Neither Jan nor I had ever lived in a small town before so I guess the odds were against us when we moved triday Harbor, Washington. That was in January, 1990 and whatever odds were in play must have been elevated by our having moved from Chicago.
Our discovery of Friday Harbor was one of those fluky things that can work dramatic effect upon lives. Retired and on a rather lengthy tour of this country's national parks, we had taken a Vancouver Island detour, spent a couple of days in Victoria, then set out for Orcas Island, one of 172 archipelagos that are the San Juan Islands. Stopping off for lunch at Friday Harbor's picture perfect waterfront, we fell in love with the place, never continued on to Orcas Island, and wound up buying a home some five miles from town.
We quickly learned that not everyone is capable of getting attuned to island life. Many of the problems can involve attitudinal baggage newcomers might bring with them.; In settling into a San Juan Island lifestyle, big city types often exhibit an inclination to want things done in, say, a New York way. Apparently aware of the challenges involved in such situations, New Yorkers pretty much stayed away with the few attempting a rural life achieving collective batting averages not sufficient to play for the Yankees.
The relative isolation achieved by island life was both a blessing and an eventual curse. As we learned, a limited clinic, while sufficient for mundane medical matters, was not enough for serious situations. In the general scheme of things, it's one thing to be treated for lower back pain, another for serious gotchas.
Washington State Ferries, the major connector to the San Juans, offered reasonably good service to the island from Anacortes although ferry schedules remain lesser during winter months. Although it was quite clear to islanders that the ferry system includes a logical extension of highway 20, the state government in Olympia still refuses to buy into the philosophy. That old debil clout and what doesn't happen when you don't have it is what it's all about. By the time we left the island more than 14 years later, I think there was an understandable sense of resignation about all matters ferry.
In our early 60s, we determined to embrace island life and quickly became involved in such entities as the San Juan Community Theater, Lions, Whale Museum, the County Fair and Pig War Barbeque. The latter was started by the wife of the editor/publisher of the Journal of the San Juans. Memory is a bit murky, but I seem to recall a phone call from her as a result of a feature about me in her husband's newspaper. Included was mention of public relations triumphs in Chicago and she figured I might be of help in getting the first annual bbq event off to a reasonable start.
The Pig War is about the only war reasonable thinking persons might applaud. It started in 1859 and lasted 12 bloodless years if you forget about the plugged pig owned by a Brit who lived on San Juan Island. The shooter, an American, also lived on the island and refused to pay $100 costs demanded by the Brit whose pig had intruded upon the American's potato patch. Armies faced off on the island where the Brits, with 2,140 soldiers, held a roughly 5-1 advantage. The sides got along marvelously and the few problems were prompted by the island's enormous stock of liquor. It was truly a tight little island with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas based upon lesser inspiration.
Jan decided our honoring of the Pig War should involve some kind of Chicago connection--perhaps a team of grill masters whose superiority would recall the notoriety of such Windy City institutions as councilmen, criminals, mayors, precinct captains and the Chicago Cubs. Recalling Chicago's rich and sometimes inglorious history, we found ourselves confronting an island artist of our choosing who indicated she could create a sign of reasonable significance that would bring attention to our team's name: Pig Al's Trickynoses. A bit on the serious side (we were never sure the wordplay registered), the artist questioned just what it was we had in mind.
"We'd like a personality logo. Think of a Chicago gangster wearing a derby. He has a very tough look and is drawn as a pig. He's Pig Al, a take-off on Big Al Capone." Suddenly, the woman's face lit up like the Chicago Theater's marquee. "Got it," she said, we added a few copy lines and a week later saw proof of her creativity. The sign was perfect.
The event attracted 22 teams that competed for awards including best ribs (it was an all-pork competition) and best sauce. Pig Al's Trickynosis (a press release, available at the team's stall, extolled the team's virtues) were aided and abetted by the Hooker Cookers and acappella renditions of songs associated with Chicago. Many attendees joined in while providing booze of greater intensity than beer and wine to the Hooker Cookers. The highly attractive HCers were dressed in Chicago 20s style and a couple got more than a little tipsy during the festivities.
Communications on the island were highly interesting. Islanders but a couple of weeks, we soon found rumor center, a mostly breakfast place called The Donut Shop. Located on Spring Street next door to Friday Harbor's only cinema, The Donut Shop's apparent rationale for being beyond food was as a starting point for stories of heightened titillation. Island rumors, their care and feeding, gave evidence of being in the hands of an islander of long duration who claimed he had conducted tests on the spreading of rumors. A favorite methodology consisted of telling a soon-to-depart for Roche Harbor fellow breakfaster a flawed whopper of incomplete detail. The amateur sociologist was a firm believer in man's ability to extemporize story components that needed bolstering and whose final form could very well impact the very substance of the original falsehood. His "studies" often utilized a traveresing of the road from Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor (a community 12 miles away), and the story's return to The Donut Shop brought with it versions of remarkable change. While not accomplished at a rate as fast as a speeding bullet, the tales of complex altered versions containing such diversities as a town councilman, King's groceries and a bag of cement required as few as 90 minutes to return to its place of origin.
Now living two hours from Friday Harbor, I'm certain the community's direction remains in the hands of five councilpersons and a mayor who guide the citizenry through such challenges as whether or not to post stop signs at intersections ever mindful that the island prides itself on not having a single stop light. The petunia planters were an entirely different matter.
As we know, capricious government is everywhere and further proven by the Strange Case of The Petunia Planters. It happened in Friday Harbor and was island comedy relief of 1995-96 while totally devoid of graft--the principal difference between Chicago government and the island. It was the owners of the Front Street Ale House who wanted to build a deck extension hard by Spring Street, the major connecter from the ferry. Al fresco dining was the objective but the owners were thwarted twice by councilmanic vote. During more than two years, the deck, tables, chairs, and petunia planters were in place awaiting the gastronomically-inclined. The town council believed the deck would force people off the sidewalk into vehicular traffic.
The Ale House appeared to finally win when a teetotaler councilman, having voted twice for the project, suddenly realized the restaurant served booze, then abstained (an interesting word under the circumstances) thus enabling the mayor to break a 2-2 tie coming down solidly on the side of petunia planters. The mayor's role in the decision was not of great surprise since the mayor had, once again, predictably done the bidding of one of the Ale House owners.
Public outcry ensued and the council went into a monumental dither followed by something of a fulsome funk succeeded by a decision to reverse itself. The petunias, seemingly ensconced on the deck, were doomed and I wrote a dream sequence column in the Islands Sounder featuring Mayor LaTrivia and council members Bumble, Grumble, Humble, Stumble, and Crumble.
Working with some fellow pranksters and the Ale House people, we organized services plus a petunia procssion similar to a joyous and jazzy New Orleans parade. Extended life for the petunias was realized when the parade was concluded at a restaurant entrance on Second St.
A suggestion to the Ale House was irresistible. Suddenly table-less, chair-less and planter-less, why not initiate a new culinary experience: Japanese dining on floor mats and called Sushi Deck-O-Rama?
That never happened. I do recall that two of the Council members back then consistently referred to those who live in Japan as "Japs."
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