Thursday, June 17, 2010

Traveling Mercies

First Boat Over, 2005

We started taking our daughter to Martha’s Vineyard when she was barely six months old. It was mid-December and cold. The gale force winds off the Atlantic Ocean at South Beach were blowing the sand hard enough to pit eyeglasses and camera lenses.

December, South Beach, 1980

Our daughter wasn’t a very good car rider when she was an infant. As a result, we began making the trip from Virginia to Cape Cod as an overnight drive. We’d get our daughter ready for bed just after dinner, put her into her car seat and drive through the night, arriving early the next morning at the ferry landing in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts. It was a long drive, especially boring in the dark, and even more tedious because we were in a little diesel VW Rabbit with barely enough power to make it up those long inclines on I-95 just before you get to Providence, Rhode Island. But if you ever had a baby who wasn’t a good car rider, you’ll understand the logic.

One July we rolled into the Wood’s Hole ferry landing parking lot just after sunrise. Our ferry reservations weren’t until the evening, so the car went into the standby line, a sunny asphalt lot off to the side of the main loading area. If space came available, you might catch an earlier ferry than your reservation. If not, you’d spend the day sweltering in the standby line.

Because they could walk on the ferry as passengers without reservations, I sent my wife and daughter over on the first morning boat and called friends on the other side to arrange for them to be picked up. I stayed behind in the standby lot with the other husbands and fathers who were tending cars laden with beach chairs, canoes, coolers, kayaks, tents, food, pets and all other manner of summer house supplies.

There’s a predictable rhythm to waiting in the standby line. First you stand outside and stretch. They you clean all the trash out of your car. Then you neaten up what’s left. All of that takes about 20 minutes. There’s too much noise and distraction around you to read. So the rest of the time you’re hot and bored, hoping every time a ferry arrives that you might make it onto the next trip.

The worse part is that you can’t leave your car. If you leave it and the line moves, Steamship Authority personnel will use a tractor to tow your car away. Sometimes, if the line’s moving slowly, standby line people will join forces, swap keys and look out for each other’s cars so that you can rush off to the men’s room or to the tavern at the edge of the lot for cold drinks for everyone. But mostly you just wait.

Our little car was finally beckoned to fill an available spot on a cargo ferry late in the afternoon. The ride to Vineyard Haven was refreshing and the final run to Edgartown uneventful. I arrived at the house just before dinnertime.

I took a shower and was handed a stiff drink with dinner. Because I’d been up for almost 48 hours and was running on little more than vapors tempered by gin, I excused myself to go to bed shortly thereafter. I don’t remember much after sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling my shoes off.

My wife came up to bed several hours later. She still laughs at the memory of finding me out like a light, still sitting straight up on the side of the bed with a shoe in my hand.


  1. ha ha ha. You are really a vergy good Story-Telling Guy.

  2. Great memory! Oh, man, Chris, we had a little Rabbit diesel, too! Sort of a yucky blue color. And I totally remember Eric and driving with him in his pj's so he'd conk out at night. One time, a friend borrowed our Volvo, and thought it was the car that took diesel fuel, so he filled it for us with diesel, and then we had to have the whole tank emptied. Never ran quite the same after that! Haaaaa! Brings back a ton of memories for me, too.

    These photos are beautiful!

  3. You've done it again. I'm smiling. Thank you.

  4. I can feel the heat rising from the asphalt.