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Don Phelps

Captain, Anderson Ferry

I came on when I was 20. That was 21 years ago. I just came down here and asked the owner if he needed some help. I’d been reading a book with a ferry in it and remembered the ferry from when my dad would bring me down. This was just something I was going to do until I figured out what I was going to do.

 
I like the customers. I’ve made lots of friends here. There are people who have been crossing since I’ve been here. I have a few customers who get out of their cars and talk to me. They talk about the weather. When it’s a 75-degree, sunny day, you don’t know how often I hear, “Man, I wish I had your job.” I know all about their kids, what their kids are doing. Sometimes, I’m like a bartender or a psychologist and I think, Whoa, that’s a little much to share.

 About half of our customers are regulars. They live in one state and work in the other. The rest are usually going to the airport. A lot of them don’t carry cash, and we only take cash. We have to send them over to the UDF for cash.

I found a dead body once, stuck in the paddlewheel. It was right around Halloween time and I thought it was a dummy. It’s not a very pretty sight and it doesn’t smell real good. That’s something you don’t forget. Once a car went off the end of the platform when its brakes failed. That was probably the most terrifying moment I’ve had down here. The driver was not a very good swimmer. But he still rides the ferry.

Illustration by Joel Kimmel.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue.