Riding the Cape May-Lewes Ferry I remember taking ferries across bodies of water when I was a mere toddler. Before the Delaware Memorial Bridge (originally one span) opened for business in 1951, a small fleet of ferryboats shuttled cars, buses, tractor’ trailers and passengers back and forth between Pennsville, New Jersey and New Castle, Delaware. As a young teen’ newspaper boy delivering the Philadelphia Bulletin in Levittown, Pa., I had won a subscription contest that entitled me to a free trip on a passenger ferry down the tranquil Delaware from Philly’ to Riverview Amusement Park, Pennsville. So ferry’ transportation was quite common to kids growing up in the 1950s.
From 1967-’81, I co-owned’ boardwalk businesses in Ocean City, Maryland, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and Atlantic City. I was like a jackrabbit each year from weekends in May right through October jumping up and down the east’ coast between the three resort’ cities. The highlight of each trip was the seventeen-mile ferry’ cruise across Delaware Bay from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware. I estimate that I had taken the excursion at least seven hundred times between ‘67’ and ‘81, transporting merchandise, tee-shirts, arcade prizes and finally loose (non-cartoned’) stuffed animals between Hammonton and the three popular summer’ destinations.
The price of the crossing was quite cheap back then. I recollect spending a mere five dollars to cross the bay with a car-full of merchandise (today the expense is twenty dollars from April-October for driver and car). I recall that fellow passengers would request to buy stuffed animals from me, and I would refuse, telling them that “the plush” (boardwalk slang) happened to be arcade prizes that had to be won and not purchased. I would jam as many ferry furry creatures inside my Pontiac station wagon as I could. And when curious ferry riders would gawk at all of the bears, giraffes, cats, dogs and elephants crammed inside my vehicle, I would yell up to them on the main deck, “Now you know why they call these things stuffed animals!” That comment would always elicit a chuckle or two. I would always leave Hammonton at six AM and have sufficient time to board the Cape May-Lewes Ferry for a seven-thirty departure. I enjoyed many bacon and eggs’ breakfasts on the boat during the hour and fifteen-minute leisure bay’ crossing. I recall that one foggy morning in late September the captain make an error in judgment and the almost empty boat wound-up on the wrong side of the jetty on the Delaware’ side. We were nearer to Cape Henlopen than to Lewes, and the general atmosphere was similar to being on a mysterious lost ghost ship adrift at sea.
Occasionally I would encounter local people on their’ way south for business or for vacation. One time I struck up a conversation with Egg Harbor’ undertaker Larry Winberg (who had attended St. Joseph High with my wife). He was on his way to Delaware to pick up a new client, and another time I met Mike Palmieri, owner of the Farmers Daughter Market going south to procure a load of early season’ cantaloupes. Sometimes my being a conscientious person backfires.
One busy Friday just before Memorial Day I stopped at a Hammonton’ bank to deposit my wife’s and my teaching’ checks. I had the green station wagon loaded to the gills with prizes. I thought that one of my back tires was low, so I pulled over on the Garden State Parkway just before Cape May. Hammonton’s Richard and Teresa Lanza pulled over and asked if my wife and I needed help. I thanked them, saying that the tire would be “all right.” When Joanne and I arrived at the ferry terminal, the Lanzas were the last car able to squeeze aboard the final ferry to Delaware. As a result, I had to drive the entire distance to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and then down the DelMarVa Peninsula to Ocean City, Maryland. A three and a half-hour’ trip suddenly transformed into a nine hour nightmare.
I was in Hammonton one 16th of July. I needed to buy a new portable TV for my apartment in Ocean City, MD. I remember being under duress trying to get around the crowded Hammonton’ streets and to Colonial Electric. Louis Valenti sold me a set, which could just squeeze onto the already packed front seat. Driving down Twelfth Street, I ran over a board that had protruding nails. I felt my steering wheel wobbling so I drove in the Frank Farley Rest Area on the Expressway and filled the left front tire up.
The same thing happened near Pleasantville, where I exited the Expressway and repeated the inflation procedure at a local gas station. I filled the tire twice more, once on the Parkway and finally again in Cape May. When I arrived at the Cape May Ferry’ tollbooth, I turned up the volume on the car radio and paid the collector the exact amount so that she could not hear the air sizzling out of my left front tire.
Then my green station wagon boarded the boat. I sat in my vehicle until the tire went flat, stepped upstairs and had lunch, and when the ferry was in the middle of the bay, I reported my “newly discovered dilemma” to the captain. After the boat docked in Lewes, two burly ferry’ employees came to my assistance by inflating my maligned front tire with air-sealant. I departed the vessel and safely made it to Ocean City, Maryland without incident, and to this day, I must laugh to myself every time I think about how I had made my very aggravating flat-tire’ nightmare the problem of the Cape-May Lewes Ferry’ personnel.
Jay Dubya (author of 41 books)