Rockin’ A Hard Place: Giving more than a whit while off the Rock on vacation

Every once in a while I take a vacation off the Rock. Not least it helps to remind me why I love living here. At the moment, I’m just back from 10 days in search of intelligent life in America, with stops in two notable meccas — New York City and Washington, D.C. The trip was fun and informative, and my spouse and I did find all kinds of life, some of it intelligent. Now I’ve returned quite a bit poorer, somewhat worldly wiser and much more appreciative of our good life on the Rock.

If you are foolish enough to drive in Manhattan, it may cost you $75 a day to park. Since learning that, I will never again whine when I can’t find a free parking space on Front Street in Coupeville or Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. If you see a musical on Broadway, the cheapest ticket is usually $85 for a nosebleed seat near the rafters and upwards of $300 or more for one close enough not to need binoculars. You can buy a season ticket and see six or more shows at the Whidbey Playhouse or WICA for that.

One evening, we met friends for dinner at a four-star restaurant in New York. We were early for our reservation so we went to the bar for a cocktail. We were turned away; sorry, no drinks without a separate reservation, we were told. I now consider waiting briefly for a table at Toby’s, Flyers, the Knead and Feed or Island Cafe to be time well spent.

In Washington, we signed up for a Grayline Tour of the infamous Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., which is about 85 miles away. After standing in line for an hour to board the bus, it took another hour in gridlocked traffic just to travel the first 10 miles to get out of the District of Columbia. I used to grumble while stuck in the increased traffic on Whidbey’s two-lane Scenic Isle Way. Now I’ll just roll down the window and take a deep breath of fresh Whidbey air.

(Nonetheless, the Gettysburg tour was definitely worth the hassle. It was a haunting and timely reminder of the catastrophe that can happen when a nation becomes politically divided beyond repair.)

On our island, we Rock dwellers bump into people we know all the time and lengthy conversations about this-and-that usually ensue. In New York, however, everybody is deliberately anonymous; averting another’s eyes on the street or subway is simply good manners. Occasionally, that anonymity may be broken — but with sometimes awkward results. While I stood patiently in a long line to view some contemporary art at the Whitney Museum in lower Manhattan, proudly wearing my “Whidbey Island” baseball cap, a woman smiled broadly and remarked, “Whitby…you must be from the UK!”

Uh no, I proudly corrected. Whitby, you see, is a town in Yorkshire that was probably the ancestral home of Joseph Whidby, who sailed the ocean blue in seventeen hundred and ninety two under the Union Jack with George Vancouver and had an island in Puget Sound named after him, and that’s where I live now although the spelling was changed to Whidbey for reasons I don’t understand. There I went again, showing off all my Whitby-Whidby-Whidbey knowledge. Her smile quickly disappeared and her eyes glazed over. Too much esoteric information. We quickly resumed our well-mannered anonymity.

I’m blissfully back on the Rock after that sojourn. And at least until our beautiful summer evenings with daylight until 10 p.m. are behind us, I will be content not to search for intelligent life beyond Deception Pass.

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