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To Staten Islanders, the Manhattan Ferry (as some old traffic signs around town still call it) is a blessing and a curse. The famous orange boats are our only direct link to "the city," and our only free passage to and from the Rock. The iconic bay cruisers have been celebrated in movies and music videos, and left to rot within view of the New Jersey Turnpike. They cross the harbor in 25 minutes, just slow enough to annoy regular commuters and delight tourists eager to see the Statue of Liberty. The same tourists often get right back on the boat for Manhattan without even stepping foot on one inch of Staten Island pavement.
With all that in mind, here are 10 reason Islanders love and hate the ferry.
You can’t beat free. And it has been that way since the late 1990s. For years the ferry was a nickel, then a quarter, then 50 cents round trip. These days, when I want to “walk” to work in Downtown Brooklyn (about a 45-minute stroll from the terminal over the Brooklyn Bridge), it doesn't cost me a dime. Oh, and if I take my bike (also free on the ferry), I can make the trip in less than an hour.
It’s the oldest—and best—boat in a fleet that includes some clunkers. Its wooden seating is more comfortable than the plastic seats in the newer boats. Its snack bar is centrally located, and there are outdoor seats on the forward and aft decks. Also, it still has some cool signage in the men’s bathroom dating to the days of the “Department of Marine and Aviation.” No spitting!
When we were kids, they would ask us to take pictures of the family in front of the Statue of Liberty, and we would always be sure to cut their heads (or Lady Liberty’s) out of the frame. Today, digital photography has put a stop to that, but their numbers are greater than ever. And it doesn’t matter what language they speak, because there is a universal sign for asking for a family shot that everyone understands.
Nothing beats a tall boy after work. And they still cost the same price you’d pay in a bodega. Avoid the imports and stick with a Bud or Coors Light. Your wife (or husband) will understand when you get home.
Every local knows you avoid the starboard side of the ship when headed home from Manhattan, because with everyone trying to get a glimpse of the Statue, you’ll never get a seat. So head to the port side, where Governor’s Island fades to Brooklyn which fades to the Verrazano-Narrows and beyond. Still the longest suspension bridge in North America, its sleek design is easy on the eyes. And for some reason, it’s a much handsomer bridge then its two mini-mes, the Whitestone and Throgs Neck. Yes, size does matter.
Once you’re on the boat, the ride is great (although I will never understand why there is an air-conditioning system on the newest boats that has never been turned on), but hitting the gangplank is a problem. When the terminal doors open, it seems every person in the waiting room becomes one, with elbows hitting elbows and backpacks slamming faces. I’m confident I’ve seen drug deals go down as we all slowly move to the boat.
Is there a better way? I’m not sure. So it’s best to just sit back and wait till it dies down. But then, of course, you don’t get your favorite seat.
If there is one thing Islanders love more than the ferry, it’s their cars. But since September 11th, cars have been banned from the ferry due to “safety concerns.” Never mind that most of the boats, even those built after September 11th, can accommodate automobiles, or that ferries to Martha’s Vineyard or Cape May load and unload passenger vehicles every day without issue. Sure, the city would have to charge for such a service, as it did in the past, but there is no real reason why it can’t be done.
Look, I know ferries have to adhere to a schedule, but so do trains. So why is that whenever the R pulls into Whitehall Street, it leaves you with just enough time to book it up three big flights of stairs (taking two steps at a time) to make the 8 p.m. boat huffing and puffing? It's not so much of a problem during the evening rush, when most near-misses add 15 minutes to your commute, but that half hour wait at midnight is a killer. Oh, and the same goes for buses on the Staten Island side.
The Barbieri class
Sure, the tiny, late-night Alice Austin boats are the worst of the fleet, but at least they make a 2 a.m. crossing feel fittingly dangerous. Then there are the Andrew J. Barberi and the Samuel I. Newhouse, two early 1980s, 6,000-seat behemoths that were supposed to be the top of the line when they were built (see Verrazano photo above). There is no true outdoor seating (instead, a windowed deck with windows that are sometimes open, sometimes not) and an interior filled with uncomfortable plastic seats reminiscent of a 1970s Burger King.
Have it your way? I think not.
Boats named for the living
I get it. You want to honor some local politician before he dies. The problem is said politician—and I’m talking to you, Guy Molinari—still has plenty of time to mess things up. To this day, I despise riding the boat named for the man who gave us Michael Grimm. I’ll take the Samuel Newhouse (he of Staten Island Advance fame) over Molinari's boat any day.
Vince DiMiceli, Editor-In-Chief of The Brooklyn Paper, is credited with being the first to use the term “The Rock” in print, although he admits he did not invent the term. He lives on Staten Island’s North Shore with his wife and son.
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