I’m up in Seattle for a few days with my sister and nephew, who are checking out the campus of The Evergreen State College (note the “The”) in Olympia. We drove down there yesterday, then continued up the west shore of lower Puget Sound to Bremerton to catch the car ferry back to the city.
The day was rainy off and on all day and into the night, but we got a break all the way across the passage to downtown, complete with dramatic banks of cumulus backing the Space Needle.
If the world of intermodal transportation entrances you–and few among us can resist the charms of cargo containers on ship, rail, and truck–then the area around the port of Oakland is for you. Upon disembarking from the ferry at Jack London Square on Friday night, we encountered a freight train stopped at the corner of Second and Clay streets. The crossing gates were down, but the train was at a dead stop, so it was safe to cross. Picture-taking ensued. After five minutes or so, the locomotive horn sounded, and the freight began to roll. Amazing to contemplate the power and energy required to get so much weight moving in such short order. One minor drama: As the train rolled across the intersection, a pedestrian decided to run across the street in front of it (see if you can spot that moment in the slide show below). It wasn’t really a close call, but you kind of wonder what (beyond pure ignorance of the consequences of stumbling and falling) would prompt somebody to try that.
A first for me on the San Francisco-Oakland ferry: We passed between an outbound container ship (the MSC craft at left) and one still being loaded/unloaded (the Hapag-Lloyd ship on the right). For a minute, it was like sailing through a canyon.
I took the day off, so tonight Kate and I rode the boat from Oakland to San Francisco together, stopped and ate at the Ferry Building (Taylor’s Automatic Refresher), then took the last run back to the East Bay. The sun was just setting as the boat left the dock at Jack London Square. Sky and water shone with a gorgeous light all the way across. (And hey: It was by brother John’s birthday today, and I didn’t call him. Happy birthday, JB. You would have loved the ride today, but I’m sure you had a good time in Brooklyn.)
My significant spouse couldn’t make it to the ferry last night for our usual Friday night ride, so I went it alone. Left the office exactly an hour before the 8:25 p.m. sailing time of the day’s last boat, usually plenty of time to make the three-mile hike from the western slope of Potrero Hill to the Ferry Building. But in the interest of trying new routes, I wandered through the UC-San Francisco Mission Bay campus and then along the outside of the right-field stands at Phone Company Park and added about two-thirds of a mile extra to the trip, stopped to take a picture or two, and wound up having to run (or power-shuffle, as a casual observer might have called it) up the Embarcadero to the ferry slip. I made the boat with five minutes to spare.
The usual routine is to buy a glass (plastic, actually) of white wine for my shipmate and a beer for myself and sit under the heaters on the second deck. But the boat bar is cash only, so I climbed to the top deck, stood in the lee of the pilothouse, and watched the trip go by sans beverage. The light was striking, as always, with the low evening cloud cover moving in off the ocean and a much higher layer of clouds catching the last of the sun; the tide was ebbing in the Oakland estuary, moving so fast that it looked like a river current, though not as extreme as the flow you see in New York’s East River.
Walked from KQED over to the Ferry Building and met Kate, who had ridden the 7:55 ferry from Oakland. We got right back on and rode back as the dusk deepened. This was the view from the Alameda ferry terminal, before we made the short hop back to Jack London Square. Calm, nearly warm night. Beautiful on the water.
A favorite cheap excursion: Oakland to San Francisco and back on the ferry ($4.50 each way if you buy a 20-ticket book). We had rain showers early in the afternoon, and then this fog blew in over the bay. Somewhere in this picture are a couple of 50-story tall bridge towers. After we passed under the bridge, the fog swirled away from a tower for a moment (below). We took the ferry back to the East Bay after dark, and later in the evening a front blew through and cleared out the clouds.
However: ‘Twas not an albatross that glided into sight when we were on the ferry from Tiburon back to the city on Saturday, but a California gull. The gulls: They’re more familiar for their late-game invasions of local ballparks, swooping on peanuts, Cracker Jack, stub ends of hot dogs and stale buns. They appear in the hundreds and often put on a more interesting show than the paid performers on the field. Another habit they have, with which you’re familiar if you spend time on the water hereabouts: They trail boats, looking for any sign of free calories. This guy followed the ferry for five minutes or more. (Click for larger images.)
The war on terror: It’s as far away as some country you can’t even pronounce or find on the map, and as close as your local ferry terminal.
I was over in San Francisco today and decided to take the ferry home. No matter how many times I ride the boat, the trip is fun and the scene on the bay is always engrossing. But getting on the ferry isn’t the same as it used to be. Until sometime in the last year or so, when you wanted to take the ferry, you just walked onto the dock and waited for the boat to come in. Now, as part of our new anti-terror reality, the company that runs the ferry keeps the access doors to the dock locked until the boats are moored and ready to board. Not a big deal, I guess. But here’s something else: There’s an official posting at the dock entrance announcing the current Coast Guard "MARSEC" (Maritime Security) level. Right now, we’re at MARSEC Level 1, "the level for which minimum appropriate security measures shall be maintained at all times. MARSEC 1 generally applies when HSAS Threat Condition Green, Blue, or Yellow are set" (that seems to mean that we’re always at MARSEC 1; just like the global war on terrorism, the threat never ends).
Beyond conveying the news we’re at MARSEC 1, the sign also advises that "boarding the vessel or entering this area is deemed valid consent to screening or inspection …. failure to consent or submit to screening or inspection will in denial or revocation of authorization to board or enter." That declaration is followed by a couple of citations from the Code of Federal Regulations, including: 33CFR104.265 (e)(2), that specify security measures to be taken under various threat levels..
It’s true that these security precautions, as implemented, are quite mild; I’ve never seen anybody searched on the Oakland ferry, and as far as I know, no one ever has been. It’s also true I have no desire to see someone set off a bomb on a ferry or in any other public place. Still, there it is: If someone else says so, you have to submit to a search to ride the boat. It’s just another place where we surrender just a little bit of our right to be left alone, where the presumption about citizens in public spaces is that they’re potential threats until they show otherwise.
If the ride wasn’t so beautiful, I’d probably find another way to get home.