Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper was once on Bill O'Reilly's show and the blustering Fox TV host took exception to something Stamper said. "You're livin' in fairy land!" he boomed. He was close, as Stamper, an Orcas Island resident, does indeed live in ferry land.
As do many of us on the Salish Sea. I ride ferries pretty regularly, and have all my life. Summer is the silly season, ferry-wise. The sun makes Seattle drivers nuts.
On those rare days when the strange golden orb appears in the sky, we leap into our vehicles and head for the the shore. I hate driving the early days of summer because everyone is so active, the mobility tinged with desperation. This may be the only good weekend of the summer, so step on it!
Driving down to the ferry dock on the first sunny Saturday this June, I dodged a driver on Madison who persisted in texting from Pill Hill to Colman Dock, slowing for green lights, and Tweeting merrily. On the other end of the spectrum, I encountered a mad taxi driver taking his terrified charges on a downhill run to make the Bainbridge ferry on a Mister Toad-style wild ride. Lucky there are bathrooms on the ferry so they could change into clean underwear.
Together these two combine to make up the typical toxic mix of Seattle driving: half of the drivers are too aggressive, the rest are clueless. It's old Ballard meets the L.A. Freeway. Hint for Washington State Department of Transportaion: No amount of freeway building is going to fix that madness. Instead of new highways, as I've argued before, let's enroll people in remedial driver's ed.
Tourists on the ferry are fun to watch. Their wonder at what we take for granted, like Mount Rainier doing its floating cream-puff thing, is good to see, because it reminds us that we live in a pretty incredible place. But the ferry system has taken some of the fun out of watching the newbies. The ferries don't blast their horns when they leave the dock or arrive anymore (only rarely). For years, it was high entertainment to watch strangers leap out of their bloomers when the horn sounded.
Now ferry passengers are greeted with recordings by local "celebrities," from the soothing voice of KIRO-TV anchor Steve Raible to the familiar boom of the Mariners' Dave Niehaus. Why aren't right-wing websites all over the fact that Gov. Chris Gregoire slips a recorded message into the ferry patter (or maybe they are and I just don't read them)? Why is the governor taking time to tell us to enjoy the ride? Do we really need lessons on how to ride on a big boat?
The Gregoire voice cameo smacks of the way Greg Nickles used to insert his name or face into everything, kinda like North Korea's Kim Jong Il. Maybe it's because Republicans think that ferry riders will blame her for poor service. In that case, it seems more appropriate to have Tim Eyman explain why you need to pay attention to where the life vests are kept on the rust-bucket you're riding. The sinking ship of state could be more than a metaphor some day.
Since Seattle doesn't have many celebrities you want to hear from, some of the voice picks are odd. Like gardener Ciscoe Morris who has an accent from Mars. He's credible when telling us about things like edible chicken coops and such, but why is he telling us about ferry safety? Perhaps you can make a good mulch in your life raft.
And speaking of safety, the homeland security stuff with all the dogs sniffing cars in the ferry lines and escort vessels with guys manning machine guns: I just can't see it. The bigger threats are fog, nutty show-off captains, brake or steering failures, computer glitches, or some dope smoking on the car deck while leaning on a propane tank. It wasn't Al Qaeda that put a ferry on Elwha Rock.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!