ferry misadventures

Finn and I found ourselves at the front of the ferry deck on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo route - with this gorgeous view through the windshield - around noon today. There's a story behind this.

I had court at 9:30 this morning in Coupeville, the Island County seat on Whidbey Island. My office has contracted to handle child support modifications for the prosecuto'rs office there. It's a great excuse to get out of the office for a morning, enjoy a nice ferry ride and a 30 mile scenic drive through the country to a small, small-town courthouse. Finn always goes to work with me, so he also goes to Coupeville. The trip to court was uneventful.

So was the trip back to the Clinton ferry dock. We arrived about 15 minutes before the next scheduled ferry and were instructed to line up in lane 8. I parked, turned off the car, and proceeded to eat my lunch while checking email on my iPhone and listening to the CD player. Cars and trucks filled the lanes around us. I received an email that made me very happy. The 11:30 am ferry arrived and disgorged its cargo of vehicles. When the lanes to my right started moving for loading, I turned the ignition.


A few clicks, but no ignition. Not even the sounds of an engine trying to turn over. Arrgghhh! Try again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.

Okay. I look in my rear-view mirror, and there's only one vehicle behind me. I get out and approach it. The man rolls down his window. "My car is dead. You may want to back up and go around," I tell him. With a surprised look on face, he says thank you. I walk back to my car.

Getting back in, with lots of positive energy and high hopes, I turn the key. Click click click; but nothing of substance. Some of the idiot lights come on each time I turn the key. I pull out the Owners Manual and hope the key to idiot lights will provide some insight. It doesn't.

Oddly, I notice there's another vehicle - two lanes over and up ahead - also dead. The ferry staff are swarming around the vehicle while the other lanes continue loading; they're lifting the hood, trying to see if they can get the stalled car started. I'm relieved to realize I'm not the only one in this fix, and that they'll eventually get to me. I turn on my hazard lights and wait. Then I think to use my cell phone to call Cliff, the mechanic who has worked on my various cars for at least 20 years. Just as he says it sounds like a dead battery, a ferry worker approaches.

She drives up in a utility vehicle very similar to a golf cart and we quickly decide it's likely a dead battery. She has jumper cables. We pop the hood, she attaches the cables, and viola - the car starts. I say, "Guess this happens a lot." She says, "More than you can imagine."

By now, the 11:30 ferry has departed. She tells me to move up to the head of lane 7, and keep the engine running until she comes back just before the next ferry arrives. Fifteen minutes later - as the next ferry approaches - she'll come ask me to cut the engine and then start it again. If it starts, I can get on the ferry. If it doesn't, well...neither of us want to consider that possibility. But with fifteen minutes to charge, we're both hoping it'll be fine.

The next ferry arrives. The ferry worker first goes to the other problem car. I see her instruct that woman to turn her engine off, then start it again; when it does, she gives a thumbs up and heads toward me. I roll down my window. As the woman approaches, she sees Finn in the back and says, "Hi, sweet stuff!" She instructs me to turn off the engine and restart it. I do, and it does. Hooray!

Then, to my amazement, she motions the other formerly stalled car's driver and me - we're both at the head of side-by-side lanes - to board first. I would think they'd want us at the back of the ferry, so if our cars refused to start at the end of the crossing, we wouldn't block anyone. But when it comes to ferries, you do what the workers tell you to do. I drive on and park where instructed: right up front. Finn and I have the best view from a car that the ferry affords. Right next to us is the other formerly stalled car.

I get out to go up deck to use the bathroom. As I exit my car, the woman driving the other bad car rolls down her passenger side window and motions me over. I smile at her, and she says, "Well, that was embarrassing!" I agree wholeheartedly. "My car's old, so I'm not completely surprised," I say. "But your car looks new!" She says this is the second time that her fairly new Honda CRV has stalled. Time to take it back to the dealer.

After using the loo, I return to my car. Finn has already had a rather stressful day. First, going to court in Coupeville disrupts his usual routine. And ferry rides are still relatively new for him. Then the stalled car incident, which caused me stress, which causes him stress. I snapped this photo of him, chin resting on the ledge made by the back seat when its down, looking at me as if asking, "Can't we just go home now?"

When we were about half way across the Sound, a young family came to take in the breeze and view from the lower deck. This father kept trying to get his daughter to pose for her mother, off to the left behind one of the motorcycles. After shyly twirling a few times, she finally threw her arm up in a gesture of delight, the wind tossing her long curly hair.

As we neared the Mukilteo dock, one of Finn's worst nightmares came true: a whole troop of wee people - Finn is terrified of toddlers and small children - walked right by the side of the car to get to the front of the lower deck. At least fifteen of them! Pedestrians get off first, and this group of walk-ons was simply getting into position to exit when we landed at the dock. Finn watched with fear and trepidation as they all filed past his window, just inches away. Luckily, they were a very well-behaved bunch, walking single-file without any whooping or hollering. "You're fine, Finn; it's okay," I reassured him until they all marched off the ferry.

The moment of truth came: the ferry nestled into the dock and the cars around me started their engines. I held my breath, turned the key, and... my car started! Huge sense of relief. After the motorcycles in front of us headed up the ramp, the woman in the other "bad" car was signaled, along with me, to drive off. We did so, happily, with great relief.

I headed straight to Cliff's, my long-time mechanic, to test the battery. He said it was fine. He couldn't explain what happened. Maybe the ignition/starter? I decide, given my plans to drive to Idaho in a few days, to have him replace the battery. Maybe the problem isn't the battery, but if I have a dead car again anytime soon, at least I'll know it's not the battery. Such are the risks of driving an 11 year old car with 208,000 miles.

Maybe it's time for a new rolling dog crate (my nickname for my current vehicle)!

Rebecca WallickComment