Julie and Her Fairy Tale

Julie on a ladder she uses to access her concrete barge  |  photo from Marin Magazine
Julie and Ed in the Humming Toadfish Kazoo Band |  photo by Michele Affronte
Julie with Lao Xu, her therapy cat
The Fairy Tale at sunset  |  last two photos courtesy of Julie Durbin  |  post by Christina Leimer

Pinwheels, flowers, and glass orbs decorate the porch of the little storybook lifeboat house at the head of West Pier called the Fairy Tale. Inside you’ll find Julie Durbin, her 15-year-old cats Lao Xu and Gilligan, and Chinese lanterns and masks. Somewhere in the curves, crooks and slopes there must be a hockey stick as well.

Roller hockey. That’s her sport. She played professionally for years. But don’t call her a roller derby queen. It’s “hockey, hockey,” she asserts, lightheartedly, but serious about the distinction. It’s like ice hockey but on wheels on a dry surface with fewer players on the floor.

Julie started a women’s team in her mid-twenties while living in Alexandria, VA. “We went to parks recruiting women who were inline skating.” Before that, she played on men’s teams. How’d that work? “I was the captain!” she quips with a hardy laugh.

Her women’s team’s first game, of course, was against a men’s team. “It turned into a fight,” she says. Facing her opponent, before the puck was dropped, he shoved her hard. As she fell backwards, she brought her foot up between his legs and he hit the ground in pain. “We won the game,” she boasts with a smile.

Does her guy friend of 11 years, Ed Lopez, know about this fight? “It’s a story he loves to tell,” she says. They met at a party. Across the room, he saw a red-headed woman who’d ditched her stiletto-heeled boots walking around in striped socks. “He thought I must be pretty comfortable with myself if I’d walk around a party in striped socks.” Julie’s solution to aching feet following surgery, he interpreted as confidence.

In fact, her confidence and risk taking have moved her to many locales and work in media ad sales, magazine publishing, voiceover, book editing, and teaching.  Currently, she teaches private lessons: math online and in person to students with special learning needs. “I’ve got lots of stories to tell,” she laughs.

One of those stories involves being surrounded by police in China. She went there to teach English in a small village. After a few months, she got recruited by a city TV news station. Julie told the school she was leaving then travelled to the city to finalize the deal. They were angry. When she returned with a driver in the news van, they had removed her belongings from her living quarters and locked them away. Then police from multiple agencies arrived, surrounding her. They wouldn’t let her leave. “I’ve never felt so alone and scared in my entire life.”

The next day the TV station driver returned incognito, in an unmarked vehicle, and took her away. Her offense? Breach of contract.

Julie grew up in St. Louis suburbs with four sisters and two brothers, graduated from a Catholic high school, then fled to Alexandria, then San Francisco, China and ultimately Sausalito’s floating homes.

Initially, when a friend encouraged her to move to the floating homes community, she wasn’t interested. Cities were more her style. But she went to see a 200-square-foot rental on Issaquah dock. “I wasn’t even sure I should be there, but people said hello. They were walking their dogs and watering flowers. I thought, what IS this place?! It’s like Ms. Madrigal all over again.”

In the nearly two decades since, she’s lived on Issaquah and East Pier, before settling in the home she and Ed now own on West Pier. She’s very active in the FHA. “I’d never leave the houseboat community unless I moved to another country.”

Why would she? She lives and works in a Fairy Tale.