Reporter's Notebook: Lessons in futility learned from riding the ferries

Nothing reminds a person of the gross injustice of life like riding the Washington State ferries.

Here we have all the hallmarks of the human condition: disillusionment, frustration, betrayal, McDonald’s.

And after feeling as hopeful as a young Colman Dock seagull, it’s time we face facts: our ferry system stinks and the chances of it getting better are as likely as the Seattle Supersonics winning the NBA championship.

Blame it on those non-ferry legislative districts with their self-centered representatives; blame it on diminishing revenues; blame it on (fill in the name of the political party you despise here). Whomever gets blamed, the result is the same: The ferries are not a dependable conveyance for getting to work, school, or home.

We should have known this would happen when the state Department of Transportation adopted as its motto, “We hate you as much as you hate us.” That said, there are some positive angles to our ferry dysfunction, like teaching us to deal with negative feelings toward our ferry dysfunction. Which brings us to a list of the lessons offered to ferry riders, valuable lessons for anyone struggling to accept the disappointment that trails the living like a retinue of hungry wolves.

1) Control is an Illusion - We charm ourselves into thinking we are in control of our lives, that decisions determine our fate rather than blind luck. Riding ferries dispels this myth. The ferries will run on time, unless “Someone burps or farts on the Seattle side,” as a Bainbridge toll booth attendant said recently. These burps and farts are not yours, but they have the potential to ruin your day.

2) There are No Guarantees - Ferries publish a cute schedule and copies are free and can be used to line bird cages or start arson fires. They aren’t so great at telling people when to show up and catch a ferry. As a toll booth attendant said recently of the erratic Edmonds-Kingston run, “I expect it to be on time, I never guarantee.”

3) Nobody Cares - Unless you are a sad-looking animal or a cute child or a professional athlete who killed a sad-looking animal and ate the child, people don’t care. They like to say they care, it’s fashionable, until somebody asks for spare change. Think committing suicide by jumping off a ferry will win you sympathy? Really? Have you ever read the comments on a newspaper Web site? Think freight-mobility in the Central Puget Sound region is vital to the whole region? Tell that to somebody in Centralia and they’ll demand to see your birth certificate.

4) The Harder You Try, the Worse it Feels When You Fail - Ferry riders learn this lesson early, knowing that if they are on time, the ferry will be late. If they are late, the ferry will be on time. The lesson? Give up, move inland, watch more television.

5) Common Courtesy Isn’t That Common - Just because you are spending close to $15 does not require a toll booth attendant to inform you that the boat is running 45 minutes late. In their defense, you’ll eventually figure it out, maybe in 45 minutes when the boat shows up. Don’t despair, the good news is that because you were treated poorly, you now have the right to treat others just as shabbily.

6) Somebody From Bainbridge Is Looking Down Their Nose At You Right Now - Mo’ money, mo’ problems, just ask the BMW owners who insist on setting their car alarms aboard the Bainbridge ferry. They know your kind, you’ve got Bremerton written all over your face.

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