Leaving The Ferry Behind

Even though I had already “retired” once back in 2008, I retired again (unofficially) right before the Pandemic of Cancellations started in 2020, I spent my last day working at my job for the Washington State Ferries at the Port Townsend dock, and wrote this the next day. As much as I railed against not knowing if I was going to be working or not in any given week, I finally got used to only having Monday and Tuesday to plan anything and the rest of the week to be on “high alert” in case I had an impromptu call to go in. And although I often thought of my job as a prison, with rules and contracts and protocol and whims of coworkers, rudeness and repetition until I thought my mouth would break if I had to say “Hi! Reservation?” or “Are you two seniors yet?” Or listen to “Am I going to make it on this one?” or “What are my chances?” This job became part of my life on top of whatever life I thought I had or wanted, including Maine Fiberarts. 

To leave it behind, shrug it off, and just stop thinking about it is more than I thought. It is a large piece of my whole lifestyle that’s simply been carved away. It’s not like something has lifted, or a door closed, or a door opened, or a burden laid down, it’s like something has been pulled and tugged and twisted out, something that has filled my insides with time-sensitive tentacles reaching into every part of my thought and planning—do I have any lunch food, what day is it, is my alarm set for 3:45 am or can I sleep until 7:00, how much time to I have before an afternoon shift, do I have time to go to step class, is my thermos of tea ready to pack, is my cup packed, is there a white shirt clean, have I brushed my teeth or hair enough, do I need a sweater or a raincoat, what time do I have to walk the dog so I can leave on time, do I have my watch and phone, did I write a note for the dog walker, do I have the right change to leave for the dog walker or have I left it already this week—it’s all been excised with a loud sharp clunk of the safe as my badge and keys and safe combination, money and parking pass dropped in for good.

This was a real working job. Blue collar and union and state defined it. Just about every minute was work, if you weren’t talking or listening to a customer, you were on the lookout for the boat which was usually on time, or the last late arriving car which wasn’t, or the questions from the people or the cigarette butts, or if you had time to go to the restroom before the steady stream of cars began, which was never a precise happening, it just happened. 

The same series of events, day after day went by with a certain amount of predictability that was unpredictable. We never knew exactly how the day would go. The things that made the day easy were not always the same, the things that made the day hard were. I grew to dislike or resent the part of me that judged people so harshly for not knowing about or understanding the reservation process. If they had a reservation they had “most favored” status and were directed into special staging lanes with a guarantee to be on the next boat. If they didn’t have a reservation or didn’t understand how they would lose their status if they came early, they became dunces, an underclass of ferry riders, the lanes near the end with no guarantee they would even be on the next boat. It was as if the lanes they were in were tainted and the people in line had dark clouds of doom oozing from their windows. Judging people as they came through the toll booth, I felt shame for it. Such a small piece of a person’s day to carry that burden, the identity of being stupid they didn’t even realize they carried. 

I came to recognize many regulars by their first and last names and favored the ones I remembered and recognized even more. It was unfair of me and I couldn’t help it. That was one reason I was ready to leave. Explaining the reservations over and over to different people, began to grind into my brain, me being as friendly as I could as I told them there was going to be a three hour wait for the next boat, especially to people that didn’t take time to find out about the schedule or the reservation process before they arrived in front of me, or who said they were from Arizona or Texas where they didn’t have ferries, as if that gave them permission to be stupid. Were they stupid? Yes, in that scenario. Did they deserve my chagrin and impatience. Probably not.

On my last day so many people I had worked with wished me well, congratulated me, said they enjoyed working with me, said they would miss me, that I was very touched. I cried a little bit as I drove home that last dark and windy night. 

When I got home my last night after that blustery and rainy evening made the boat get back late, I heaved off my 15 pounds of coat and left it on my bedroom floor. The end of my five years of ferry days.