Category Archives: Vashon

Vashon Island Stories: The Ferry

Faithful blog readers: If you tell an embarrassing story a thousand times, it becomes less embarrassing, right? That’s the theory I operate on. Which is why I’m  going to tell you about a recent trip that my lovely wife Jen and I took to visit a relative on Vashon Island in Washington state.

There’s a ferry to get to Vashon from the south, in Tacoma. You get on at Point Defiance and cross to Tahlequah. I’m the type of person who hates surprises and needs to know the lay of the land whenever I go anywhere. (I’m a real thrill to travel with. Just ask Jen. Actually, take my word for it.) So I asked our relative where to meet the ferry, what it’s like, etc. He said, “It’s easy: you go through a traffic roundabout, take the second right, pay at the booth on top of the hill, then get in the line of cars that leads down the hill to the ferry. It’s a two-story car ferry.” I was thinking, Jeez, buddy. Hills, roundabouts, booths, lines of cars; which part of that is the easy part? But fine, whatever.

I hesitate to share the whole story with you here, but it starts 7 hours south of Tacoma in a coastal Oregon town where we had been staying the previous several days. Our teen was with us, and she woke up with food poisoning (Just a wild guess, but it was probably the dive-bar calamari from the night before). She was vomiting from 6 to 11 a.m., when we had to check out of our rental home. (That was an awkward conversation: “I know you’re feeling horrible, but do you think you can stop with the vomiting by 11 a.m.? We really need to turn these house keys in at the drop box by then.”) We skipped the scenic coastal route and took the more direct inland route to get to the ferry faster. (Amazingly, she stopped throwing up the minute we got in the rental car and made it to Vashon with no issues.)

So that’s the backstory: seven hours of highway driving, with a teenager holding a paper bag to her face most of the way; we were a little frazzled by the time we reached Tacoma. I wear hearing aids, and they have Bluetooth, so my phone is connected to them. Google Maps was talking in my ears, plus Jen was reading all of the route info from my phone aloud to me. When we got to the roundabout, we missed the second right. (And by “we,” I mean “I.”) So “we” (okay, “I”) took the third right, which led us down the hill into the Point Defiance Zoo (instead of to the ferry booth at the top of the hill).

So now I’m driving around a zoo, Google Maps is telling me alternate routes (“In 500 feet, turn right at the Monkey Pavilion”), Jen is reading Google Maps aloud (“It says that in 500 feet, you should turn right at the Monkey Pavilion”), and I’m weaving around thinking that I have to work my way back up the hill somehow. (EDITOR NOTE: He made up the part about the Monkey Pavilion; there probably aren’t monkeys at the Point Defiance Zoo, but he’s too lazy to look up the fact that Google Maps redirected him around the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater and not the Monkey Pavilion.)

We came out at the bottom of the hill through this restaurant parking lot, and I can see that if I turn right, I will go back up the hill, which now has a long line of cars waiting to board the ferry. But Google Maps and Jen are both telling me, “Turn left now to get on the ferry!” I said to Jen, “Left here?” She was like, “Yes! yes! Turn left!” (You can see how I’m setting her up to take the rap for what’s about to happen.)

So I turn left, placing us on the pier where, 50 yards down, there is a security booth, guards, and ferry workers, but no ferry because it hasn’t returned from Tahlequah yet. Which means that no one is supposed to actually drive on the pier yet. The guards start yelling at me and waving their arms (I’m imagining klaxons blaring, security breach protocol kicking into action, frantic calls to Homeland Security), but they are too far away from me to hear what they are saying, so I do the only reasonable thing that pops into my tiny squirrel brain: I drive forward toward them, roll down my car window, and yell, “I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!!!”

This one guard looked at me and said, “That’s obvious.” Then she told me, “Put the car in reverse, do a U turn at the pier entrance, drive up the hill, and buy your ticket at the booth. Then get in line with all the other cars.”


Postcard mural at Vashon Adventures in Vashon Town. I think they should add a tiny rental car, with a tiny me in the driver’s seat, yelling in my tiny voice, “I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!!!”

At this point, I should mention that if there was room under the passenger seat for our daughter to have crawled underneath, she would have. And you should have seen the looks I got from the cars in line as I drove past them up the hill. I shrugged at each of them with a face that I’m sure said, “Hello, I’m a Midwestern tourist obliviously driving a rental car in unauthorized areas out here. It’s part of my rascally charm.”

Long story short (too late, I know), we made it onto Vashon safely. And our relatives loved the story. It became a running theme for the trip: When they took us to Seattle to visit the art museum, they were trying to figure out the parking garage payment system. I told them, “Just roll down your window at the exit and yell, ‘I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!’ That usually seems to work for me.”

After our vacation, I was reading an article about avoiding post-trip hangovers and letdowns. One of the suggestions in the article was to bring some aspect of the vacation home with you and incorporate it into your everyday life. So I’m taking that suggestion. You might see me in town at the grocery store’s new self-checkout lane. I’m the one not wasting my time reading the instructions on the kiosk. I’m just standing there, gripping my cart, yelling, “I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE!!!” You’d be amazed at how quickly you get service that way.