One of the great pleasures of San Diego in the summer is joining the gaggle of tourists and bike riders for the short trip across the bay from downtown to Coronado.
Like Allen Ginsberg who, in his poem “A Supermarket in California,” touches on Walt Whitman’s book and feels absurd–but wanders through the aisles dreaming nonetheless—I stand in line with young couples holding hands and whole families grinning and gabbing in the midday sun and muse about that which connects us all without our knowing it.
As Whitman writes of that other Ferry-going throng,
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
how curious you are to me!
On the Ferry Boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross,
are more curious to me than you suppose.
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me,
and more in my meditations,
than you might suppose.
So too, I watch the crowds and listen to the group of African American women from St. Louis, grandmothers all, as they talk about how their grandchildren should get married at the end of the pier.
“Look at it all, so beautiful! Look at the sun on the water. It’s glorious!”
I note the Middle Eastern family in traditional garb each taking photos of the ferry on their cellphones as it approaches. Their little boy bounces on his toes as the passengers disembark and the crewman by the gate begins to take tickets.
As we walk down the dock, I look at a man holding a boy’s hand as I hold my boy’s hand, and I think both of trips on this same boat that I took with my father as a child and imagine my son taking his child on the same trip, perhaps after I’m dead: “It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not.”
Just as I am a member of the living crowd, he will be a member of a living crowd.
We board the ferry and follow a group of young white girls in summer dresses up the stairs to the top deck, their hair flowing gently in the breeze. Some people crowd toward the bow while others sort themselves out on the long benches with others still choosing to stand by the rail at the stern.
A muscled young man in a tank top looks at the fresh tattoo on his bicep, a rose with a woman’s name. A pair of women put in their earbuds at the same time to find their personal soundtracks for their brief journey.
Bob Marley is playing on a speaker, “No Woman, No Cry.”
The ferry begins to pull out from the dock, and I put my arm across my wife’s shoulder and pat my boy’s leg with my other hand. As the breeze picks up, I put my head back and watch the seagulls flying overhead, “high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies.”
Then my boy spots a seal swimming a few yards from the side of the boat. We stand and watch it closely as it swims playfully on the surface for a while before disappearing beneath the ferry. The simple joy of that moment makes us smile and you can see it on the faces on our fellow travelers as they soak in “the reflection of the summer sky in the water,” their “eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams.”
And my son and I see the skyline, not Manhattan but our skyline, and count the tall buildings and notice the ballpark in the distance as we drift past Tuna Harbor and spy a few old boats unloading their nets, the deckhands working steadily.
We feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze on our bodies which give us identity and know we should be of our bodies.
And looking into the faces of strangers from across the world or just across town, I feel the “curious abrupt questionings stir within me” amidst that crowd just as they do “as I lay in my bed.” Is there anything “more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face? Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?”
We spot another seal and someone yells “Hello!” as it frolics for a moment.
Slowly, the ferry approaches Coronado and we can see the tourist shops and condominiums by the shore, the crowd waiting on the dock or wading in the water on the tiny patch of beach. It’s a glorious day and there is nothing to do but disembark and walk by the water, watch the people and receive them just as they are as they furnish their parts toward eternity on this aimless summer day.