Editorial #12 – An Account of the Golden Gate Ferry

December 18th, 2016

The waiting area is bustling with life, and I am at the center of it, with my family in tow.

My mom is wearing her usual “out-of-the-house” wear: a white blouse, jeans, and boots. My dad is next to her wearing a button-up shirt and khakis — it was business casual day at the office. And my sister is there as well, wearing something with glitter and sparkles.

The blue gates of the room open into the main loading area. A cool night breeze wafts against my face, carrying a scent of saltwater and seashores and shellfish. The lights of the ferry and the adjacent ferry building echo upon the shimmering water and the dark bluish night sky of a sun that set nearly half an hour ago.

A massive crowd of people, many with briefcases and luggage in hand, make their way up the embarkation ramp, conversing with each other as they do. Chatting, laughing, conversing, mingling. Everyone is in a chipper mood. It is a Friday night after all; the commuters from the office buildings that scrape the sky are all anxious to get home, see their families and ease into a nice long weekend.

By the time we make it inside, there’s hardly any room left. The upper deck that we easily found room in on the way in is full — standing room only practically. So, we make our way down to the lower deck and find a seat there. Still, even that deck is almost completely full. 

Regardless of the volume of people, we usually find a seat and make ourselves comfortable for the roughly half an hour-long trip back to Larkspur.

The mooring ropes are released, the ramp is retracted, the passenger doors are closed and the massive ship lurches out of the pier and into open water. The pontoons of the boat weave and cut through the water like butter while the lights of the ferry building shimmer on, decreasing in size. Then, on the left side, the lights of the Bay Bridge come into view, gleaming upon the night sky, almost with the same intensity as the city lights, but this time, in a whiter, brighter tone.

The ferry swings a 180, performs final checks, and then gets underway, increasing the excitement and chatter in the cabin — soon, the long workday will be all over.

After a moment or two, my sister and I excitedly get up and ask if we could please just get a quick little snack from the snack bar around the corner it really won’t be much of a bother. And then my dad hops up, reaches for his wallet, and says that’ll be quite alright. 5 minutes later, we return to our seats, chips or candy, or drinks in hand. A contented grin is spread across both of our faces. This is the representation of true satisfaction. What kid could ask for more?

The ferry makes its way towards Larkspur at top speed until it reaches San Quentin, where it slows to a crawl. This signals many of the frequent commuters on board to begin standing up and gathering their things. Before you know it, we’re standing as well, behind a massive line at the bottom of the stairwell that connects the upper deck and the lower deck.

The excitement is intense. It’s not necessarily obvious — these commuters aren’t jumping around or yelling about anything like a giddy child on Christmas morning. But one can feel the energy of the air. One can feel the general movement to please just get me the hell home.

And once the boat arrives, and the passenger doors have been opened and the harbormaster has extended the ramps and the ferry mate calls out “ALL ASHORE” in the embellished fashion one might find in that of a train conductor, there on the platform is quite a sight to behold.

From inside, it’s a bit difficult to see, but when you’re patiently waiting on the shore for a loved one or friend or acquaintance or whomever, it’s rather pronounced.

Barreling down the exit ramp, one will witness a swarm of commuters, business people, and travelers hilariously power-walking and half-jogging down past the white iron gate and towards the almost completely filled parking lot. One by one, these people will branch off, some in groups and some on their own as they hurriedly try to beat the rush and get out of the parking lot before everyone else.

Unless they were lucky enough to grab a spot right next to the ferry building, though, this was unlikely to happen and instead, they’d still manage to get stuck behind some other person trying to do the same thing. So of course, a massive traffic jam ensues with car headlights beaming and engines roaring galore, but people sitting still in a long line that takes practically 15 minutes just to get out of.

Still, as cumbersome as it may be for a commuter, especially one who just experienced an 8-hour long workday with hardly any breaks, there is a certain comforting nature to the traffic. You are stuck there, yes. But you are stuck there together. And if you’ve got a family, you get to interact with them and talk with them and ask about their day before they go home and hop on their computer to play Fortnite for the rest of the evening.

Soon enough, the traffic will abide and the commuters will finally make their way onto the nearby 101. Out the right window, the lights of the ferry building will continue to shine brightly into the night sky, with the beautiful cities of light and wonderment glowing in the background before it eventually vanishes behind the San Quentin hills as the car travels northbound.


April 21st, 2023

We were the only group standing in the waiting area for a while. A group of other people shuffles in behind us, but no one else really appears.

The room is quiet. With not very many people, there are few vessels by which any commotion or chatter can travel.

I was not taking the ferry that day to see my dad. Hell, we hadn’t even stepped foot in that Embarcadero office building since July of 2020. Instead, I’m coming from the Union Square Hilton — the site of a Journalism field trip that some of my classmates and I had taken the liberty to attend.

We were all utterly exhausted from the events of the day, and ready to head home to get a nice long rest in our own beds. It had been a rather warm day in San Francisco as well, and many of us had dressed warmly. Thus, we were not only exhausted but exhausted AND sweaty. All of us desired a shower at that moment, almost as much as a cozy bed. If we had been made to wait any longer, I personally would have opted to take a brisk dump in the water just a few feet away.

The big blue door of the entry ramp eventually clanks open and the gaggle of people there quietly mount and climb the embarkation ramp.

We make it inside with relative ease. There are no huge lumps or crowds of people to wait behind or get caught in.

We find a place to sit on the upper deck and begin discussing Journalism matters. People trickle in, but the seats around us don’t seem to get very full.

Eventually, the ferry mate makes a final call, orders that the ramp be raised, and shuts the entry doors. There are many empty seats. The room is quiet, save for the purring of the engine and crashing of the water below, and of course, our mild chatter.

We head outside for a little bit to get some fresh air as the ferry makes its way north. Camera in hand, I snap a few photos of the horizon and the city skyline. It’s pretty.

The wind of the day makes it rather cold, though, and we return to our seats indoors once we find ourselves shivering and tired.

The 30-minute trip goes by faster than I remember. We’re there in a jiffy. Way faster than I remember.

We approach San Quentin, the ship slows for its approach and no one really makes too much movement. Why get up to try and beat the rush when there is no “rush” to begin with?

Finally, the ship comes to a clamoring halt. Here was our destination. This was it.

The ramps are extended and the passenger doors are opened. The engine shuts off for the night.

The ferry mate in full protective gear calmly announces “All ashore.” A small gaggle of people shuffles off. Some have briefcases. Some have bikes.

In a rather expeditious fashion, the commuters of the grand boat vacate the room until it is once more quiet. No one remains. The cabin is now empty.

There is no noise, no commotion, no energy or light. There is only the crashing of the waves and the still, quietness of a forlorn crowd, once bursting with life and energy.

Then, these people depart from each other. They go their separate ways. They walk towards their cars all in a row in a massive parking lot that is half-empty.

Headlights come on, engines purr and off in the distance, and the cry of a seagull emanates through the wind as the people depart from the bay without another word.