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BREATHING ROOM

Carefree crossing

June 12, 2003|Janet Eastman

In the three minutes it takes to go from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula on the ferry, a lot happens -- and a lot doesn't.

The trip is a reprieve from concrete, with a sense of pleasant idleness not found in any traffic jam. In a series of slow-motion movements, the captain in the wheelhouse tugs on the horn, signaling the start. Sun-soaked high school boys and girls, all smiles and sunglasses, collect the fare: 60 cents, or $1.50 if you must take your car. They clink change from their coin belts, reminding one of summers spent paying the Good Humor man. Kids in their dads' arms wave at swooping seagulls and back-stroking sea lions. Walkers wiggle out of flip-flops, set beach towels on gray-painted benches and press straw hats closer to their heads. Bike riders lean against handlebars and gobble strawberries bought at the dockside fruit stand. People spill out of cars for a good stretch, chitchat with strangers -- "Where you from?" -- and take photos for one another.

Everyone seems to obey the sign intended for car drivers:

"Stop your engine. Set your brake."

As the ferry approaches the other side, people waiting to board tap impatiently on the red wooden rails, and latecomers run, worried they'll miss it. If they do, another one's on its way.

When the ferry docks, people reluctantly gather up their possessions and tuck back into cars. Up goes the gate, down goes the car ramp. Engines rev. It's time to return to the real world.

-- Janet Eastman

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