Ferry People

A young man and his wife pedaled their bicycles laden with camping gear up to the ferry terminal in Port Angeles, Washington, looking to catch the afternoon boat to Vancouver Island. Towed behind the man’s bike was a small trailer holding a screaming toddler. The little family was running late and seemed concerned about catching the boat; stopping to console a child was obviously not on their itinerary. The scene was entertaining to Marcia and me as we waited for the same ferry to shuttle us across the Strait of Juan de Fuca for an overnight stay in Victoria, Canada. We had left our trailer and truck in an unattended paid parking lot at the ferry terminal – with just enough faith and ignorance to do so – and planned to walk onto the ferry. After three weeks in the trailer, the lure of a shower and bed in a luxury hotel was just strong enough to bend good judgement.

Aboard the MV Coho, a 340-foot auto ferry with capacity for 110 vehicles, we settled into molded fiberglass seats for the 90-minute trip. Other passengers left their cars below and sought seats of their own. Riding on a ferry gives a rare glimpse of unmasked humanity. Everyone – rich, poor, privileged, and forgotten – dismounts from their cars, motorcycles, and bikes, and comingles on the passenger deck. There is no first-class or business section, just hard fiberglass seats facing in all directions for everybody. One could not help but to “people-watch.”

Seated across the aisle from us was an elderly couple with a disabled adult son who had his hand on what looked like a baby stroller. This captured my attention. “What was their story?” I thought to myself as I tried to sneak a peek at the stroller. The pieces of this scene didn’t fit together. I feigned a trip to the restroom to get a good look only to see that there was a dog, not a baby, in the stroller.

A boorish man and his wife sat next to us and started to tell their life story of divorce, remarriage, blended families, and ungrateful children. A stylish couple in skinny jeans, pointed shoes, and matching leather bomber jackets, stood at the refreshment counter to look at the menu written in little red and black plastic letters on a white board. They seemed to be trying to decide if their hunger could wait until they could get to a trendy sushi restaurant in Victoria, or if they needed to eat a chili-dog on the boat. A young Pakistani family sat across from us. The parents buried themselves in travel books while their precocious four-year-old daughter engaged Marcia in non-stop chatter about topics important only to a preschooler. Leather-clad motorcyclists paced the outside decks with the look of needing a cigarette, a beer, or both.

We arrived in Canada on schedule. The bicycle family with the toddler trailer was ahead of us in line as we made our way through customs. The helmeted two-year-old was securely strapped into his seat, now quiet and happy with chili stains on his cheeks and sweater.

We had a delightful overnight respite in Victoria and caught the same ferry back to the mainland the following day. At the terminal in Port Angeles, people returned to their vehicles, once again isolated with rolled-up windows and closed doors, and drove off. Our trailer was secure where we had left it.  Then we too, got in our truck – in our own little world – and drove off in relative anonymity. The ferry ride provided a welcome diversion, if only for 90-minutes or so, to sit among the people with whom we share the highway, but never really see.

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