Scott Cavanagh
Freelance Writing, Editing and Photography

Ferry Lore Not So Funny Anymore

October 19, 2003

(Editor's note: On October 15, 13 people were killed and 72 injured when a Staten Island Ferryboat crashed into a concrete dock. The event was the worst NYC public transportation accident in over 80 years.)

We all heard the rumors and told the jokes about the drunken ferryboat captains who piloted the Staten Island Ferry.

As almost all poor kids on the borough of Richmond were aware, the ferry had a crazy habit of making its way clumsily against the giant and ancient wooden docks on either side of the trip to and from Manhattan.

That was always fun as a kid. Growing up in Midland Beach, Manhattan may have only been a few miles away, but it seemed like hundreds. My forays to the city were not the most joyous of events. They usually involved a trip to the welfare office with my very sad mother, but the ferry ride made things seem better.

Here was this boat that took you out on the water in the most famous seaport in the world, with the Brooklyn Bridge on the right, the Statue and Ellis Island on the left and the great island approaching in front of you. If it was a sunny day, you could squint your eyes at the water and the sparkles would shine like diamonds.

I was on the ferry a few weeks ago for the first time in years. My wife was with me for her initial Manhattan trip and the weather was bright and clear, perfect to see the stars.

As I proudly pointed out the many landmarks of my hometown, I was interrupted by a moment of shock and sadness as I acknowledged the great hole in the Manhattan skyline. I had not been home since September 2001.

I was taken back not only by the sheer horror of the missing towers and knowing how many people vanished with them, but by the fact that I will never look at that city again and feel the same. The scar will last forever.

As our trip came to an end, I did manage to share a subdued acknowledgment with a cousin as the big boat cracked against the docks and we remembered how things used to be before our world became all too serious.

Now the docks on Bay Street in Staten Island have a scar of their own… a shredded concrete pillar trashed by a runaway ferry captain whose skills were not part of urban legend.

The exciting and unique memories of my all-too infrequent trips to the city will be with me forever, but it will be a long time before my eyes focus on the old stars instead of the new scars.

 Column copyright 2003 Midland Avenue Communications. Reprints without permission violate Federal Law.