“Good morning!” I greet back as I shut the car door, reminding myself that I don’t need to lock it. I have an issue with trust, but, really, how is anyone going to steal my car by driving it off a moving ferry?
“How do you like your Santa Fe?”
“I like it a lot,” I answer. “It’s pretty good on gas and it hasn’t broken down once, yet.”
“I’m thinking of getting one myself,” the friendly fellow tells me, as we leave our respective vehicles on the car deck after loading.
We start walking upstairs towards the main passenger lounge of the Queen of Cumberland.
“My old truck is a gas-guzzler and with the ferry fares going nowhere but up I want to save some gas money,” he says.
“Right. So, you commute the other way?” I ask him, confused by his statement, given the time of the day. Derrick, that’s his name, lives on Pender Island, he tells me, but occasionally he spends a day or two in Victoria to visit his son, daughter-in-law, and their kids. He catches the morning ferry back home rather than the evening sailing. He’s retired and he doesn’t have to be anywhere in a hurry.
That’s a luxury on this morning run, where every other passenger is formally “on the clock.” There are roofers, utility company workers, couriers, grocery carriers, and just about anyone else who has to carry something in a large van or truck. The total vehicle count is 28. Foot passengers: 4. The total number of passengers: about 40, mostly men. Cars are vastly outnumbered on the deck, made slippery by last night’s heavy rainfall. The sun is trying to break out of the clouds, but it’s too chilly to stay inside a vehicle for the half-hour ride. Walking to the stairway I count only one person remaining in his car, enjoying the comfort of a blanket.
The Queen of Cumberland is a mid-sized ship which has been serving the Southern Gulf Islands for as long as I can tell. Many islanders like her highly convivial interior design. Someone from Pender even described her to me as “lavish.” Her rear and forward lounges are ample and bright, thanks to the large and numerous windows. Rows of plastic benches facing one another flank each side of the small cafeteria, where more seating space can be found. The wide walking corridors make it easy to take laps around the ship. Because the passenger lounge is on one floor only, people cannot hide easily from one another. Besides, hardly anyone who is not in their car is interested in hiding.
Groups of co-workers are assembled together around tables, sipping coffee and talking about the day ahead. A few of the local islanders on this sailing have found a friend to visit with. Ferry travel forms many “strange” friendships. A young lady in her twenties, somewhat of a rarity of her own on retiree-rich Pender, is yapping away with a man in his sixties. Four older women are going over meeting minutes with a man younger than me. Many inter-island organizations actually hold their monthly meetings on the ferry, rather than finding a common island to gather on, and that might be one of those types of meetings. Two other men are catching up with one of the crew, who also happens to be their neighbor.
There are about 3000 people living on Pender, and if this were the first sailing of the morning headed to Swartz Bay there would be scores of commuters headed to work. The lounge would be buzzing with early morning tales on how seemingly everyone almost missed the ferry because the alarm clock was off, due to the power outage last night.
“Do you like catching the ferry?” I ask Derrick, as we head for the cafeteria.
“Is this going to be in your book?” He asks me.
“Maybe. It depends on how interesting it is what you have to say,” I joke with him. He laughs.
“Fair enough. Well, it really depends, you know. Would I rather be driving? No, of course not,” he tells me, “I think anyone will tell you that. But there are times when you don’t find anybody to visit with, or you forgot to bring a book along, and you get a little bored. But that’s ok too. I’d rather feel bored than be stressed out and in a hurry.”
“It sounds like you’re the kind of passenger who likes to be social and get out of the car,” I comment.
“About 80 percent of the times. There are days when I don’t feel social at all, so I stay in the car. But even if you stay in the car somebody will see you and they’ll knock on your window to come and chat inside your car. The only thing you can do to avoid being social is to fake sleeping. That’s the blessing and curse of living on a small island: you know everybody, and everybody knows you!” We both laugh.
“I’ve met a lot of people who use their time on the ferry to do artsy kinds of things.”
“Oh yeah,” he agrees. “There is a fellow who paints landscape pictures from the sundeck. There’s a neighbor of mine who writes parts of his novels on the ferry. And of course there are birdwatchers and amateur photographers.”
“Does it change with time?” I ask. “Do you find it harder to bear going back and forth as the years go by?”
“No,” he answers categorically. “It’s a very precious half hour. I mean, I’m retired now so I do have more time to unwind in general, but you’ll find a lot of islanders who will tell you that this is a very special transition time. For thirty or forty minutes this is your time and your place, you know. You can do whatever you want. The time you are on the ferry eases you back gradually into island rhythms after a long day spent working, or shopping, or driving around on the big island or the mainland. And if you’re leaving the island, rather than coming back, then it’s like a little time bubble that you can use to finish getting ready, get a bit more rest, or maybe just goof off or do business on the bulletin boards. It’s like a portal.”
“Hello Derrick,” greets him the crew woman working behind the cafeteria counter. “What can I get you? The usual?”
“Yes, thanks Susan. Hey, is Tom still coming over later this afternoon to look at that old truck of mine?”