Ferry tales; allure of license plates

License plates from over the country. - Contributed photo
License plates from over the country.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Peggy Butler/Special to the Journal

First the statistics then a unique “ferry tale.” At least I hope it’s unique.

August 29, the 10:55 a.m. ferry, Friday Harbor to Anacortes: I wanted to do a statistical analysis of how many out-of-state license plates were onboard compared to Washington plates onboard.

I counted a total of 43 cars on two different decks to see if the statistics were comparable. Out of the 23 cars on the upper ramp, which must have arrived later than the ones on the bottom ramp, 15 were Washingtonians and eight were from: New Mexico, California, Arizona, Utah, North Dakota, Tennessee, Oregon, and British Columbia. I was an English major but that looks like almost 33 percent out of state plates.

To ensure that this was not an outlier ramp, I checked the bottom on the opposite side. I found 14 Washington plates and six from: New Jersey, two from Oregon, two from California, and one from British Columbia.

Check it out, but that sounds like almost 33 percent. Just for the record, someone saw me with my writing pad and asked what I was doing. Then he offered the information that his brother, whose car was also on the ferry, had driven up from Kentucky. He assured me that the car had a Kentucky plate.

Some people get pretty excited about riding the ferries. They may even get a little disoriented by all the excitement. They often lose their cars.  Or go to the water end of the boat to walk off.

I’ve heard of people too scared to get out of their cars. Or too scared to drive onto the ferry, “Couldn’t they drive it on for me?” Don’t worry we say. The great people at the ferry docks will tell you just what to do.

That was not the problem my daughter had a couple of weeks ago.

She is not worried about the ferry ride. She comes to rest. She works hard. She was asleep in her car, leaning against the door to rest her weary head.

Over the loud speaker the blaring announcement: “Friday Harbor! Friday Harbor!”—you know the routine. My teen-age granddaughter was absorbed in her I-Phone, chatting with friends, when suddenly someone wrenched open the driver’s door, demanding “you’re in my car!”

Without the support of the door, my daughter fell into the darkness and looked up into the face of an outraged gentleman. Sleep doesn’t make us especially lucid. But she did know where she was and where she had been. “But I’ve been here the whole time,” she pleaded with wide eyes.

Behind the car, a woman, perhaps the man’s wife, a more cautious soul, examined the license plate. My granddaughter might have texted her friends, “Help! car-nappers on the ferry! We’re surrounded!”

My daughter roused from her semi-conscious state and pulled herself back into the seat. She looked around—yes she was still where she had been. It was her car. By that time at the rear of the car a realization was settling in. The couple quietly melted away. Presumably they had a car somewhere on the ferry.

People manage to arrive at the ferry terminal from all over the United States after confronting crazy city traffic, long, boring, arrow-straight highways over thousands of miles, teeth-chattering narrow mountain passes—but when they reach Washington State Ferries, the end of the line, the excitement may be too much; the gentle rock of the boat, the sparkling sea beneath, the glorious emerald islands dotted with fantasy homes.

Perhaps it’s the long tedious hours behind the wheel, or perhaps it’s the thrill of our scenic beauty. Perhaps the fresh air does something.

You’ve heard the drill. I recommend the following:  “Friday Harbor, Friday Harbor. Look around you and make sure you know where you are. Pick up your brochures and belonging. Please return to your own vehicles!”

— Editor's note: Peggy Butler’s musings on license plates and other island novelties, like oystercatchers, are published periodically by the Journal, and on

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