Sometimes I forget how much freedom I have to do whatever I want and enjoy this beautiful place I live in. Take today. I had been invited to the annual gathering of people who used to work at Miller Freeman, the company where I had my first (and last) job, for 10 years, as a magazine editor. The unique thing about Miller Freeman is how much those who worked there remember the good old days and what a creative place it was. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I had to get to the party, which was in a bar the San Francisco Ferry Building. I didn’t have the car, and I was procrastinating going by bike to my coworking space, when I realized I could ride my bike to the ferry and get to the party in style!

Oakland San Francisco Ferry

I left the house at 4:20 and navigated through my pock-marked city. Only a few spots of the ride are pleasant. Most are tolerable. But I did manage a bit of waterfront riding as I approached Jack London Square. I got there right as the 5 pm ferry was pulling in to the dock. The sun was setting in a fiery sky over the dark blue water as a stream of cyclists disembarked. I boarded behind a handful of other cyclists and ferry riders, hooked my bike handle over the railing in the first level lounge and climbed to the top open-air deck. It was less cold than I expected, though I had brought a hat, gloves and extra jacket. I zipped myself into my extra layers and we took off at a crawl through the estuary. I looked back at the city whose ugliest arteries I’d ridden through on my bicycle only moments before. Now it looked spectacular against the waterfront, a view no one sees. We passed underneath the giant horse-like container ship cranes. They were still loading a ship — the port works 24 hours, I think. Then we passed Schnitzer Steel, with its mountains of crushed cars being conveyed by what looks like ducts onto another massive ship.

A giant container ship coming toward us loomed. The ferry slowed and pulled farther to the right of the estuary. All five of us passengers on the observation deck gasped in awe as we passed the hulk, which had tugboats at its bow and another attached via a long line to its stern. I waved at a silhouette of someone on the ship standing in a square of yellow light and he waved back.

Now on the open bay, the ferry throttled up and we were drawn toward the glitter of the Bay Bridge, all lit up with the fancy LEDs they added a few years ago. Thirty minutes after leaving Oakland, I pulled into the Ferry Building. I locked my bike up outside on Embarcadero in hopes it would still be there later, and walked into the crowded bar.

Right away, I recognized a few faces, though the passage of time was impossible to ignore. Indeed, the most incredible thing was seeing how much time is the ultimate equalizer. I was soon sitting face to face with the former CEO and founder of Miller Freeman, Marsh Freeman. When I worked there for those 10 years, he was a presence always, a very tall, genial man, walking around quietly observing things. His biggest pride was his community foundation and volunteer work that he allowed us to do as employees, tutoring homeless children in Hunter’s Point. I had a huge long conversation with him about Software Development magazine, and he told me how his family had not wanted the company to diversify beyond magazines about natural resources in the 1980s. Now he works with a private school doing a charitable program where they build airplanes from kits and sell them. Full-size airplanes. I told him I might try to pitch that story to some Bay Area magazines I write for.

Later I spoke with the former president of the company, who had gone on to found another publishing company in Washington, D.C., which happens to own Folio, among other titles. I remembered correctly that his wife was Mexican, and she told me all about her grandson who is studying to become a cannabis expert. I ended up leaving having talked to all these nice people and having unprecedented charitable feelings about the company when basically 7 or 8 of the last 10 years I have cursed my fate for getting laid off (very histrionic of me, I know — though one woman told me she was still traumatized from her layoff as an art director for another company and worried that she, like me, wouldn’t be able to brush it off so easily). Was the great equalizer due to the fact that these former giants of trade publishing are now in their 70s or well beyond? Was it because — in addition to some recently won confidence and accomplishment as a solopreneur — I have something they do not, in the form of relative youth? It was stunning to me.

When the night was over — and true to form, I had helped shut it down — I unlocked my bike and road up Market to the BART station. On the train home, I stacked my bike next to another man’s. He pointed at my little aluminum frame, stamped with the model name “Newest” and jovially said “Your bike is the newest, eh?” I looked up at his face, framed by tousled hair that sat askew like a wig on his head. His eyes were friendly and we began talking about our bikes. His was a folding model and he was on his way home to San Leandro. “I took the ferry here from Oakland,” I boasted. “I’d never come into the city at dusk on the ferry. It was spectacular.” He pulled the lapel of his jacket over and pointed to the ferry company logo. “I’m a ferry captain,” he said. Law of attraction strikes again (or at least, the omnipresent law of twos in my life). “How does one become a ferry captain?” I asked. “You can go to school for it, like the Maritime Academy. In my case, I sailed around the world as a teenager with my father. I’m from Finland.”

We ended up talking about all his travels in the 1980s around South America with his girlfriend in his van.

“Was it dangerous back then?”

“Eh, in Venezuela they said, watch out, in Colombia you’ll be raped and killed. Then in Colombia they said, watch out, in Ecuador you’ll be raped and killed. We often stayed in people’s houses because they felt bad for us being out on the street. One time we thought, if we stay at these people’s house, we might get raped and killed. Then we did it anyway.”

We spoke Portuguese and Spanish for a bit, and then I asked him how to say hello in Finnish. I can’t remember his answer, but goodbye sounded something like when you yell “Hey!” at a thief.

I pulled up to my station. “Hey!” he barked. I looked at him in confusion for a second. “Oh! Hey!” I yelped back, and got off the train.