My ferry epiphany happened courtesy of the woman who created the Cinnabon.
One warm July morning back in 2017, one of our state’s iconic green and white boats conveyed me to Bainbridge Island. I was writing a story about the origins of the world’s most famous cinnamon roll, and Jerilyn Brusseau, the baker behind that sticky, come-hither spiral of dough, had invited me to her home, to sit in her kitchen as she walked me through a batch.
Our interview had wrapped, my recorder shut off and stowed in my purse, when Jerilyn mentioned she still makes these cinnamon rolls for a few special people “whenever it feels right.” Her voice got a little softer when she mentioned one of them. Russell Fee was a second mate back on November 13, 1996, the day Jerilyn’s husband, nuclear physicist turned peace advocate Danaan Parry, collapsed of a heart attack on the gangway of a ferry to Seattle. Jerilyn was already aboard.
Fee took her hand, Jerilyn remembers, and asked for her keys. He made sure her van made it off the ferry so Jerilyn didn’t have to wait to rush to the hospital for her husband’s final hours. She still sees Fee regularly, but 23 years later he’s Captain Russell Fee, a man whose act of kindness makes him forever worthy of cinnamon rolls.
On the 30-minute crossing back to Seattle that afternoon, I saw it. The regular riders catching up on one another’s news. The customer joshing with the cashier as she rang up his beer. For some of us, ferries promise escape, a short journey away from regular life. For others, the ferry is regular life. These hulking boats are filled with familiar faces, daily rhythms, even the occasional book club. Buoyant communities in every sense.
This month’s cover story, “The Complete Guide to Washington Ferries” examines the people, the history, and the endless cartons of salty popcorn that power the largest ferry system in the country. Generally, our in-depth travel cover features detail the many wonderful things you can do once you arrive at a destination. But the journey holds its own magic.