EDMONDS — The turnstile won’t spin and the boat’s leaving soon.
Not to worry.
The silver-haired man in the nearby ticket booth springs to the rescue of a passenger befuddled by the scanner.
He scans the ticket’s barcode the correct way, the gate’s revolving arm opens and the woman is on her way, much to the relief of the people behind her.
Steve Jackson is the ferry godfather. He has worked for Washington State Ferries for 50 years, the longest employee on record.
Jackson, 70, never expected to be that worker.
“I’d been there a couple years and I knew this guy who was there for 12 years, and I figured, ‘How can anybody stay here for 12 years?’ ” he said.
He left for 19 months when he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. In the early years, he directed traffic on the dock.
Now, he’s inside a glass kiosk, where he can sit down on the job, but not for long. In peak hours, he might have to bound to the turnstile a dozen times.
Jackson sold tickets in Mukilteo for decades, mainly in the auto toll booth, before transferring to Edmonds eight years ago to sell to walk-ons.
He greets every person who steps up to the window with “Hi,” then he tailors the question to the faces.
“How many adults?” Jackson asks a couple whose ages are hard to gauge — he’s bald and she’s a bottle blonde.
He is careful not to say “senior.” Most say it first, anyway. Seniors at least 65 get to ride half price. On the Edmonds ferry, that’s $4.15 instead of $8.35. It’s enough savings for a couple to split a craft beer and bag of chips in the galley. Youth 6 to 18 also ride half price. Dogs are free. Bikes are $1.
In 1968, the Edmonds/Kingston route passenger fare was 75 cents; $1.90 for the car and driver. Mukilteo/Clinton fare was 45 cents for passengers and $1.30 for auto and driver.
Jackson is like a magician, executing each transaction with rapid precision. He takes payment, prints the ticket and hands it over in a single swoop.
Time is important. Miss a ferry and there’s a 45-minute wait for the next one to Kingston.
“Sometimes they’re really in a hurry and get impatient waiting for the other person,” he said. “Or they miss the ferry and they start to curse sometime. It’s just part of the job.”
It’s faster than when he started selling tickets in the late 1970s. “We took a lot of checks,” he said.
Imagine waiting while someone fills out a check. Checks aren’t accepted anymore.
Ferry ridership in Washington was about 12 million in 1968. Last year, it was 25 million.
Passengers can buy tickets from a machine near the front of the terminal, though many gravitate to the grandfatherly figure in the ticket booth.
Jackson grew up on Whidbey Island and often visited when his parents were alive. So, yeah, he knows the ferry system well. He has lived on the mainland all his adult life, the past almost 40 years in Lynnwood.
He graduated from University of Washington with a major in oceanography. Couldn’t he be on the other side of the glass?
“You need more education to be able to do anything. By the time I finished that, I guess I just got lazy. I didn’t want to go to school anymore,” he said.
“I come to work and walk up the dock to get my stuff and look around and have this beautiful view.”
Inside his glass office is a radio for company, or he can watch a screen with security cameras. Or people watch.
During a lull, he walks across the street to Waterfront Coffee Company for a dark chocolate mocha.
“All the time. We don’t even have to ask him,” barista Catherine Cockrell said.
She was surprised when learning his length of service.
“Fifty years? I would never have guessed that,” she said.
How much longer he’ll stay is uncertain.
“I finally realized I’m not going to live forever. It just hit me a few months ago,” he said. “I’d kind of like to take up fishing again.”
When he goes on vacation, it’s not by ferry. His wife, Patricia, works for Delta airlines in baggage services. “So we usually fly someplace.”
On his 50th anniversary, a co-worker made a miniature ferry from adult diapers. Washington State Ferries gave him a replica of a telegraph, a communication device still used in the wheelhouse on some vessels. The telegraph is used by the captain to communicate with the engineer and engine room to control the speed.
“We didn’t even have an official way to mark a 50th,” ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said. “The model ‘telegraph’ he was presented with is the first we’ve ever awarded. While it’s likely there have been other 50-year employees, he is the only one that we are aware of in recent memory.”
Some of the boats have been in service as long as Jackson, but he has better hours.
Jackson works 2:20 p.m. to 12:20 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, which are high ridership days especially in the summer.
“You do the best you can do,” he said. “A lot is beyond your control.”
He can’t call the captain and say, “Hold the ship.”
Not even if you bribe him with a dark chocolate mocha.