Domestic Disturbances: Drama at Chappy Point

Chappaquiddickers sort things out for themselves.

Photo by Carl Treyz

On a quiet fall day as I rode my bike onto the ferry heading back home to Chappaquiddick, the deckhand said, “Walk your bike.” Not meaning to, I gave a little snorting laugh because, I thought, Why should I? I’m the only one getting on the boat, and there’s not a car or person in sight! But I got off my bike and, hoping to downplay my snort, I said jokingly, “So I don’t hit anyone, right?” The deckhand, who was actually a ferry captain working the ramps and taking tickets for the shift, gave the tiniest smile. She said, “For safety reasons.”

We came across to Chappy, and after I dutifully walked my bike off the ramp, a propane truck drove on. Almost right away, a taxi zoomed up the ramp after it, bypassing the ferry line. I was standing by the side of the road talking with a friend whose car and husband were in line, but we stopped talking in order to watch what might happen next. Usually nothing much is going on at the Chappy Point at 9:30 on a Friday morning in November, but this had the potential to be interesting.

The deckhand stepped to the middle of the ramp and held up both hands with a stop-now-or-else look of determination. She is a small woman, but packs a lot of power in that frame. It looked as if she might rather get run over than let that taxi on the ferry.

Coast Guard regulations say no one can be on the boat with a gas truck — for safety reasons — but the more important point for us was that the taxi was cutting the ferry line. The ferry is a great democratizer; we are all equal in the eyes of the ferry. Your right to get where you’re going is no greater than my right to get where I’m going. Of course, certain people are more equal, like the UPS and FedEx trucks, mail delivery, Verizon, the cement trucks, the school bus, town vehicles, visiting nurses, etc. But anyone who thinks they have more of a reason to get off Chappy than a Chappy resident already waiting in line will soon find out: You need to be in an ambulance, not just bleeding profusely, before you can cut the line. Maybe that’s an exaggeration — sometimes.

But this taxi was ignoring all the rules, and was not keen on backing down. A man leaned out of the car window and said something about having to catch a plane. The deckhand didn’t move, so finally the taxi backed off the ramp.

Watching the deckhand in action, we started to speculate about what might happen on the next trip across because, although the taxi had backed off, it stayed at the bottom of the ramp, blocking access on or off. Also, there were already three cars in the ferry line, the limit the ferry could take. It was a chilly morning, but it seemed worth sticking around to see the rest of the drama as the deckhand dealt with those lawbreakers on the next trip.

The taxi stayed there blocking the ramp, but soon the man of the couple in the taxi got out and went over to the cars in the ferry line. He bent down to talk to the people in the first and second cars, presumably to ask if he could cut the line, and it looked as if they said yes. He didn’t think to ask the third car — the only one that wouldn’t get on as expected. The driver of the third car was my friend’s husband who, she said, wouldn’t let the taxi go ahead, just on principle. Knowing how he was likely to react to someone cutting the line, she said she thought she’d just wait there to see what happened, before she went back to the car.

It was a bit of a disappointment when the ferry came back empty, because the taxi could drive right on, which it did. The deckhand didn’t even try to stop it. Having dealt with us Chappaquiddickers for so long, maybe she figured we’d sorted things out ourselves. But as the first two cars from the line drove on, she did stop them to see if the taxi had asked permission to cut the line. You could see she wanted to ask the driver of the third car (my friend’s husband) who was still back in the ferry line, but the captain was ready to go, and walking all the way to the car and asking probably would have taken longer than the ferry trip over and back. So she put the chain up, and hoped for the best — that she wouldn’t get blasted by one of us Chappaquiddickers on the next trip across.

Meanwhile, my friend’s husband had already gotten out of the car to talk to someone in the truck that had pulled up behind him, and, evidently, having had a pleasant conversation, he strolled over to say hello to someone else, two cars back. Despite our hopes and expectations for a bit of melodrama, he didn’t seem to be the least bit troubled by the taxi’s hijinks. So my friend, feeling all was safe, went back to her car. I rode my bike off down the road, heading for the peace and quiet of home. And people wonder what we do for entertainment here in the winter!