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Travel



Cruising on the Staten Island Ferry
Whether you’re planning to take the famous ferry to Staten Island for business or for pleasure, try to order up a day like today. In a clear sky of tufted blue, the sun is warm, the daunting New York humidity is down, a light breeze toustles leafy treetops and lunchtime neckties along Whitehall Street. The Upper Bay sparkles against the jumbled architecture at the nether end of Manhattan Island, and a boatride is by any measure the perfect pick for an afternoon excursion. And this year, it’s free.


You’ll get to South Ferry Station by one of a dozen possible routes, including the #1 or the #9 local on the IRT Line (on the subway map it’s red) which actually has a stop of the same name. This is the one that will land you almost on the deck of the departing ferry. But not quite. This summer you’ll encounter some of the barricaded chaos that New Yorkers have grown accustomed to as the city updates its aging infrastructures. But posters clearly mark the way around the construction area, with apologetic assurances that the results will be worth it. So onward.

On a day like this you may want to take the air on your way to the ferry gate, up a long wide arc of ramp, which serves mainly to direct a thronging tide of Staten Island commuters who disembark at rush hour. Or you can mount the steep escalater which gives onto a cavernous elevated rotunda, where you’ll join a polyglot sea of boatriders of every imaginable color and configuration. This scene is more or less typical of any tourist stop in America in any summer month, it’s true. But here, it’s an ordinary daily occurrence, any time of the year:

A tall and unexpectedly dark man watches with an amused ennuie the haranguing of two women who seem to accompany him. They carry only their plastic Duane Reade sacs and they may to be on their way home to Little Jamaica from a swing shift in the city. An Australian is sharing frenchfries with his American hosts, who, though Manhattan savvy, cannot be native New Yorkers, from the sound of it. Summer school kids sling their backpacks carelessly, long since bored with the charm of this history-rich leg of the commute to class. A couple who seem confidently chic, even glistening with perspiration, is alternately cooing and crabbing in French over a tiny map of Midtown. A field trip of kindergarteners gets an introduction to the captain; a pair of twin blonde tennis moms swings a blonde tennis kid between them; the heavy energy of slavic dialects, too many to distinguish, is everywhere, in small groups of women animated with exhaustion, slogging home, to slog back tomorrow. Here, in sight of Ellis Island, almost in the shadow of Lady Liberty, the effect is extraordinary.

At the station’s information kiosk, posters will exhort you to explore Staten Island’s Zoo, its Mall and Carousel, a 19th century sailors’ hangout called Snug Harbor, and the 100-acre Richmondtown Renovation of the 18th century village. And there's the unlikely—but superb—Tibetan Museum. But even if you go no farther than to the town of St. George, where the ferry docks, you’ll have the opportunity to support the island’s local farmners, at the weekly St. George Greenmarket, held in the St. George Municipal Parking Lot. Moreover, you will have ridden the boat.

There are, in fact, two newly modernized 1200-passenger boats that shorten the half-hour crossing by as much as 10 minutes. But this excursion is one of the most satisfying ways not only to see the spectacular Manhattan skyline but also to absorb its context–sharing the New York Harbor as it does with those other emblems of American promise, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Governor’s Island. So unless you’re in a big New York hurry, you’ll want your boat ride to last. And the older boats have the wide decks for sightseeing.

A kempt Asian man snaps a careful picture of his wife and small child at the rail. So does a large man in red shorts from Minnesota, as his daughter protests. A handsome Egyptian boy takes a picture of his brother. They are both law students at Columbia. And there is Joanne, taking lunch on deck on a beautiful day, as she's often done over the last twenty-two years, before heading back to the firm on Broad and Water.


August 2000
K.E.Watt, Brooklyn, NY


© 2004, K. E. WATT. All rights reserved.

 

 



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