Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nighttime Ferry

I've been riding the Ferry almost daily lately.

You pay $2.00 to get on, with a free transfer to the train, or, you get a free transfer to the Ferry with your metrocard purchase.

Since I have my monthly card, I swipe and go, by-passing those who are purchasing the $2 or $4 tickets every day on my way into the city.

Going out, the Statue of Liberty side is packed... people snapping shots of the Statue, of Ellis Island, of the skyline. They ask you to take their photo, or, I offer when I see them struggling to focus with that arms out thing. Families crowd the windows, looking at the gulls, at the terns on the water. As the boat slows, we move forward, dock and trudge down the ramps to the street, the train, the city.

I've found a sub-culture of Ferry riders, one that isn't there in the day time, in the bright light of the sun.

Whenever you board, there are those who are first against the doors, going forward with determined steps through the seating and out the front doors.

In the daytime, it is businessmen on their Blackberries, making calls....men with yarmulkes, holding their children's hands, pointing out all there is to see. Young girls chatting with each other... everyone wanting to be first off when we dock.

At night, it's different.

Inside, there is an undercurrent of noise~a murmur of voices, of languages... iPods leak music from their owners plugged in ears, children fret with the late hour and their longing for their beds. People are there. Sound, light, contact.

You step outside and are in a different world. A small group gathers. Most lean against the chain or near it...one or two will be looking out the side portholes. They are silent, no iPods, no phones, no voices speaking to each other.

Your presence is noted briefly, then, eyes cut back to the distant point they contemplate as their thoughts are being processed.

The bridges are outlines with lights. Headlights of cars going over blink between the girders. The Statue stands lit and still in the blackness. City lights ahead and behind you reflect off low hanging clouds back onto themselves, making the night brighter than it is.

Under a straight line of protected 75watt bulbs, usually with at least one burned out, faces are shadowed, planed. The Ferry's engines pulse, the deck vibrates with the power and the sound is soft in the night. Along with the slap of waves, the occasional blast of a boat, all is cushioned in black.

It's night...no gulls sound, no children call out at diving birds or passing ships. No families making noise as they gather each other together. No loud conversations of friends as they make plans for the day. If the door opens, the sounds and light spill over, foreign in our little planet.

You notice everyone has the same look, and imagine it reflects the same one you are wearing. Introspective, wary, tired. Focused on the shore, yet, eyes flicker to the waves on occasion.
"What if?", you find yourself thinking. "What if I just did it?"

There is no one there. You would be over and under in a nanosecond. You almost drowned as a child, you know the swiftness with which it happens. The waves catch the lights from the city on their crest, and the false brightness is a lure.

The current pain would be done. No hole in your chest. No dealing with idiots. No worries about money. Your estate would settle on the kids and hell, if it didn't, you're not there to worry about it. You were willing to be dog food, why not fish food?

So easy.

And you all have that same glint in your eye.

Is it some tiny kernel in our DNA? To draw closer to high rims and ledges and peer over, with that gasp and funny laugh when we jump back? When someone holds our arm while they push,we yell in anger, yet... yet.. some part of us feels a surge of...excitement. What if? What if?? How would it feel? Why do we lean over on ships, balancing on the rails, watching the wake... looking into the depths? Are we all lemmings at heart?

It is a look I only see in those who ride at night, if I'm honest. Those who stand outside, and stand against the chain, staring ahead, introspective, never speaking. Those few, who, when we dock, hurry quickly up the ramp looking... relieved?

I move with them, swipe my card, board the train and wait for my station. We see each other, and thaw a bit, take out phones, start to read... even talk to each other.

They made it over one more time.

note: no, i have no plans on jumping. if i did, i'd leave a hell of a better note than this. and i'd be thinner.


Bud said...

Beautifully written. You've dragged me to a place I don't ever go, even if just for a moment. So you're that effective. I must have felt that way once to know exactly what you mean but it seems very foreign to to me now. Still your perspective on this is healthy.

Bob Clay said...

When I was at sea I sometimes spent hours either watching the water curl under the bow, or churning out from the prop, sometimes flourescent. It was believed by many old hands that this was a bad idea, as the churning sea could hypnotise you into leaning over just that tad too far.
Perhaps there is a genetical memory that wants us to return to that which birthed us some billions of years ago... perhaps. Don't know how being mangled by the prop fits into that though....

Michael Manning said...

Quin: Some of the most creative and wonderful human beings have recognized a dark side in addition to "the light". I'd rather address "the light" where there is Hope and Anticipation for New Life that yet awaits us!

modelbehavior said...

I had a university teacher once who was always extremely late and always blamed it on the ferry.


PS welcome back to new york!

Quin said...

bud~thanks. i think we all have it in us somewhere.

bob~yeah, i can see how. and i won't think about the prop. ew

mm~we want that light..sometimes, though...

mb~he lied. it runs like clockwork. and, thanks, glad to be back! did you clear up the paper bag mystery?

golfwidow said...

Some people, you know, are easy to admire but difficult to like.

You? Are both.

Quin said...


Richard said...


Sometimes you read something mundane and it makes you think of something profound.

Sometimes you read something profound, and it makes you think of something mundane. I'm not sure why, but the former seems like a compliment, the latter like an insult.

So sorry, but this was the latter.

It reminded me when I was a teenager and was on a ferry. A chap was doing EXACTLY that - leaning over the side, craning, reaching. We suddenly realised he was going to do it.

My friends and I rushed forward and grabbed him, pulling him back to safety, to life.

He was very pissed.

He'd dropped his sunglasses, and was struggling to reach them. As we grabbed him, they departed for Davy Jones' locker. I think Bill Nighy wears them to this day.

Your words also made me think of Van Gogh - I think some of the comments are right - we all have that dark side and I think the more creative, the darker.

Quin said...

bill wears them well.

and, thanks.