The Guy on the Ferry with South Carolina Plates ⛴ 🚙

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


The Guy with South Carolina Plates

Would the owner of a white Toyota Tacoma, with South Carolina plates, please go to your vehicle?

This was not something I expected or wanted to hear coming from a loudspeaker of a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound, but there it was. My truck had gone and gotten into trouble.

As I made my way down to the car deck, I imagined my fellow passengers waiting and watching for the person who now confirmed every stereotype they had about the South. They had opinions, and I’m quite sure the phrase “South Carolina plates” caused the ferry to list, just a bit, from eye-rolls alone.

Having arrived in Seattle only weeks before I was already self-conscious about fitting in and adapting in this new environment. I desperately wanted to feel like a local who had it all under control. And now the public announcement had outed me as the guy from South Carolina who didn’t know how to park properly on a ferry. And I only lived in South Carolina for two years!

My heart raced as I walked closer to the truck; a walk of shame. What could have possibly happened? Two ferry representatives were standing near the tailgate with knowing smiles. One of them radioed that I was now on the scene and no further announcements were necessary. They led me around to the front of the truck where I saw the source of the problem. The front bumper of my truck was now resting on the back bumper of a small sedan. They explained, based on plenty of experience I’m sure, that I had left my manual transmission in neutral and forgotten to use the parking brake. When the ferry left the dock, the motion caused my truck to drift onto the bumper of the car in front of it. Typical South Carolina mistake, right?

Soon enough, they called for the owner of the sedan, without mention of this person’s license plates, to come to their car. To me, it sounded like the victim was summoned to the scene of an interstate crime. He arrived and we discussed how to decouple the vehicles with the least damage possible. I climbed into the truck, put it in reverse and slowly moved backward as the sound of scratching metal echoed off the metal walls of the hulking boat. We all cringed and I felt a bit of relief.

His bumper sported a nice new set of scratch marks but was not damaged otherwise. My truck was fine. I apologized, we exchanged insurance information and it was done. For the rest of the ferry ride, I tried to blend back into the general population. My secret seemed safe.

A few weeks later, I received a call from the sedan owner. He let me know that he was not going to fix the bumper and would not file a claim with the insurance company. I breathed a sigh of relief. Just before hanging up the phone, he said in a friendly tone, “So, you’re off the hook. Welcome to Seattle!”

I’ll never forget those words. There was no better welcome to the city for a young man with South Carolina plates.

Today, I’m on Washington State ferries a few times a month and often hear an announcement for someone to tend to their vehicle. Just a week ago, Sachi and I both smiled when we heard these words:

“Would the owner of a gunmetal Jeep with a dog inside, or that used to have a dog inside, please go to your vehicle. That is all.”

We looked around. Somewhere on the boat, a poor soul, not unlike me, was on their own walk of shame, this time to collect a dog. Through the giggles and eye-rolls, I empathized. As a Seattleite, it was my time to give them a break.

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On most Tuesdays, I share a story from my life on Orcas Island and a recommendation for something I love. I'm interested in how to design work and home for lifestyle, livability, and fluffy dogs. Learn more.

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