 passengers plus 200 cars each) connecting downtown Seattle with our Island, sailing approximately every 45 minutes.

Realization that one could live in a place where the only mode of transportation is the ferry is exciting. Sitting on a ferry, sipping coffee, going to work or visiting friends sounds enticing. The crossing takes 35 minutes  (8 miles, 13 kilometers) at the end of which one is deposited in the center of a large, bustling, busy, growing, progressive city. Then, it is a short, pleasant walk to one’s office, theatres, restaurants. People who visit or are planning to move to the Island are enchanted by the fact that no driving is required, no stop and go traffic. Invariably, they imagine reading and/or working during the crossing.

Initially, people feel they have stumbled upon Shangri-La. I know, I felt like that once. Our friends envied our place of abode. That was many years ago.

Interacting with the ferry on a daily basis is, I suspect, what it would be like to be in some sort of hell.

There are constant announcements about how safe the ferry is, where to walk, what to do, when to get in/out of the car, when to turn on/off the engine, where to/not to stand, when to return to one’s car. Those are scheduled announcements. The unscheduled ones, nevertheless constant, are mostly about car alarms being set off (German automobiles seem to possess extremely sensitive alarms and cry for help during the shaking and rattling of the boat when it turns) and owners being summoned to go and turn them off (the cars are identified along with their location on the vessel). All of this is done through  loudspeakers turned on to the maximum volume. By processing this quantity of information on each crossing one feels like a modern day Magellan sailing the Seven Seas (not travelling for 35 minutes).  So much for reading, working or relaxing.

We once travelled on the Queen Mary on a seven day journey from New York to Southampton (thus crossing the Atlantic Ocean) on which there were far fewer announcements.

The sailings are punctual unless it is: stormy, rainy, snowing, hot, summertime, holiday, sporting event, exceptionally beautiful weather, fog, whale watching or any other unpredictable occurrence. Then, the delays and waits are epic, if not of biblical proportions.

By interacting with it one understands a full range of human emotions: when there is a long line of passengers and cars and boarding is in doubt, one experiences euphoria upon realization that they will be allowed to board; there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The opposite is not comfortable to write about, let alone experience: a complete emotional crush of having to wait for the next ferry or being the last passenger who didn’t make it; a sense of loss in the depths of depravity, depression and sadness.

The above is to say nothing of the few, select ferry workers and ticket sellers whose behavior and attitude make you seriously consider swimming the 8 miles, business suit and all.

And, through all of that, this sea monster rumbles on by lurking in the fog, blowing its haunting horn with the single purpose of ruining one’s life. We put up with this instrument of the devil, as there is no other choice.

But, on lazy summer evenings it glides quietly, lit up like a long-awaited present (or a bouquet of roses), passing the houses enveloped in the evening magic. That, coupled with seagulls, those faithful ferry guardians and followers, makes it all worth it.