The Last Ferryboat Ride - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado City News

The Last Ferryboat Ride

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 3:41 pm

I remember the last day the ferryboats operated. The arrangement, due to a non-compete clause, mandated the ferryboats cease operation at midnight August 2, 1969.

As the “Ferryboat Finale” read (the historic certificate handed out to passengers that final day), “This certifies that the bearer of this certificate rode the San Diego-Coronado Ferry on its last day of operation, August 2, 1969, climaxing 83 years of service to the San Diego and Coronado communities.” It was signed by James C. Haugh, president of the San Diego and Coronado Ferry Co.

The final five car-carrying ferryboats were the Coronado (arriving here in 1929), San Diego (1931), North Island (1939), Silver Strand (1944) and Crown City (1954).

My friends and I wanted to ride that last ferryboat, but waited until the end of the night so we could actually ride “the last one”—the final passage across San Diego Bay.

Cars that had been lined up waiting half way down Orange Avenue, half way across town, slowly began to drive on to the old and creaky wooden decks of the ferryboat. Then, we pedestrians walked aboard. I remember looking up at the name board. We were on the San Diego, it was 11:30 p.m., and we were headed for San Diego.

As we pulled into the creosote-soaked pilings on the far side of the bay, the captain rang his ship’s bell and pulled the whistle lanyard for one long, last blow. “Everyone off,” he yelled. “End of an era. You’ve just ridden the last ferryboat.”

Well, you can imagine our confusion. We argued with him that we had to go back to Coronado. He couldn’t have cared less about us as he grabbed his jacket and lunch pail, and headed toward the off-ramp of the boat.

Three of the girls in our group said they were going to swim home, and one said she would leave her new boots on the dock to retrieve the next day. Years later I discovered they just wanted to get rid of Bob Pickford and me. They walked to a phone booth and called one of the girls’ mothers.

I couldn’t swim (still can’t) and Pickford didn’t want to get his hair wet. You had to see his hair to understand. It was a tightly-packed mass of curly chaos. Out of desperation, we began going car-to-car in the long line of automobiles waiting to catch the last ferry. Those folks, too, it seemed, misread the fine print.

Finally, we found a young couple in an MG convertible. They were awfully giddy, so we figured they had gotten high for this auspicious occasion.

“Say, how would you like to be the first to cross the Coronado Bay Bridge?” We were going car to car with that line before we found the stoned couple in the MG.

Once they realized they weren’t going to go on the ferry, they began to see the magic of our proposal. So, in a manner of speaking, we became the first hitchhikers to cross the Coronado Bay Bridge that night. We sat on the convertible top that had been folded over the back seat. Like being in a parade, we drove over that big scary bridge, waving at everyone we saw.

For the next couple of years, we drove the bridge at night, in darkness. Lights weren’t installed until sometime later, when Coronado activist Carol Cahill pushed the Coronado City Council to install them.

Prior to that, we would frequently find ourselves driving home from a concert or dance, and we would stop at the top of the bridge and get out of the car.

In those days, as mentioned, Coronado had a habit of going to sleep about 8 p.m. Even though the bridge was open 24/7, in those early days there was virtually no traffic at night.

We would hike a leg over the rail, light a cigarette or joint, and pull the pop-top off a can of beer. We would turn up the car radio and KPRI-FM would entertain us with cutting edge rock ’n’ roll.

It was all fun and games for us in those teen years. New was the fact that we could drive. New was the Coronado Bay Bridge. And you know what? We would sit up there partying for half an hour or more, in the dark, and never see another car crossing the bridge from either direction.

The bridge is about 200 feet tall. If you jump and hit the dense salt water from that height, your bones shatter like landing on rocks. That’s why few survive a jump from the middle spans. I think at this point there have been 400 jumpers. Most of us, longtime residents of Coronado, have lost friends and loved ones to that fate.

The catwalk is still there, and has been modified for safety over the years. But, unless you’re with CalTrans or the Port of San Diego on official business, you won’t ever see it.

For us, growing up in Coronado in the 1960s, it was a little slice of Heaven to be able to climb out there, snub our noses at authority, and feel, for a few fleeting moments, as though we were on top of the world ... our world.

1969? Well, it may be a big anniversary for Coronado and the Coronado Bridge, but for me, it’s still that special place I find refuge through old friends, photos and music of the era. I don’t think I ever really left 1969.

• The above story is from Joe Ditler’s new book, “Coronado Confidential: It Can’t Happen Here.”

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