Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Ferry To Free

There is nothing, nothing, nothing like a ride on a ferry.  An open to the winds and the sky, exhilarating ride on a steady and substantial ferry boat — made for short-or-long term hauls, getting you from one shore to another. 

Don't they look incredibly happy?  That's what a ferry ride can do!
When my children were little we took a very long ferry ride — 2 ½ hours I think —from the tip of Long Island’s northern shore to the crook of Connecticut. It was a massive ferry — could have passed for a small cruise ship (in those days) — and I remember how it was to see our kids run to and fro on the deck of that boat as we sailed from one family visit to another. They were so happy! You could see the joy in their faces and I knew what they felt.

While I love water — being on it or around it — I am fearful of it.  It is my worst nightmare (mine and Natalie Wood’s) to die in the water not knowing what is swarming beneath.  Still traveling on water is a feeling that exhilarates me.

My sense is that my first ferry rides were on the Staten Island Ferry in the mid-70s when the fare was 50¢.  We would ride the Staten Island Ferry from Battery Park in lower Manhattan over to Staten Island and then back again— we never even got off!  It was a cheap escape.  

Ferries became a regular part of my summer weekend commute in 1981 (luckily) to Saltaire Fire Island.  For my friend Carol and me, there was always, always the scramble to be released from the yoke of work in Manhattan to get out of the city and to the beach.  This was no easy feat. Manhattanites rarely had cars so multiple means of machinations had to be transited just to get to the ferry. A cab to Grand Central, or a sprint to the subway; a run to the Long Island Railroad and a hop on the train; a jump off the train and if there was time a ten-minute walk to the dock or (if time was tight) yet-another cab speeding to catch the departing ferry at Bay Shore.  It was breath-robbing, sweat-and-anxiety-producing along with schlepping (this is a Yiddish word that means carrying many,many things) — your clothes, your groceries, your entertainment, your reading, and/or your work for the weekend.  It was what we lived for all week long.

Once on the ferry — the passengers board, get their seats, settle their belongings as the boat backs away from the dock and the ferry chugs away on open water.  The wind tosses your hair this way and that, you grab for a sweater or sweatshirt and soon, all your cares are dissolving like pop rocks in water.  The stress, the disappointments, the tensions just seem to leave your body and blow away into the breeze.  That summer going to Fire Island was a wonderfully rejuvenating way to begin a weekend and escape from all that constantly worried me.

There is something so enormously freeing about riding the ferry as it rolls up and down across the waves in a rhythmic sailing on top of the glistening crests.  I feel everything stream away and free me. It is a calming, soothing, peaceful relief — a tremendous feeling.  

People who commute to work by ferry say it is an amazing way to start your day.  Today along with a bunch of commuters, I am headed from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan and then out to Rockaway Queens.  I’m on the top deck with the wind assaulting my hair and despite the relentless glare of the sun my body is getting a little chilled so I grab for my light jacket. It is a long ride over an hour and I am feeling free and glorious — a rush of emotions that recapture other times, other places but the same joy — a joy that should be more prevalent in my life.  

The ferry pivots toward the landing, the Brooklyn Bridge
and the masts of a sailing ship in the distance
Heading toward Manhattan from Brooklyn

                                      As we swing toward Pier 1...
we see the imposing towers on Wall Street

As the ferry chugs away, the Manhattan skyline shrinks in the distance

Far, far off in the distance, the Statue of Liberty looks deceivingly small in this shot

Ahhhh...the magnificent Verrazano-Narrows Bridge lies ahead 

And all for the grand price of $2.00!  Thank you, Metropolitan Transit Authority and SeaStreak Ferries for taking me back to FREE — lucky for me, New York City’s battling candidates were too conscious of their upcoming elections to end this limited-run, subsidized service that came about as a result of Hurricane Sandy.  Guess politicians can be good for something.


  1. What a great piece -- fabulous photos!!
    I crossed the the Verrazano Bridge every day for 4 years, via the city bus, back & forth while going to a high school in Staten Island (I lived in Brooklyn). Before the bridge was built, as a little kid we used to take a ferry to SI to go the city pool there -- it was magnificent....

    Thanks for bringing back all those sweet memories.... LL