STRANGERS ON THE BOAT--an original story by Steven Jon Kaplan which won me a $156 prize.
Last summer I took the 6:30 p.m. downtown ferry from Manhattan to Weehawken. In addition to the usual commuters, there was a group of about a dozen middle-aged people who were obviously new to the trip. They followed their tour guide up to the top deck of the boat and looked around in all directions. They enjoyed seeing the East River bridges, passing by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, watching the joggers at Battery Park City, seeing the Jersey waterfront, and getting a close-up view of the famous Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship. They were obviously tourists, as one could tell from their constant picture-taking and pointing at everything, so I tried to figure out where they were from. On previous trips I had met people from Japan, Holland, and Australia. Their English was excellent. They were dressed in typical American-style tourist clothing, so I guessed they were probably from another part of the U.S. or Canada. The accent was difficult to detect, which added an extra challenge.
When we arrived at Port Imperial, the group's tour guide led them all to the steps and up to Boulevard East. The less hardy souls were not expecting such a sharp ascent, but gamefully went along with the rest of the group. They headed over to Hamilton Park and began to take photographs to send to the kids back home. I still hadn't gotten any clues that would tell me what city they lived in, so I decided to talk with one of them to find out.
"Have you traveled much?" I inquired of a physically fit man in his early 60s. "Oh, yes, we've been all over Europe and South America, but we've never been to New Jersey. Our friends told us about this boat ride and it sounded marvelous, so we decided to give it a try. We're really glad that we did, since we don't have this kind of view back home." "Where is home?" I asked. "Murray Hill." "Is that on the West Coast?" "No, it's in Manhattan."