Silver Twinkie

How much ferry does $136,560 buy? A dollar's worth.

IN THE LATE 1990S, a peculiar wave of nostalgia swept Seattle civic types who got behind plans to expand a very old monorail line and rescue and return home a very old ferry boat named the Kalakala. The new monorail appears to be moving skywardor, in the absence of the tax revenue it needs, its planners at least are looking skyward. The Kalakala, on the other hand, has sunk to the depths of bankruptcy since it came home from a muddy Alaskan moorage in 1998. Once an underdog darling, nowadays it seems you can hardly give the Kalakala away. Two winning bidders in the ship's bankruptcy auction last month pulled out. A third suitor, a mysterious man named Steve Rodrigues with an enterprise he calls Lost Horizons, emerged recently with $136,560 to rescue the rusty silver vessel and turn it into a five-star restaurant. Given the history of the 68-year-old ship, which hasn't transported passengers since 1967, I'll believe it when I see it.

Actually, I've already seen itinside and out, warts and all. On Aug. 29, accompanied by a five-man excavation crew and using an adjacent waterfront wedding reception as strategic cover, I invaded the Kalakala. Our discoveries were both shocking and inspiring.

THE PHYSICAL ACT of invading the ship was remarkably easy. All we did was jump over a hedge into an empty gravel lot. No locks, no guards, no dogsjust a quivering plank connected to a beat-up old ship. Once aboard, we found the metallic silver vessel not only to be unsafe for voyage and in a dubious state of blight but also trashed like a college freshman's dorm room. There were mattresses on the top deck, blankets, bloody band-aids, used condoms, Styrofoam coffee cups, old bottles of Bailey's, half-full pepper shakers, empty fifths of Beefeater's, and crappy orange deck chairs strewn about the bow. It was like the Kalakala's floating dwellers got pissed off at their landlord and didn't care if they got the damage deposit back when the lease expired.

"It was worse than I expected," offered one of my crewmembers, John Higgins. "It was a shithole, a silver Twinkie."

Frankly, calling the Kalakala "silver" is a generous assessment, because its hull is permeated by rust and a prodigious amount of graffiti. Sipping champagne and perched atop the boat, Higgins and another fellow crewmember, Lex "Hazelwood" Aesquivel, arrived at what they thought to be a suitable sticker price for the ransacked bucket of rust: $1, a monetary figure most closely associated with lowball appliance-bidding tactics on Bob Barker's The Price Is Right.

At face value, the Kalakala is ripe for condemnation. However, with the benefit of investor ingenuity, it contains a host of potential. For starters, the Kalakala is a natural body double for any of the Titanic re-enactments that seem always in the works at one film studio or another. As for local utilization, two suggestions: Either (1) have the Kalakala anchored in the middle of nowhere as a floating outpost for violent, exiled sex offenders, or (2) park its rusty ass next to the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma and run it as a brothel. The latter would seem to make a ton of sense. The ship's moniker is Chinook for "flying bird." And, well, as a brothel, there'd be birds aplenty aboard.

PERHAPS MOST STRIKING about the ship, in its current state of disrepair, is how positively vast and hollow it is, the sort of vacant, cranny-filled space that would lend itself spectacularly to a veritable floating Studio 54. As it is, a club called Kalakala smacks of ├╝ber-hip austerity. New York would want it, but Seattle would have it, thus inherently enhancing the ship's value.

If the Kalakala does indeed have a new owner, he would do well to heed my crew's advice. The ship is wholly inappropriate to accommodate dinner theater, actual lake cruising, or any sort of nautical museum. Shelve the romantic notions. Put it to utilitarian use. Short of that, my investment team's offer stands firm at $1. Take it or leave it.

info@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus