Impromptu Ride On The Staten Island Ferry

It’s free and relaxing and something everyone in NY should do. It’s something I should’ve done a long time ago.

There are a ton of free things to do in NYC and as someone who grew up just across the river, they are of course things I’ve never done. What is it about natives? In any city, you hear the same stories. People simply don’t take advantage of the things their turf has to offer the way that eager tourists do. It’s a fault I see in me but, thanks to an off-the-cuff suggestion from a friend, I was able to take the first steps to fixing that fault.

I was in lower Manhattan today, meeting my friend Karen for lunch. It was a lunch that was far too long overdue. I’d given myself a little time off from the cafe to try and get my head on straight. It’s something I need to do more often, but I’m not really very good at. So it was off to The Beer Garden in Battery Park for a relaxing lunch. Grilled food. Chilled drinks. Well, just one drink. It was the middle of the day and we’re responsible professionals.

We sat in the warmth of the summer afternoon, catching up on life and whatnot. Karen had to get back to her office and asked what I had planned for the rest of my day off. I didn’t have any plans. Honestly, I probably would have simply hopped back on the PATH, headed home and got back to working on a marketing plan or a budget or some other such thing. Instead, Karen inspired me to be a bit impulsive.

“You should ride the Staten Island Ferry,” she said. “You can drink beer as you ride.”

“Is it still free?” I wondered.

“Yes it is. The ride, not the beer.”

Off I went to Whitehall Terminal. I grabbed a cold can of Heineken in a paper bag (classy, I know) and waited for the 4:00PM “Spirit of America” to St. George Terminal. I felt a little weird. I felt like all of these tourists would know I was a local and all of these commuters would know I was a fake. I stood nervously clutching my bag of beer and texted Karen to tell her I had taken her advice.

Once on board, I found a seat outside, cracked open my beer and let the harbor breeze wash over me. This was just what I needed. One young woman caught my attention. She sat a few seats away and smiled at me. From time to time, she’d ask someone to take a picture of her as she waved a tiny German flag. We smiled at each other again and I went back to my beer, now standing to get a better view of the Statue of Liberty.

I get it. It’s at moments like this that I get how awesome this part of the world really is and why visitors get so giddy over it all. Yet I never really take notice. I’ll run around day to day lost in some supposed problems and take all that is around me for granted. And then, all it takes to shake me out of this rut is a simple suggestion from a friend.

“You should ride the Staten Island Ferry,” she said. “You can drink beer as you ride.”

When we arrived at St. George Terminal, my intention was to just stay in my seat and await the trip back to Manhattan. I didn’t want this feeling of wonder for this harbor, that statue, the shipyards and the rest to be interrupted. This is where my family began in America. Literally. They came in thru Ellis Island and made their way into New Jersey. Those of us who were born here were born in Hoboken. It’s all spread out before me. All I kept thinking now was how I’d never been to Ellis Island or The Statue of Liberty.

Unfortunately, ferry protocol would not allow me to just sit there. I had to disembark and re-board for the trip back. It seemed silly to me but I followed the stream of people out into the terminal in order to wind my way back onto the ferry. The only benefit to this seemingly pointless maneuver was that I could buy another beer. This time; Becks in a paper bag.

Upon returning to the ferry, I noticed that pretty girl with the German flag once again. We were back in the same spot as before. I took this to be a sign that we should chat. When I allow myself the opportunity, one of my favorite things to do is to strike up conversations with complete strangers. This time — as many times before — proved to be yet another way to rediscover where I live.

As someone who has always lived in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, it usually surprises people to find out what little of this city I’ve actually seen. Here I was chatting with a young student on her very first trip to NYC. And she wanted to see everything before heading to school in DC. She’ll very likely see more in her week here than I have in my life. Her name was Suzy.

“How long have you lived here?” she asked.

“My whole life. Nearly 46 years.”

“Scheisse! And you’ve never been to Ellis Island or The Empire State Building?”

“It’s not that I don’t want to go to these places, but I live here. I work here. There’s a different dynamic. I rush around my days and just try to get around everyone stopping to take photos. Come on, I’m sure there are places in Munich that you avoid.”

“Ah, yes. Well … Oktoberfest.” She smiled, “I see what you mean.”

Still, her enthusiasm for NYC was infectious. Once off the ferry, we walked around for over an hour and with each turn thru Battery Park and on thru the Financial District she’d ask questions. Questions I was more than happy to answer. As we walked down Wall Street she expressed disappointment, expecting it to be bigger. It was at this time I really sounded like a tour guide. I told her that to really appreciate the awesomeness of the city — the size and the architecture — you need to look up. Always look up.

“Always look up!”

I get it now. Maybe I always got it. But now as I get older I want to allow myself to really get it. To really get lost in this great city. It is my home. No many people can say that they grew up so near to where the entire world wants to be.

Because of the places we were seeing, Suzy asked many questions about 9/11. She was only about nine years old when it happened, living in Germany. She remembered thinking it was a movie on TV until she saw how sad and serious her parents were. I told her all about my experiences from that day. About dealing with the loss. About how angry I get at all the politics and fear mongering and conspiracy theories that have come from those who want to exploit such a tragedy. She again made me look at this thru fresh eyes.

Soon we were at the subway station where she was off to see her friend in Brooklyn. I was off to catch the next PATH train to Hoboken. It’s likely that I will never see Suzy again, but if I do I will thank her for letting me see my home in a whole new way. And all of this from a simple suggestion from a friend.

“You should ride the Staten Island Ferry,” she said. “You can drink beer as you ride.”

So it’s only fitting to thank my friend Karen as well.

Thank you.

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