The ferry ride itself is lovely—views of snow-capped mountains, peeks at Vancouver Island and glimpses of human and natural activities on and around closer islands. When the sun is shining, like this particular Sunday, it is paradise. Sometimes those of us who rely on the ferries as part of our highway system forget this. The tourists on board remind us of the initial appeal. Children run about, gazing out the windows (if they’re not lured into the pinball machine room or shoveling ketchup-covered yam fries into their mouths.) Adults peer out the windows or brave the wind and chill on deck to snap photos on whatever gadget they’ve got. Couples unwind from the stresses of racing to the terminal and share a hug that serves as an apology for snippy comments that came after a missed exit. The embrace puts them back in the now. Look at that view. How lucky we are to share it together.
Long-term singletons like myself are acutely aware of such “together” moments. It is all around us every day. Most take it for granted. It doesn’t register, much like the ocean views for ferry regulars.
Because I live in a semi-rural environment, the ferry presents the largest cluster of people I see in my regular life. I have always been a people watcher—it helps my writing, but I have always been fascinated by the variances of human interaction. To be clear, however, sailing time is not cruising time. It stands to reason that, if there are no single gay men living in my coastal community, there aren’t going to be any coming or going on the ferry. I have never tried it, but I am rather certain Grindr doesn’t work in my area. I envision the spinning pinwheel appearing on my iPhone. Searching...Searching...Searching...
On this occasion, I boarded the ferry, not for brunch in Vancouver or an increasingly rare coffee date. I didn’t even have a shopping spree planned. (VISA has loudly reminded me that it would be best if I spread out such adventures. Party pooper!) Alas, my trek to town was a quest for a flea bomb. I can’t elaborate without scratching. I love my pooch, but...Figure it out.
The ferry crowd is more varied on weekends. Not so many commuters annoying the rest of us with business calls at high volume. Lots of tweens in soccer uniforms, running laps on ship, nearly taking down senior citizens carrying cups of tea. Teenagers wander in small groups, laughing and talking loudly, thinking and knowing that the whole world revolves around their latest drama. (How could it not?)
I dutifully lined up at the snack bar, desperately needing my morning sustenance—a Starbucks dark blend to tide me over until I refuel in West Van. Even without the caffeine injection, I realized that the man two people ahead of me in the queue had the clean look of an out-of-towner. He had closely cropped hair kept perfectly in place with a dab of sculpting putty. (What did we ever do before putty/gel/molding paste? Perhaps frizzy hair is the real reason George Washington et al. wore wigs.) More telling, he lacked that trademark beer belly of the local thirty-five and up crowd. His baby blue long sleeved jogging shirt flattered broad shoulders and a trim midsection. (Another sign he wasn’t a local: baby blue is not butch enough for the mill workers.) He took a seat on a stool between the snack bar and gift shop. So did I. It was not an intentionally act of stalking. This is where I always sit to write on my laptop. Call it fortuitous, kismet, fate...and, okay, mild stalking.
Five minutes of failed attempts to make eye contact abruptly ended with the arrival of a wife and child who had picked up a chocolate bar and a colorful new silk scarf at the gift shop. The man barely noticed the fashion purchase. Definitely not gay, as further confirmed by the child who, moments later, tugged on the man’s arm, yelling, “Daddy” along with a plea to do something—anything other than parking on a stool on a vessel with so much to explore.
It’s not just Grindr that is out of whack here. My gaydar has suffered considerably from my relocation. I blame it on optimism, mixed with stubbornness. I refuse to believe the well established fact that gays aren’t really into regions well known for hiking, kayaking and camping. The “Interests” section of their Plenty of Fish profiles profess a love for such things. Could they be untruthful?!
Enough distraction. I put my head down and began to write, intent on plowing through the next chapter of my current manuscript. After rereading what I’d written the day before, I stumbled in the same place where I’d left off. Sometimes inspiration comes from time away; sometimes it is just wasted hours on Twitter. Damn you, social media.
I looked away from the laptop and noticed a dashing thin man with thick glass frames, a gray turtleneck, charcoal wool jacket and a red scarf that made the whole outfit pop. Architect, I surmised. Maybe a professor of English lit. Clearly, not a local. We don’t have universities or striking works of architecture in my environs.
This time I checked the ring finger right away. Nothing! I looked for signs of other-ness amongst his belongings. All he had was a black satchel, too thin for porting a diaper stock or soccer cleats. Sitting two tables away, my view was obstructed by a patient grandmother trying to teach an antsy four-year-old boy how to play Fish. Their version evolved into a mash-up with Fifty-Two Card Pickup.
Mr. Satchel looked my way. First contact! Or maybe not. Did our eyes meet? For a second it seemed so, but then he cast his eyes downward at a wayward four of clubs. He bent down, picked up the card and tried to hand it to the boy. No go. The kid continued to wave both arms about, telling Grandma something about Star Wars Lego. Eventually Grandma took the card, profusely thanking Mr. Satchel as if he’d found a lost diamond earring. She began to engage the man in conversation. The nerve. Back off, cougar!
Suddenly, the boy became my flirting ally. “You’re not listening to me!” he whined. Grandma had to abandon her hookup hopes and nod away at the boy’s ramble. The next fifteen minutes were filled with near misses. Mr. Satchel looked here, there and everywhere, but never quite rested his gaze on me. If only I had the boy’s chutzpah. You’re not looking at me!
And just as the announcement came on about nearing the terminal, my guy seemed to spot me. In terms of staring, two seconds is significant. I smiled...in my mind, if not on my face. Why is there so much risk in acknowledging a stranger? Before the recorded message ended, he’d strapped his bag over his shoulder, risen and headed for the stairs. Definitely not a ferry regular. The rest of us know there are eight more minutes before retreating to the chill of our cars.
Grams and the boy abandoned their Fishing expedition and headed for the stairs as well. Head down, I pounded out a paragraph, deleted it, tried and deleted again. The whole trip was an exercise in frustration.
When I finally headed to my car, I glanced at the black BMW parked behind me. A real fish out of water. This is the land of pickup trucks. Alberta license plate confirmed my suspicion. I glimpsed the driver. Yep, Mr. Satchel! I played my own game of Fish, searching for nothing in the trunk of my car. Look at me, look at me! I straightened a blanket and toted an open bag of stale pretzels back to the driver’s seat. He did not look up, too busy texting on his phone. Again, damn you, social media!
Once off the ferry, I took the first exit to refuel on caffeine. He continued on the highway, a long day’s drive away from Calgary. So long, indifferent, possibly gay man. On the return ferry ride, I stayed in my car. Enough excitement for one day. At least I had a thin idea for a blog entry, yet another distraction from my regular writing. But then I reached for my phone and started Googling.
It’s been years since I visited Calgary...
Ah, maybe there’s a bigger fish story to come.