Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ferry Cringe

It took me roughly ten years to answer a simple, “New Jersey”, to the question, “Where are you from?” I spent a decade explaining my circuitous route to the garden state. My husband and other native Jerseyans regularly call me out as a snob. They protest that New Jersey is not as bad as it is portrayed on television. I say yes and no to that claim. Yes: I see women very similar to the Real Housewives of New Jersey all the time. If I drive just twenty minutes to a county park, I am surrounded by crass, heavily made-up loudmouth mothers, following after their spoiled brats with Louis Vuitton purses slung over their shoulders, kitten heels, and keys to flashy vehicles grasped by acrylic nails. Another yes: the turnpike is a lousy road and does reek in Elizabeth. No: there are lovely spots in New Jersey, and I am lucky to live in one-- one hour from Manhattan, and seven minutes to decent beaches here in Monmouth County. The acrylic nail ratio is low in my sleepy town. Lawns are green and kids ride their bikes to school.

Another plus to this location is the availability of ferry transportation to the city. Companies based out of local marinas ship commuters to New York City in just 45 minutes. My friend, Ted, rides the ferry to work.

Ted and his wife, Dana, were recently at a dinner party. A woman who Dana had met from the neighborhood had invited them to their home. Dana noticed that Ted seemed bristly at the gathering of three couples. He spent most of his time speaking to the host’s husband. He seemed to ignore the other male guest. It was strange.

“You kind of left that one guy out tonight,” Dana commented as they walked home after the party.

“Yeah, well, I pushed that guy once.”

“What do you mean, you pushed him? Like at hockey?” Dana withheld her initial cringe, hoping that the push was athletic even though this was an unlikely scenario. Ted is a burly six-foot-four ice hockey force—the snubbed dinner guest was slight with a pencil-thin moustache and foreign accent. He resembled the Pink Panther.

“Nah. I pushed him on the ferry.”

“What are you talking about?” Dana stopped to let her cringe flow. She felt dizzy under the streetlights.

Ted explained without apology. He had watched the guy blatantly disregard ferry boarding etiquette for weeks. Ferry commuters follow a simple system each morning. Two lines form on each side of the ramp, and passengers feed on one-by-one, alternating from the two queues. One from the left. One from the right.

The Pink Panther rudely charged on each time, failing to pause for the opposite line. It caused the cut passenger behind him to hesitate, followed by a bumping domino effect. A series of slight jolts often accompanied by spilled coffee. Ted was sick of this guy. He finally had the chance to right the situation. As Ted reached the platform one morning, Pink Panther was directly opposite. As always, the jerk darted ahead. Ted stretched his long leg forward and abruptly threw a Heisman jab to his left. Impact. The startled man swayed back and tap danced in place to steady himself. Ted moved ahead and found a seat, unruffled. He opened his newspaper with a satisfied snap.

“Ahhh…Ted! You can’t just go around pushing people….because then we end up like tonight-- having to feel awkward. I am mortified! This is a small town.” Dana was now cringing as she walked, as if there were little hot coals underfoot.

“I didn’t feel awkward. He’s the one who should feel awkward. He’s an idiot. And guess what? He now follows the rules.”

Sometimes a little jersey push is all it takes.