We made a late start and navigated our way to Liberty State Park, where we would take the ferry to the appropriate ports of call. With a minimum of ceremony we arrived and purchased our tickets and wandered around killing time until the next ferry was due to dock, and it was only when we attempted to get in line to board that a ranger told us we needed to go through security before queuing up. We trooped along back to the building and got into a fairly short line that led to an airport-style security checkpoint. I noticed the various signage that warned about the various items on the restricted list and thought momentarily of the small Swiss Army knife I have on my key ring, but being the optimist I dismissed my insignificant single-bladed friend to the army of Europe's most noteworthy neutral country as a trinket barely worth notice.
Arriving at the metal detector and x-ray machine, I put my various items into the plastic bin and proceeded through the arch, setting off the alarm when my Swatch triggered the alert. Second time through was the charm and I emerged on the other side of the checkpoint unscathed. I should add that the older gentleman in the adjacent line had his oversized plaid shorts fall to his ankles after he relinquished his belt, which was pretty entertaining for the rest of us. I should also add that the first security officer commented on my sideburns and tattoos and asked if I was a fan of Danzig before giving me his unflattering opinion of MTV and the state of the music industry. His parting words to me advised me to look up the two-headed girl on YouTube... It was a surreal moment, but as he was polite and talkative I figured it never hurt to exchange pleasantries with a member of the security staff. You never know when it will come in handy...
So now I am waiting to collect my watch, wallet, belt, sunglasses, keys, gum, camera and phone from the bin when a second security officer holds up my overburdened key ring and points to the small knife. I instantly realized that he was not the friendly type I'd encountered moments earlier, and instead was a belligerent fellow with power issues. He informed me that my knife was deemed a weapon and I had two choices facing me: I could return my keys to the car and return sans knife, or I could leave the trinket with him. He then cautioned that if I left it with him, it would be gone forever as they don't hold these items for returning passengers. I looked at him nonplussed for a moment as my gears slowly turned and I evalutated my options.
At this point a previous security checkpoint survivor returned to ask about his cell phone, which he believed was not retrieved from one of the bins. The reaction of the security officer was so venomous and nasty I downgraded my opinion of him further. I opted to return to the car and leave the offending object safely in the center console, and as the reincarnated Nazi prison guard roughly pushed aside a couple of six-year-old children and ushered me through a door I tried to be philosophical about the whole thing and let him off with a single muttered obscenity directed at his back as the door closed. The next hour saw me return to the parking lot some two-hundred meters distant, drop off my key ring (I kept only the single key for the car), return to the security line where I stood for 20 minutes trying to attract the attention of an employee so that I did not have to wait in the queue (which had quintupled in size in my absence) and eventually make it past the baleful glare of the security officer who had been instrumental in my tribulations. We made it onto a departing ferry and were only an hour behind schedule.
In my mind Ellis Island was pretty much the same as it was 15 years ago, though they may have changed much and my memory compensated for my poor recall by making it seem that way. David opted for a French language audio tour, and Alek for an English one. We started in the middle of the main floor and slowly wound our way through the various rooms and exhibits. Ellis Island is a fairly interesting place, and they do a great job of providing you with oodles of historical background in the form of images, quotes and a variety of detritus collected over the years of operation. While Alek wanted to listen to each section completely and constantly held up his finger in a "Just a second" gesture, David wanted to move quickly from one room to the next. The result was one of us shadowing one charge while the other followed the second. We eventually made it to the end of the tour and rendezvoused back at the main area before heading out to catch the Liberty Island Ferry. Let me add that for the immigrants coming to the US back in the days of Ellis Island's busiest years conditions elsewhere must have been appalling if the experiences awaiting them here were seen as a momentary dislocation with some short term discomfort. But back to the story at hand.
