Monday, March 05, 2007

Riding the Old Staten Island Ferry

I can think of only a handful of families who might feel a bit sentimental if and when these names -- The Dongan Hills and The Pvt. Joseph Merrill, The American Legion and The Cornelius G. Kolff, The Gold Star Mother, The Knickerbocker, The Mary Murray -- come to mind.

They were all Staten Island ferries in the 1960s, when my father worked on the ferry with men named Crawford and Bungay and Captain Arnesen, midnight to 8, 8 to 4, 4 to 12, depending on the week. When I was really young, he worked as a deckhand on the tug boats in the bay – one of the companies was based on Staten Island – but changed jobs for what I assume were the usual reasons: better (though still extremely modest) pay, better security, better benefits. He’d take me to work sometimes and bring me to the engine room, where the engineers worked in their t-shirts and wore bandanas around their heads and seemed always to be sweltering in the enormous heat and noise. And he’d bring me to the wheelhouse, where the captain would show me the radar and, when the boat was steaming safely, hand me the wheel and let me guide the ferry through a part of the bay where it didn’t need much guiding. For a few months in the early 1980s, long after my father had died and while I was between jobs, I lived in an apartment in Saint George, the Staten Island neighborhood where the ferry docks, and on afternoons when I had nothing else to do I'd ride back and forth, watching the gulls and the ships and the shoeshine men, and the grayish-green wake that the boat churned up.

The Dongan Hills was named after a neighborhood on Staten Island, the American Legion after the veterans group, the Gold Star Mother after women who had lost their sons in the wars, the Pvt. Joseph Merrill after one of those sons, a soldier whose heroism was described on a plaque on the boat. I didn’t know who Cornelius G. Kolff was and until this morning I didn’t know who Mary Murray was. It turns out though that she was a Revolutionary War figure, at least according to the Times, which has a story this morning about the old ferry. It sits in the mud on the Raritan River waiting for someone to figure out what to do with her. The Times describes the situation.

Other things left over from the weekend … The annual Long Island Sound Citizens summit was held Saturday on Long Island. Actual work (as opposed to doing this) prevented me from attending. But here’s Newsday’s account.

In an interview with Newsday, Timothy White, the new director of the Long Island Regional Planning Board, declined to take a stand on regional issues. His one exception: the Broadwater liquefied natural gas plant proposed for Long Island Sound:

"No one has made a convincing argument that Long Island needs Broadwater," he said.

And in the lower Housatonic and Naugatuck valleys there’s support for increasing Governor Jodi Rell’s Clean Water Fund budget proposal.

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