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Illustration by Adam De Souza

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There’s nothing more frightening and paradoxically life-affirming to any commuter – but especially a Vancouver SeaBus passenger – than noting the time to the next departure. You know that, with a hurried pace, anything over the minute mark on the countdown clock means you will be able to slide onto the ferry just before they pull shut the doors and depart. But anything under that one-minute mark requires a decision.

Are you running to catch it? Or do you wait the 15 minutes for the next one?

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Fifteen minutes is not such a long time to wait, really. The tougher decision comes later at night, when the consequences of idleness or indecision stretch to 30 minutes between sailings. Missing that one hurts like a bald-faced hornet sting. But it is the decision that is crucial. In the nanosecond in which you register the verdict of the clock, you must make your decision.

Will you run? Or do you let it go? Any delay can make the decision moot. Seconds are crucial. Each step can make or break your fate. There are seldom such defining moments in your life. Will you grasp the brass ring, or will you … oh, I just can’t be bothered … give up? The tiny moment then forever crystallized as another example of resignation to one’s march toward death. Will you run? Is this time in your life precious enough to fight for? Will you run?

00:37.

Damn it. I’m going to miss it. Am I going to miss it? Should I run? Oh God, am I going to run? Is there enough time? Do I need to catch this one? Ahhh. I’m running. I’m running. Oh, why am I wearing heels today?

This is no problem. Look at me, I’m powerful and strong. I can run. I am running.

Ahh. A needle of pain as I immediately roll my right ankle – it never healed properly after breaking it at adult learn-to-skate hockey. A stutter step, but quick recovery. No time to chastise myself for lack of physio follow-through. Run. Run. The sound of those who’ve also scented despair and broken into a run echoes down the walkway. They’re coming. They’re coming. They’re here. They’re here. We are running. We run. We are runners.

Do we look like the virile boys on the beach in that Chariots of Fire scene? Time slowed to capture their effervescence. Their youth. Their camaraderie. Wait. What? They’re past me already. That swelling movie soundtrack decrescendos suddenly as they thunder in front of me. Damn. Am I going to make it? Why am I so slow? They weren’t even breathing heavily.

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Leftrightleftrightleftrightleftright. Wow. I’m light-headed already, gasping for breath, holding my rain jacket closed with the hand also clutching my wet umbrella, vainly trying to retain whatever composure I held at the top of this ramp. This hallway seems endless – like that rotating tunnel in that Six Million Dollar Man episode. Steve Austin, I feel your pain. Ahh, pain. Pain. This time a twinge of side cramp.

Good God, I’m out of shape. One should be able to run to catch a SeaBus. That should be some kind of modern-day fitness test. Forget the burpees – how about an unexpected, flat-out gallop, complete with bouncing backpack, dangling umbrella, overstuffed purse and a repurposed Lululemon lunch bag swinging behind? That would be a better test in case the zombies come.

Ahhh. A quick left swerve to dodge an oblivious pack of suddenly stationary tourists. Yes, of course you’ve stopped to take a picture of the cruise ship through the window. Isn’t it majestic? Look how the water shines. Yes, look at the mountains and the seaplanes. Group selfie? Sure. Sure. Spread out – take the whole walkway. Why not? We appreciate your tourist dollars in our city, but fortheloveofgod can you get out of the way, shouts my inner voice.

Leftrightleftrightleftrightleftright. My overstrained heart pulsing in my eardrums. Boom, boom, boom. Sharp discordance adding another layer like a persistent mosquito. Ah, curses! It’s the eardrum-piercing South American pan-flute busker. Why him today? Who has ever enjoyed this music form? Why not the gentle, life-affirming sounds of the classical guitarist? I would even take the Tori Amos-esque crooner, whose earnest combination of too-loud amp and too-long-held high notes painfully vibrate the deep place in my inner ear damaged by a violent wisdom-tooth removal.

Clattering past the busker, down the escalator now. Stay left. Runners on the left. Backpack handle sliding off my shoulder, causing the whole thing to bounce ungraciously off someone slowly walking down the same escalator. Sorry. Sorry. Excuse me. Why aren’t they running? Don’t they know they’re going to miss it?

Just as you hit the bottom tunnel, you see the crush of people who’ve offloaded from the inbound SeaBus. Like a wave, they crash around the corner on the other side of the separated walk – pouring forth in a desperate deluge. The front runners of their pack (for there are always runners, in both directions) have frantic eyes to match their various degrees of haste. One pair of eyes meets mine with a recognition of shared suffering. I see you. You see me. Run.

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Then, the neutral faces of the SeaBus attendants, impotently patrolling the waiting-area gates. Blasé to my panic. Unmoved by my commitment to life. Do they see me? Do they care? Can’t they see I reached for the brass ring? Are they holding the boat, or beholden by the clock regardless of pressing circumstance and valiant effort?

Leftrightleftrightleftright.

The turnstile ahead – the finish line beckons. For on the other side, we are safe. Despite myself, my gait slows to an awkward, collapsing crash. Feet thudding. Teetering on the brink of a slow-motion fall. I’m going to make it. I slow. I never could run through the finish line like they taught us in Grade 8 track.

Wheezing, I cross the line. Sealing my triumph with a clunky, metallic rotation. I made it. I’m alive, damn it. I’m alive. I grin despite myself, proud of my accomplishment, of my decision.

Dull eyes take me in with a sweep, “tsk”-ing internally at my barely concealed panting. They turn their bodies away from my disheveled outpouring. It’s so un-Canadian to put on a display of this kind. We prefer order and calm and generously holding doors open, after all.

But before they turn, I see it – the tiny spark of acknowledgment that escapes through the crinkled corners of their eyes and in the flickering amusement on their mouths. Yes, I see you, they say. You made it.

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You’re still alive.

Anne Farrer lives in North Vancouver.

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