Block Island Ferry Holiday Express (A Festive Ode to ‘The Polar Express’)
On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I was spread out on my couch in Cranston slowly dozing off to some infomercials. I was listening for a sound, though, a sound a guy at the Cumberland Farms had told me I’d never hear – the bells of Santa’s sleigh.
“There is no Santa,” my cousin’s friend’s uncle had told me. But I knew he was wrong.
Suddenly I did hear sounds, but not ringing sleigh bells. From outside came the horrible sound of screeching metal grinding against asphalt. I looked through my window and saw a ferry parked on top of my neighbor’s Toyota.
It was dripping with sea water and a cold drizzle fell lightly around it. The captain stood at the wheelhouse door and pulled his phone out of his pocket, checking the time, as he looked down at my front door.
I pulled my boots over my bare feet and made my way out the door.
“Pushing off,” he yelled out. I warily wandered over to the ship.
“Well,” he asked, “are you coming?”
“Where?” I responded.
“Block Island, of course. This is the Block Island Ferry!”
The ferry was filled with other passengers, wearing a mix of work conference t-shirts (now pajamas), flannel pants, and shorts with tears in random places. We sang the Block Island Ferry jingle and drank plenty of Bloody Marys. Outside, the lights alongside I-95 flickered by as the ferry made its way to Pt Judith.
Soon we were out on the ocean. We rode over the cold, dark waves where the fish swam, unaware of this special holiday.
We went faster and faster… but not too fast. This was the traditional ferry after all. If we wanted to go faster, we should have taken the hi speed. We chugged along, gracefully passing over the waves and into the dips.
The waves eventually let up and we were coasting along on still water. On the horizon, lights appeared to be getting closer and closer. They looked like the lights from a train chugging along on a track.
“There’s Block Island,” called the captain.
Old Harbor. It was a quaint little downtown filled with all manners of shops, hotels, and eateries. We saw a crowd of people gathered in a small park by the water.
“Those are the locals,” the captain told us. “They’re gathering around the Lobster Pot Tree. That’s where Santa hands out the first gift of Christmas.”
“Who the lucky stiff who gets that,” we asked.
The captain answered, “How should I know? I just steer the ship. Could be one of you, I suppose.”
“Look,” shouted one of the overly enthusiastic passengers, “the locals!”
The fine folks of New Shoreham turned their heads, watching the ferry pull into port. We all disembarked and wandered across the parking lot over to the Lobster Pot Tree.
We worked our way through the crowd to the edge of Estes Park. Standing in the middle of the clearing was a tall pyramid of lobster pots covered in bright lights and decorations. I have to say, it put us all in a pretty festive mood.
Across the circle, the locals parted, and Santa appeared. That guy was huge! You expect him to be a normal height, but that dude is like 7 feet tall and at least 400 pounds. He could be, like, a Patriots linebacker or a center for the Celtics, or something!
He made his way around the tree, taking a look at the gathered crowd, when he stopped in front of me. “Let’s have this one here.”
The ferry captain navigated me through the crowd as Santa sat down on the edge of the Lobster Part Tree. Making my way in front of him, Santa lifted me up, placed me on his knee, and asked, “Now, what would you like for Christmas?”
For a while, I sat there in silence. As a full-grown adult, it’s a little awkward to be sitting in the lap of a giant you just met. All I could think of saying is, “I don’t know.”
Santa smiled and pinched my cheek. “That’s okay,” he said. “I think I have just the thing.”
He dug into his bag and pulled out one of Block Island’s hidden Glass Floats. He called out, “The first gift of Christmas!” and the crowd cheered.
“Oh, wow,” I replied. “I’ve always heard about these things but have never seen on in real life. Thanks!”
“You don’t seem more excited,” he replied.
“Oh, no. No, no, no. It’s a great gift. Thank you!”
Santa glared at me. “Do you know how long it took me to find that? Do you? A better part of a month! I’ve been neglecting my duties since the end of October just so I was sure I would have one for this special occasion. Every child on earth is not getting my 100% this year because it took me so long! Why aren’t you more excited?!”
Luckily a clock struck midnight and the captain shouted for the passengers to climb back aboard the Block Island Ferry. I put the Float in my pajama pants pocket, gave Santa a polite smile, hopped off his lap, and quickly pushed my way through the crowd to the ship.
As soon as we were back in the ferry and on our way back to mainland, the other passengers asked to see the Glass Float. I reached into my pocket and felt only a hole at the bottom. The overly enthusiastic passenger from before looked at me solemnly and said, “He’s going to be so mad at you.”
When the ferry arrived at my house, I got off, turned ,and waved good-bye. The captain yelled something to me, but I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the street being ripped apart under the hull of the ship.
“What?” I yelled out.
He jumped on the P.A. system and said in a calm and steady voice, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”. The Block Island Ferry tooted it’s horn and started making its way north to Providence.
After lunch on Christmas day, I was at my folks place opening presents. When it looked like everything was opened, my brother Jimmy found one last gift tucked in the back corner addressed to me. Inside was a gift card envelope and a note.
“I found the Glass Float on the ground by the tree,” it read. “In lieu of the Orb, I’ve included a gift certificate to Kimberly’s restaurant. The Float will be going to someone WHO APPRECIATES IT!”
My mom looked over and said, “Ooh, Kimberly’s! Your dad and I went there over the summer. It’s delicious!”
I told my friends about my amazing trip but most of them thought I was lying or just had a weird dream due to too much spiked eggnog. As the years go by, though, I know in my heart that it all really happened… and that I may have made a mortal enemy in Santa Claus.
I did go to Kimberly’s the following summer, though. It was delicious!