I had to buy a ferry ticket to get to school today. Unfortunately, the university cancelled all my classes, and I was stuck with a $32 ticket, trying to get a refund on the most chaotic day for the boating company.

I read the fine print on my ticket and learned their refund policy: The company offering ferry service to/from Ventura and Santa Barbara today doesn’t issue refunds. At best, they will give a store credit, but only if you show up BEFORE your boat departs and request it in person. So I got there when they opened, at 6:00 a.m. this morning…

I stood in line for about 20 minutes. It was PACKED. Tons of people asking questions. They had about 6 staff members all multitasking. The front counter was a storm of activity. Tickets were being issued left and right. Big groups of people looking to make trips together. City employees. Tour companies. Fishing people with equipment. It was a catastrophe. I appear to be the only person looking for a “ferry ride” to Santa Barbara.

I got to the front of the line at ISLAND PACKERS, and asked the kind lady if I could get a store credit for my ticket, since my classes were cancelled and I no longer need a ride to Santa Barbara today. She was gracious and took my paid receipt, started looking me up in their system, but couldn’t find anything about my ferry. She excused herself to go ask her supervisor…

The supervisor took one look at the paid receipt and walked over to me in the most customer-friendly way and explained that ISLAND PACKERS has nothing to do with this purchase … “you’ll need to work with Sea Landings in Santa Barbara about this … I realize you purchased your ticket on our website, but actually they are the vendor for this project, and there’s nothing we can do here.”

I’m thinking: “How in the world am I going to get to Sea Landings in Santa Barbara to get a refund for a trip to Santa Barbara that I don’t need anymore?” I thanked both of the kind ladies, and let them get back to their chaos.

As I walked out of the docking area, smelling the wonderful sea-salt-pigeon-poop on my way back to my car, I looked up Sea Landings in Santa Barbara on my smart phone.

“Thank you for calling Sea Landings … If you wish to skip this message and speak to a live representative, press zero…”

“Sea Landings, this is Jim,” said a frenzied voice.

“Hi, my name is Nathan, and I’ve purchased a ticket for a ferry ride to Santa Barbara on your website, but I don’t need the ticket anymore. How do I get a refund?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that right now. I’m really swamped here, and nobody else is here, my assistant hasn’t shown up yet, and the phones are ringing off the hook.”

I told him I understand, and I tried to explain that I am holding a ticket that I don’t need anymore, and tried to get at least a commitment from him to call me back… but poor Jim did not get the breakfast he ordered this morning, and probably hasn’t had a hot cup of coffee yet either.

At this point, I realized I have nearly reached the limit of energy that I’m willing to spend to get back $32, but I wanted to try one more thing. I explained to Jim that I am holding a seat on the 9:00 ferry, and I won’t be there in person to request a refund, so I’m calling in advance out of courtesy to everyone involved. Finally Jim said, perhaps out of desperation, that he’d have to let someone else call me back. He didn’t take my phone number, and we hung up fairly bluntly.

I knew then that I had lost my $32, and I mentally chalked it up to “a small sum to pay for a company doing their best to help in a public emergency situation.”

I decided to be good to myself and went to have a nice breakfast at Carrow’s just down the street. While I was sipping coffee and munching some rye toast, I understood poor Jim was dealing with overwhelm and I asked the question that professor Andrew Teton of my Clinical Skills class would ask: “What needs to happen therapeutically?”

My answer: Jim, and those like him, need to know they are making a big difference to our community, and they are greatly appreciated for all they are doing during this crisis, when neither the fire, the rain, or the mudslides were their fault. Instead of worrying about getting my $32 back, I should be more concerned with the greater cause, and become part of the effort to assist those in need.

I called back when I finished my breakfast with one more attempt to get at least a store credit, but with a complete shift in my approach and concern.

It was nearly 7:00 now, and Jim’s assistant Katy had arrived and probably made a hot pot of coffee before helping with the phones.

“Sea Landings, this is Katy. How may I help you?”

“Hi Katy, my name is Nathan and I’m calling to let you know that I purchased a ticket online for the 9:00 ferry from Ventura to Santa Barbara, and the seat is going to be empty, and you will surely be very busy, and I wanted to make sure that you knew this ticket can be resold to someone else who needs it.”

“Oh, well thank you. What was your name again?”

While Katy was looking up my ticket in the system, I continued: “I just want to thank you for all you’re doing. I’m sure it’s extremely busy and people are dealing with a lot of chaos and questions today. This idea of having a ferry for people who need to back and forth is so helpful.

“I bought my ticket because I needed to get to class today, but I just found out that classes are cancelled so I’m not going to be going to Santa Barbara after all. Can you make sure that this ticket is reopened for someone else who needs it?”

“That’s very kind of you, sir,” Katy said. “Yes, I will let the Captain know. Thanks so much for calling in about this.”

“I realize you don’t give refunds in this situation, but if there’s any way to issue me a store credit, I’m sure I would be happy to use your services later in the year.”

Katy thanked me, and said she would do what she can. She took my phone number and said she’d give the message to the Captain, who makes decisions about these things.

“Okay, well thank you again for all you’re doing. I am sure there are lots of people who want to get to Santa Barbara, and I just wanted to be sure that my ticket wasn’t wasted because it looked “sold” in the computer system.”

Katy thanked me again for my concern, and we wished each other a happy day.

As I hung up, I felt better about my efforts. If I get my $32 back, that would be great. If not, I’m satisfied with how things went. Katy is happier, and so am I.


  1. What a wonderful story about demonstrating some compassion in a difficult situation. I am sure that Katy still remembers the kind customer and you left feeling better as well. It was a non-zero-sum game. They got your $32 for a ticket you didn’t use and you got the opportunity to thank a community effort in an emergency situation. Actually, I think you got the better deal.

  2. Find me on Facebook and I will be happy to give you $32


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