Terry on the Ferry: Clowning around

Terry on the Ferry: Clowning around

Terry Winckler

How many clowns were on last Monday's 5:20 p.m. ferry commute home to Main Street in Alameda? I'll let you decide.

There was a long, long queue of people planning to get on this too-popular ferry run, and midway in that line stood a businessman with a briefcase.

As the line began to move, he was joined by two of his buddies, also carrying briefcases. The newcomers were fidgety, as could be expected since they were all-too-obviously sneaking into line. Just as they got to the gate, where the ferry guy takes count, they looked around nervously towards the faraway end of the line.

The ferry guy clicked his counter and announced, "Only 30 more." But the line had at least 90 more sweating people expecting to get on the ferry. The two line-cutters expressed their dilemma.

"I feel kind of guilty," said one, looking around.

"Yeah," said the other.

But not guilty enough.

The ferry left with them on board and 60 pissed-off people on the pier. Not only did they miss out on the ferry ride, they missed out on the antics of Kenny the Clown, who you may have read about by now. But here are some things that you probably didn't know about Kenny unless you happened to be sitting with him on that ride.

He quotes the Dalai Lama and Robert Frost, and makes a living by following their advice.

Kenny is a regular on the Main Street ferry, going to and from his work on the streets of San Francisco, where he spends all day blowing up balloons for kids at places like Pier 39. He's the guy with the red nose and big floppy shoes and painted face. Coming or going, it's a party boat when Kenny is on board. All around him people are happy. They – the ones who made it on board – were plenty happy on Monday.

His job, he said, is to make people happy. Doing so makes him happy just like the Dalai Lama advises: "The purpose of life is to be happy."

So it would appear that Kenny has found his dream job.

The emphasis is on job. Kenny gives happiness but he doesn't just give it away. He depends on people to understand that this is his work, without being asked or told, emphasizing that point with a look. What's a balloon critter worth to your kid, or a smile? How about a belly laugh?

Twelve years ago, he said, it occurred to him that he had been postponing happiness. He had been operating on the principle that most of us follow: make enough money to be comfortable, then do what makes you happy. Happiness, thus, is what you find on vacation or in retirement and not on the job.

But, thought Kenny, that's not what the Dalai Lama does. He doesn't put off the most important thing in life, why should he?

So Kenny took some practical advice from Robert Frost: Follow the road less traveled.

Kenny became Kenny the Clown with a clown's business attire and a personal mantra: Encourage people to be kids. "But I don't encourage them to be children," he says, giving another look to emphasize. "We all have to grow up."

On that ferry ride, I saw that he had taken off his big shoes and red nose. Wow, I thought, Kenny is giving up his work persona just like the rest of us do on the commute home.

"Nope," said Kenny. "I don't need all that to be a clown." Ahh, I said, so you are a clown at heart?

The look again. "No. I am a kid at heart." The clown persona is how he expresses his kid and reaches and teaches ours. The red nose is for us, not him.

And so the ferry drove us home – all 199 of us, including one clown who practices the secret of life and two who have a ways to go. Here's a starting point: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/dalai_lama.html.


Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Mon, May 19, 2014

Very well said.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Mon, May 19, 2014

I was on the ferry that day. It was my first experience seeing people turned away for the Alameda/Oakland route. I've seen it happen on the Harbor Bay route quite often.

Good thing, there was a ferry coming at 5:40, but we need more ferrys -- maybe even larger boats.

Submitted by Kenneth Kahn (not verified) on Mon, May 19, 2014

Thank you Terry.