An afternoon at the waterfront park

ship canalI recently made the mistake of drinking mimosas at a friend’s brunch. The rest of the afternoon I wanted nothing more than to sleep. Because naps are something I don’t do at all well, there was nothing else for it than to head out for a lazy afternoon reading, picture taking and people watching in a park.

As waterfront parks go around here, the one I chose was relatively unpopulated. Very late on a Sunday afternoon notwithstanding, I’m the only one sitting in this particular part of the park. I suppose it’s because this park is a little hard to find by car. Most people access it from the Locks and the larger park on other side of the channel, but I know the road that leads here.

I situate myself under two big trees on a bit of grass between walkways, facing the channel that leads out to the bay. Boats slowly pass by, as do people. Tourists aimlessly wander, occasionally stopping to read the interpretive signs and warnings to keep far away from marine life. Locals are out for a brisk walk with the dog or a bike ride. A couple of bicyclists stop to pull out their phones and take pictures of the passing boats. In the distance, at the end of the channel, I spy cruise ships in the bay, headed out for a week’s trip to Alaska. I count four.

Two young hipster men stroll by, deep in conversation. Everything about them is carefully styled, from shoes to hair. One is overdressed for a hot afternoon stroll through the park—narrow slacks, rumpled white button-down, ‘European styled’ leather-soled dress shoes and skinny tie.

“I guess watching the people would be OK,” the overdressed one says.
“You aren’t missing much,” the other replies.
“Yeah, and they let you smoke in the casinos. Try getting that smell out of your clothes.”
“You aren’t missing much.”
“I wonder what the future of Las Vegas is. World’s largest reservoir…”

They stroll beyond my ability to hear anything more.

An East Indian or Pakistani family comes by in the other direction. Two aunties and one grandmother are in traditional dress. Father, mother and two teenage girls are in western garb. All speak their native language. Father and mother point out things of interest. The teens drag behind, their gate not much more than a shuffle. Clearly bored out of their minds. I note they are not holding iPhones. These days, it’s a strange site to see teenagers not bent over a smart phone.

A middle-aged man with a long-lens camera appears out of nowhere. He checks his watch and faces out toward the bay. In the distance, a train’s whistle blows. The man checks his watch again and repositions himself, and aims his camera at the train trestle over the channel, just as the trestle lowers from it’s upright position. He adjusts focus, checks settings, and again raises the camera to ready for the shot.  The train passes and the man takes several shots. He reviews his shots and then moves on.

Not just the one train passes by on the trestle, but several: The regional commuter (must be taking people home from a baseball or soccer game downtown), a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe cargo train with many graffiti-festooned containers, and an Amtrak, probably headed for Bellingham or eastern Washington.

A giant modern pleasure boat with an almost equally giant pink inflatable dinosaur lashed to its bow, like some sort of masthead, heads in the channel from the bay. As it passes I read the name on the stern: ABSOLUT. Can you say, “party boat”?

The photographer returns, this time with two other photographers. They consult, aim their cameras at various things, and consult some more, then go back the way they came.

Suddenly, I’m alone. No passers-by. No boats. Not even squawking gulls or crows, or cars driving on the road just behind me. It’s a strange experience to be entirely alone, if only for a minute, in the middle of an busy, busy city.

Three state fisheries outboard skiffs swoop in from somewhere up the channel, obviously checking in on the “salmon stairs” nearby. The men are dressed in wader overalls and rubber boots. They deftly handle the outboard motors as if they learned to drive a boat long before they learned to walk.

A large vintage yacht, a Chris-Craft maybe, pulls up to the sea wall to wait for the Locks to open. A woman on the bow holding a bow line, yells to the man on the fly bridge, “There’s none!” He says something to her and she yells back. “None I tell you. Only plants. They’re gone or something.” The woman on the stern has the same issue. The captain, unhurriedly, which is disconcerting, descends from the fly bridge to the bow, calmly takes the line from the woman and loops it around a piling. He goes back to the helm to nudge the stern back in, then in the same unhurried manner, walks back to the stern to loop that line around another piling. “You didn’t say to loop it!” the woman on the bow scolds.

Behind them comes a Police boat with a small weekender tied alongside it. Obviously the rescue of a disabled boat. The Police boat gives a formal horn signal to the Lock keeper. Other boats arrive, but choose to circle in the channel to wait for the locks, rather than tie up.

Somewhere in the distance, someone is playing a flute. I decide to pick up the book I brought and read a while before heading back home.