ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS AN OP-ED IN THE NANAIMO NEWS BULLETIN, 2010
It was somewhere between the $10 snob pit and deck 5’s forward lounge’s flat screen TVs featuring a live Dodgers-Giants baseball game that I wished Europe took back its Renaissance.
Its Coastal Renaissance, that is.
Let us face it: BC Ferries’s newest mid-island ferries are an insult to island life, and a sign of bad times to come for our beloved island.
Like many Vancouver islanders, at least judging from the ferry lineups, I spent my Easter weekend on the road. Moved by the quest to visit every island served by BC Ferries before fares become more expensive than the vessels themselves, I traveled first on the Renaissance and then from Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island on the Queen of Capilano.
Once I got over a double dose of déjà-vus (the Capilano felt like the Queen of Cumberland, and Bowen felt like Saltspring) I managed to enjoy five days on the small and cutesy island cursing at island drivers slower than wet grass, trying to crack the mystery of why the ferry lineup has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, and struggling (unsuccessfully) to hear the noises of the nearby big city at night.
Bowen and my Easter weekend trip turned out to be lovely, even though I felt quite stupid when on at least two occasions I happened to mention to locals that I was from “the” island. “Bowen?” I was asked by puzzled residents. “No, er, Vancouver Island,” I replied. “Somehow I don’t think of Vancouver Island as an Island,” one of them observed.
Ouch. The punch hurt because it felt true.
Ferries symbolize islands. Step aboard the North Island Princess and you will feel Texada Island crushed limestone powder squish under your shoes. Hop on the Quadra Queen II and gaze at the ravishing pictures of Alert Bay’s totem poles and Sointula’s mesmerizing gillnet rugs. Cruise on the Mayne Queen and hear the echoes of Active Pass. Sneak inside the Quinsam’s rusty lounges on a mid-afternoon “hormone run” and smell the aromas of growing youths’ bodies. Or catch the Queen of Capilano, if you can, without getting caught in the swirling maelstrom of small island news and culture displayed on the beautifully unkempt bulletin boards, the hubbub of neighbors running into neighbors on the deck, or the noisy play of little Bowen kids unwilling to surrender to Horseshow Bay’s tentacles well after the docking announcement, until the ship literally bumps on the pier.
Sounds like island life, eh?
And then, from that sardine tin version of a community that is HorseshoE Bay, glide aboard the shiny brand new decks of the Departure-Bay bound Coastal Renaissance, and what do you get?
Hundreds of cars. And not “island cars” either, the type carrying random pieces of driftwood as dashboard memorabilia, and old “to-do-lists-while-in-town” scribbled papers scattered across the floorboard, but the kind of cars and SUVs that bailed out manufacturers wish we kept on buying.
Hundreds of unknown faces and voices. It’s the faces and voices sported by whiny bourgeois who complain that the Sitka Lounge’s coffee isn’t actually authentic Starbucks Coffee; by insolent cell phone junkies unable to tell the difference between a phone booth and the passenger lounge; by Johnny-come-lately’s overheard claiming that a bridge would be good for our island’s real estate, or at least for their third home on Bear Mountain.
Ferries not only symbolize islands but they make them as well. As they get bigger, their islands get more crowded. As they get more gentrified, their islands get more gentrified. As they get more and more like floating airports or shopping malls, islands get more like the mainland. Just like bridges would undo them, ferries do islands. And these brand new yuppie monsters of a ship are surely undoing good ole’ Vancouver Island faster than a makeover and fashion show undoes gumboots.
Sitting comfortably, much too snugly on the Renaissance makes me nostalgic for the discomforts of Snug Cove, back on Bowen. The Renaissance, the Florentine-driven one, was about progress shrouded in individualism. The other Renaissance, the German built one, seems to me about individualism masqueraded as progress. And overdressed for the occasion, too.
If on this ferry I could find a darn bulletin board open to the non-paying, non-corporate island public I’d post a note:
“Wanted (back): stinky old Queen of New Westminster. Preferably with wires sticking out of the walls, reeking of leftover Sunshine Breakfasts, and noisy with island kids running around, not reruns of the Backyardigans. Usual no-no’s: no marketing fanfare, no corporate marine highways, no predictable service.”
And ideally I’d want her running on island time, so right-to-the-minute, on-the-nose-island-time, that one could still catch her at the very last second, regardless of cutoff policies, by skillfully leaping off the ramp, without a care in the world for an accurate passenger count.
It’s almost time to disembark. I notice that there are wall clocks on the Renaissance. Several of them. In the past if you were on the ferry and wanted to find out what time it was you looked out the window, not inside. And if you wanted to find out if the ferry was late you’d realize it by the point when you’d run across the other ferry, headed the opposite way. Now not even the ferries run on island time anymore.
How long can we keep it up?