Once upon a time, long, long before airfare wars, in a place they call the Emerald Isle, the only affordable way to reach that mythical land called overseas was to take a ferry. I have lost track of the number of times I stood in line at Dun Laoghaire ferry port, filled with excitement about adventures yet to be experienced. For those unfamiliar with the particular stretch of water called the Irish Sea that separates Ireland from the United Kingdom, suffice it to say that rough crossings are par for the course, and the ferry was awash with a peculiar brand of excitement every time they took the stabilisers off when coming in to dock. The ferry bathrooms were usually awash with something else. Then it was on to the train to London, where you changed trains and made haste to Dover, so you could catch another ferry to ‘overseas’ (the UK didn’t count as overseas as you could understand what people were saying and the food was just as rubbish as back home).
Travel took a lot longer back then, but it didn’t matter, because you weren’t in any particular rush to get there, wherever there was. The journey was as much a part of the travel adventure as the destination. There were always people to meet along the way, stories to be told, plans to be made and then changed, jokes to be laughed at, connections to be missed, new paths to be forged, mishaps to overcome, chance encounters and romance. Often, getting there was better than being there.
These days, travel seems to be an inconvenience, something to be endured in order to get to where you want to be. And that’s not surprising, with the full body scans, pat downs, mile-long queues at security where you stand shivering in your socks with your toothpaste and embarrassing ointment in a see-through baggie for all the world to see (not that I’ve ever needed an embarrassing ointment, I’m just saying, if you did, it would be out there on display while you shame-facedly hand over your passport and attempt to feign a modicum of dignity). Then you are crammed into seats of ever-diminishing dimensions with no way to stretch your legs as your carry-on is shoved under the seat in front because all the overhead lockers are full, and you settle in for the long miserable haul whilst trying desperately to avoid making eye-contact with anyone in your row for fear they will strike up a conversation that you won’t be able to escape even by pretending to go to the bathroom, because you’ve now lost all feeling in your legs and couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom even if you wanted to. Where has the romance gone?
Yesterday I took the Staten Island Ferry, and it brought back to me the thrill I used to experience when I took the ferry to ‘overseas’ far, far away and long, long ago. I remembered with fondness the camaraderie I shared with fellow travellers, strangers together on a journey across the sea. And as if by magic, as a group of total strangers were making the return trip to Manhattan from Staten Island yesterday, a lone seagull decided he couldn’t be bothered to fly and hitched a ride on the front of the boat. This group of total strangers broke out into laughter and started talking to each other, swapping stories, joking about the seagull and even passing bits of bread and cake to each other so they could reward the stowaway for his bravado.
Perhaps romance is not gone after all.
Disclaimer: forgive the photo quality; my camera’s battery ran out so I had to resort to my marginally-more-advanced-than-horse-drawn phone, which I got in a far simpler time, long, long ago.