The Staten Island Ferry

Born in 1817 and finally transferred to city ownership in 1905, it was the only way for many years for inhabitants of Manhattan to reach inhabitants of Staten Island. Now that wasn’t always a problem as for a long time Staten Island was just marsh and farmland. Most people that lived in Manhattan lived there precisely because it wasn’t marsh and farmland. That changed of course in large part due to the ongoing push to develop every square inch of land in close proximity to Manhattan.  Soon there were ferry companies competing with each other to get you to ride their boat to the “other” island.

Now, of course, it is an important part of the city’s mosaic, with many affluent people living there (they figured out early that land was a heck of a lot cheaper there than in other boroughs) and commuting on the ferry to their jobs in Manhattan.

But back in the sixties and seventies, it was one thing, and one thing only: a fun way to spend a hot evening for a nickel. You boarded at Whitehall station at the southern tip of Manhattan, and filed onto the ferry and set sail for the strange land of Staten Island. We never had any intention of getting off and actually visiting the place; we were just there for the ride. And what a ride it was. It passed the Statue of Liberty and allowed for some beautiful vistas of the downtown skyline.  But best of all (and Don spoke of this recently) it got you out of the sweltering apartment and into a nice cool ocean breeze.

For a nickel.

Let me repeat that…..a nickel….five cents. It was the best ride in town and a great cheap date!  They tried to raise the fare once (actually probably many times) and the outrage was so great that the mighty city of New York backed down and kept it at five cents.  I have no idea what the fare is now; I expect it is a bit more than a nickel but who knows; sometimes people don’t like when you mess with tradition.

One of the very cool things about it was that when you took it, you were doing the very same thing your parents and their parents had done before them, and for the same reason: to escape the heat of the city. People have been crowding onto that boat (or fleet of boats) for many years and all doing the same thing – paying their fare, getting on, enjoying the ride to the island, not getting off, and riding back again.

Ok so fast forward a bunch of years to say 1977. A typically hot and steamy New York summer night;  unbearable; basically swamp conditions, and I had to get away. So I call up my friend Mike, I call up my friend Nancy and off we go, just three New Yorkers playing like Captain Ahab, except for us the White Whale was that beautiful cooling breeze, and air that didn’t smell of week-old garbage.

About an hour later, there we are, the three of us, standing out on the foredeck enjoying the view, the breeze, and each others company; a perfectly lovely evening.  As Nancy is saying something to Mike, I look over to the other side of the deck and freeze. There a mere couple of yards away is………

Mr. Spock.

Well, really Leonard Nimoy, who is in New York because he had just taken on the lead role in the Broadway production of Equus. Who knew he would be doing the same thing we would be to escape the summer heat?!

Now let me take a moment to explain something. Mike and I were and are huge Star Trek fans (I could tell you stories…and probably will in future posts) but suffice it to say when I pointed out to Mike that we were sharing the ferry with the man who was Spock, he too is stunned into silence. I mean this was big- this was Leonard Nimoy – freaking Mr. Spock was on the same ferry with us!!!

Mr. Nimoy, of course, was totally oblivious to us, talking quietly to an attractive woman, and looking very relaxed.  We, on the other hand, were stiff as boards. Do we go over and say hi? Ask for an autograph? Faint dead away?

Mike and I start doing the old “you go”…”no you go”…”no you go- you saw him first…” routine.

But thankfully, we had an intelligent, charming, beautiful and totally confident companion with us, who took control. Nancy, looking at us with an expression of “are you guys for real?”, finally decides she will save us from our self-imposed purgatory.  She strides over to him, introduces herself, and explains that she is with the two knuckleheads over there that absolutely worship him, but are too nervous to approach. He nods graciously, thanks her, looks our way, smiles and waves.

And if we had been hit with Phasers on stun, we couldn’t have looked more struck with awe. We somehow (I think) manage to wave back (fighting the urge to genuflect and chant “we are not worthy”), and try to recover some semblance of self-respect and do our best to look nonchalant as Nancy rejoins us…

“Heh, heh heh….yes why there’s dear old Leonard, so good to see that him again….and he’s looking quite fit don’t you think”.

Do I have to say we fail miserably at the nonchalant part and spend the rest of the trip stealing glances at the one and only Vulcan we will ever meet?  Nancy spends the rest of the trip shaking her head and thinking of ways to get a new set of friends.

And that’s my Staten Island Ferry story, and for us what a night!

The night we decided to beat the heat and take a cheap ride on the Staten Island Ferry and we wind up meeting  (kind of) Mr. Spock.

I am not sure if Nancy reads this blog ( I would love it if she did), but I know my dear friend Mike does, so pal o’ mine, if you remember it differently please let me know.

But differences in memory aside, the mere fact the lines of our individual lives transected that night on a mere whim, is still so amazing to me; a marvelous thing about life in general, but especially about the magic that was New York City.

Live Long and Prosper.


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