Outside the main building we found the line for the Liberty Island Ferry and managed to secure a position maybe 30 meters from the dock where we watched the antics of several children who ignored their parents and ran about like free-range chickens. At this point I happened to look over to the south of the New York skyline and noticed that the sky was looking a bit dark and stormy. In truth, the sky was a turbulent mass of battleship-gray clouds slowly advancing in our direction. Occasional flickers of lightning licked the skies and the winds began to pick up dramatically. It seemed that the race was on and it would be a close shave whether or not our ferry would arrive in time to protect us from the coming storm. Each boat that passed bay was greeted with stares of longing as the crowded masses looked hopefully across the growing swells. It was like some strange apocalyptic film where the final transport was picking up the remains of the human race before the final storms arrived to ravage the Earth's surface. Nervous glances and furtive attempts to move forward in the line sparked some mild shoving matches and if it were not for the advancing wall of terror, there would probably have been an outbreak of violence somewhere in the mob. The ferry rounded the bend and we all surged forward until we eventually made our way onto the lower deck of the tossing vessel. We'd managed to beat the rain and the lashing wind by moments and had only suffered some wind-tangled hair and a few drops of precipitation on our clothes. We watched the skies grow darker and the lightning activity increase as we made our way to Liberty Island.
By the time we arrived at our destination, the waves were enormous, the rain was splashing down, the lightning was putting on an incredible display and the winds were reaching gale-force intensity. Throughout the final leg of the trip to see Lady Liberty we could see the mighty statue staring balefully forth through the stormy skies, and it was not a very heartwarming look... She looked menacing and annoyed as we drifted under her gaze, and I had an eerie thought that she would at that moment decide that she'd had enough and turn into an angry Talos-like figure of wrath and retribution. Instead she just looked grimly on as the lightning illuminated her pale verdigris complexion.
The docks, upon our arrival, were overburdened with people fleeing the storm. Masses of churning bodies huddled under the huge covered loading bay, their $10 green rain ponchos clinging like a second skin. After disembarking and walking past hundreds of fleeing refugees, their eyes shadowed with desperation and fear, we slipped and slid towards the towering behemoth only to find out that you needed to purchase your tickets a week in advance... We stood for a brief moment in the tented concession stand/gift shop as David made a purchase, and then it was off to the docks for the ferry ride back to Liberty State Park.
We made it to the ferry just as it was preparing to leave, but it was so crowded we were forced to wait for the next one. It was actually somewhat exhilarating to watch the waves crashing against the walls as we observed the passengers on the departing ferry watching us. Within a few minutes I understood why they looked at us in a manner that said "You're having fun now... wait till the ferry leaves and the protection of the boat no longer shields you from nature's wrath."
Sure enough, the ferry pulled away from the dock and the gale-force winds tore through the roofed boarding dock with the ferocity of a dozen Hollywood wind machines. The spray from the ocean, mingles with the rain pelting down from the heavens swept across the miserable crowd drenching anyone unfortunate to be standing in the front lines. Those cowering behind their human shields scrunched lower in an effort to maintain a stitch or two of dry clothes for the ferry ride back. The minutes ticked by as the winds and water continued to harass us while we looked into the distance for the arrival of our ferry. You tend to lose track of time when you are single mindedly focussed on watching for any signs of rescue. The boat rounded the bend and eventually we made it aboard, wet and windblown but otherwise in good shape.
Our return trip was fairly uneventful as we navigated our way out of the storm to arrive at Liberty State Park bedraggled and looking like we'd just escaped certain doom. Anything else I add at this point would be anticlimactic as the walk to the car consisted of a 200 meter jog punctuated by yelps of pain when a small rock from the gravel driveway managed to attempt to stow away in our Crocs or sandals. The day was an adventure to say the least. We were not only treated to some amazing history about a pivotal point in our nation's history, we also stared death in the face and laughed as the thunder crashed and the poison arrows fell from the sky and the pillars of heaven shook.
I hope you enjoyed my dramatic and lengthy tale... I should look for some side work with the Travel Channel.
Thanks and Regards,