Sunday, January 22, 2012
Image by Glenn Buttkus
Art deco ferry boats have always been rare.
We had one, the Kalakala, for a long time;
launched in 1935, it was like a Buck Rogers
space ship churning through Puget Sound,
like a king size silver turkey roaster with
three perfect rows of round portholes marching
along each side, open at the square stern
where the car deck access was, a huge
flying bridge protruding out over the bow,
capturing a hammerhead profile, two tall
bow doors dead center above a long slender
bow, pointed like a sea bird’s beak, resembling
a great shiny steel ocean-going Indian canoe.
It served the State sailing the Sound on several
routes, stopping at different island ports, always
turning heads, part fantasy floater, a majestic
proud polished chrome Dali vessel.
Once decommissioned in the 60’s she rested
at several docks as the newer triple-decked
super ferries propelled past her with disdain.
Someone in California purchased her and she
made the voyage south on her own steam.
Thirty years later a man from Seattle had her
towed home, wanting to clean her up and make
her into a restaurant and casino. She moved,
over the years from dock to dock, merely
an oddity, a tourist delight, partially ship-shape
Then she was towed south into the belly of the Sound
to the Tacoma waterway. Less and less people came
to look at her; largely forgotten, sad, neglected,
deteriorating, she began to sink, listing heavily
to her port side, exposing her starboard side
up out of the dark water.
Last month I read in the newspaper that the owner
had managed to pump out her ancient bilges,
and to get her back in balance, as she struggled
to proudly sit dockside flashing her tarnished
stainless steel super structure, her barnacle
Once more she was sold to an entrepreneur
from California, sold for a single dollar,
with the proviso that she finally would be
restored, would become some kind of public
treasure. She was to be towed out of Tacoma
one week later.
So I set out to find her, printed up several Google
maps, grabbed my camera, summoned the sun,
and felt a rush of adventure as I drove off.
Tacoma’s tide-flats are a confusing maze
of waterways, one way streets, construction zones,
and restricted access docks, but I finally found her
late in the morning lashed up to a private dock
next to a foundry; catching a tantalizing glimpse
of her two hundred yards off the road behind
several locked gates.
I wormed back and forth until I found a parking lot
that went to the edge of the water, and I could see
her west of me, a quarter block away. I shoved my
lens through the steel link fence portals, cranked
up my 30X zoom, and clicked off some images.
Moving over one property closer, past a mammoth
warehouse, in a restricted lot, I jumped out and
snapped more pictures, but she still was obstructed
from view. While moving around doing my best
to compose partial tableaus, a worker in an
orange hard hat came up to the fence on the
other side. I asked him if I could get permission
to drive around onto the foundry property.
“I don’t see why in hell not,” was his reply.
In a few moments I parked excitedly alongside
an empty office trailer, staring at a weather-beaten
sign that read, “See the Kalakala; soon to be restored.”
Soon I stood next to the silver lady, and she seemed
to be aware of me, preening, posing; her bow doors
sprung open for gulls and crows, two large ore truck
tires hanging fat starboard to protect her from the dock,
her beautiful Indian name covered with plywood, her
railings bent up all along her upper deck, the flying bridge
decorated with broken porthole glass, the car deck
dry and empty, her benches and dining tables lop-sided,
pocked everywhere with rust holes, her silver bones
fully exposed, barely intact, like an old
athlete rising up one more time, but too
arthritic to even bow during the last applause.
I captured images until I lost the light, standing
there with her for a time in the twilight, watching
her patina edges soften, said my own farewells,
bid her a safe journey and drove off wearing
a tight smile, feeling as if I had an audience
with exiled royalty.
Listed as #50 over on dVerse Poets--Borders
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