Air conditioning!

Remember I said the weather was unseasonably wonderful? I loved the warmth, but I felt really sorry for the island's local folks when I found out most of the buildings on Whidbey (including all the Navy buildings — what were they thinking?!) have no air conditioning.

There were interesting side effects of this decision. For example, the hotel rooms had air conditioning, but the hallways didn't. This meant the hotel had little table fans going almost constantly in the hallways, because it got so breathlessly hot there. It was a very pleasant hotel, though, with a lovely little heated pool and a nice fitness room — much nicer than the hotel by Seattle-Tacoma Airport, even though they were equally priced, and of the same chain.

Private property

One other thing there was a lot of was real estate offices. Also, while I didn't see many personal homes, I'd guess on an island there aren't many basements. I don't know for sure, though. I know in San Jose there aren't any to speak of — it's earthquake country, after all. People use their garages for storing stuff, instead of basements. In St. Louis, by contrast, I think everyone there must've had basements. Cars in the garages — what were they thinking?! ;)

There's some worry amongst the island's local folks about real estate development breaking up the land into such small chunks that only tract housing will fit. I realize it's a complex subject I'm not read up on, but I had a curious thought on that subject. People buy tract housing because it's all they can afford, not because they want cheap or shoddy homes. So if folks don't want the land divided up into tiny tract housing, why not make the land itself less expensive, so folks can afford to buy and care for it more easily?

Jobs

Apparently there's a real lack of viable jobs on the island, which I suspect contributes greatly to the need for housing development. I overheard no less than three different conversations on the subject while there, and from what folks were saying it sounds like fast food is unfortunately the best bet in the job market for kids and bored Navy wives.

On the other hand, all the folks I met in restaurants and fast food places were all quite pleasant. I'm guessing they don't get as much nastiness as you can see here in San Jose. After all, the folks they're serving are their neighbors, not complete strangers. As an example, we went into a combined Taco Bell-Pizza Hut (that was a first for me), and the guy behind the counter was friendly and helpful! They all spoke good English, which was nice, and we both noticed with some curiosity they were all White.

Food

Every place we went the food was very fresh — they even had good bacon, which I've not been able to find in San Jose for a while. Curiously, we saw something similar in St. Louis while we were there — salads and fruit were fresh and delicious! San Jose, despite being in the middle of some of the most fertile cropland in the country, doesn't have nice fruit or greens for sale here. We speculate it's because the best food is shipped out — the farmers keep and sell locally the stuff they can't sell elsewhere.

People

I don't know if it's because Oak Harbor is a small town, but there seemed to be a very different sense of privacy there, as opposed to either St. Louis or San Jose. For example, at one fast food place a girl came in and was pretty much openly and cheerfully discussing her date of the night before with her co-workers on duty — with customers present and easily able to hear.

I've never seen that in San Jose or St. Louis, although I'd guess it's because you don't really know most everyone in a city. Also, in San Jose it's enough (and sometimes startling) to just smile or nod in passing. In Oak Harbor I was myself startled several times by receiving that, plus a hello — usually before I'd initiated the greeting myself.

It made me wonder: if you're in a small town and pretty much know everyone, do you not worry as much about hiding things, because you know your neighbors will eventually find out anyway? Do people just assume no one's a stranger?

Pleasant reactions

The whole week was surprisingly full of extremely pleasant people — folks who were sometimes just astonishingly polite. I didn't notice a single screaming kid all week, which I most heartily approve of! This unusual level of politeness started before we even got to the island. At the Mukilteo ferry, where we stopped at a dockside store for a drink, their soft drink dispenser wasn't working. So the two ladies there just gave me an entire bottle for the same price. It was startling, but the kind of pleasantness we'd notice happening a lot over the entire week.

Another thing we noticed only after we returned to San Jose. We were in a "Friday's," eating dinner, and Bob pointed out there was no place on Whidbey Island (excluding the Navy airport) where there'd been as much noise as there was in the Friday's. It was obvious, too, the Friday's was set up to actually increase the noise level, i.e. metal ceilings to reflect back sound, and no cloth or dividers to soak it up, lots of TVs playing everywhere, etc.

We speculated it was because lonely or bored people mistake auditory overload for excitement, fun, and happiness. "If it's this noisy we must be having a good time, right?" -that sort of thing. I rather liked the slightly calmer, quieter, more deliberate pace of the island, in comparison.

There was a funny example of courtesy on the island as well. At one point several members of my family (I think the average age was almost 40) were gathered together at night in a hotel room to play cards. It was hot, so the door was open. Eventually we got rather enthusiastically loud, and a tattooed young man who couldn't have been more than 25 wandered by the open doorway. He apologized for interrupting us, but asked if we could tone it down a little, please? Folks were trying to sleep.

In all my life I've never been at a party so raucous that folks have asked us to tone it down. Who would ever have imagined it'd finally occur with such a group?! ;)

I am corrected! On 7/7/04 John, a long-standing friend, wrote me: "It's happened that the party has been asked to quiet down before, you just didn't notice. It happened at 2 of the barn house parties you attended that I can remember. Admittedly, a looong time ago…"

Gracious, I've been so wild — and not even noticed?! What am I doing wrong here? ;)

The closest thing we saw to rudeness was a driver who accelerated around a right hand turn on red in front of us. He didn't really inconvenience us, though, and he was driving a white low-rider pickup with fuzzy dice hanging off the rear view mirror, which made us giggle so much we really didn't care.

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