Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Riding The Ferry

It happened that I was looking at the map planning a day trip north of St Augustine and I wanted to avoid the freeway for the journey north, so I eyeballed the state highway that skips along the beach throughout Florida's east coast. It's called A1A and it is not generally a fast drive as it meanders along barrier islands connecting coastal subdivisions and clusters of condos that typically fester along Florida's mainland waterfronts. Then I saw a little dotted line connecting the highway arose the St Johns's river. Aha! A ferry...that's always interesting. The route was thus enshrined in my Thanksgiving Day excursion.

The St Johns's river ferry in Mayport faces extinction if the city subsidy of $200,000 matched by a similar amount from the state were to expire the private corporation running the service says it will close which would not be good for the residents as there is no other way across the river if they don't pay the six dollar vehicle fee to ride the boat. It's a nice boat too, leaving the southern shore at the top and bottom of the hour for the five minute ride, the loading up on the northern shore and returning across the river at fifteen and forty five. Every hour every day from early morning to early evening the ferry runs with room for a couple of dozen cars or more. My wife wanted to take the coast road back even though it was after dark, and she was right because it was very lovely as we waited for the ferry to come back to the north shore of the St John's river.

We were the front car in the line to board and as there was nothing much to see and it was cold out, below sixty degrees with a breeze, we sat in the car on the front of the ferry...

...and these two dudes strolled up the rail and started chatting. At first I thought they were deckhands but as I listened, and they weren't whispering so I couldn't help but listen, I understood they were passengers.

"I counted thirty five pelicans," Guy Number One in the knitted cap said to Guy Number Two in the other knitted cap. He was looking at the pelicans roosting on the sea wall next to the ferry landing. "I haben't been over to the other side to count them," he added.

"That's a lot of pelicans," Number Two commented helpfully.

"I'm surprised they stay around with that guy being all animated and such" said Guy Number One.

"Yeah," Guy Number Two said, and I knew immediately who was the subject of that remark. At first we thought it was some by-product of working Thanksgiving Day, but apparently the deckhand is always as animated as we saw him. He directed traffic onto the boat at one end and rode over the river proceeding to then direct traffic off the boat. He danced, waved his arms, twirled, hopped and cackled loudly while directing the drivers.

"He's been like that ever since I can remember," Number One said, "ever since I rode the ferry as a kid," which means a long time as he looked to be in his late thirties the guy on the left in the photo above. Apparently the deck hand is quite the character amongst locals. "Never have talked to him," Number atwo replied. Then Number Aone changed the subject. "I saw a dolphin out here," he remarked looking over the side into the black waters. "I wonder if they sleep" he pondered as Guy Number Two hunched his back against the cold breeze. "I wonder how they sleep" Guy Number Aone went on, musing as if to himself. There was no answer because by now the ferry had arrived and nudged up to the dock on the Mayport side of the river. The animated deckhand, subject of the conversation, danced I to view to remove the netting blocking the nose of the ferry.


He spun the wheel behind him in the photo below which lowered the ramp onto the deck of the boat to allow the vehicles to get off. He grinned at us as I lurched the car into gear prematurely. You want to kill me on Thanksgiving Day?" he said with a grin. I apologized unable to explain I was anxious about being ready to lead the parade off the boat. On our trip north I had been at the back of the line which position I preferred.


We drove off finally and as unlikely as we are to go this way again I was glad I had overheard that snippet of conversation about the boat and the crew member startling in his open hearted innocence and a local's musing as we made our way by that imperiled ferry connection across the water.



Anonymous said...

Nice read-- especially good way to start the day in the snowy northeast!

Conchscooter said...

Flatistan has us characters!