Rock-Speak: Off, on, up and down the island | Rockin’ a Hard Place

Over the years, we Whidbey dwellers have developed our own language. Let’s call it Rockish. It usually consists of a phrase or two mingled into common America-speak, which itself is derived – some would say deteriorated – from the Queen’s English.

Take, for instance, “off-island.” This Rockish phrase may convey several quite different meanings. When we tell a neighbor we are headed “off-island,” it may draw a disapproving scowl or anguished expression.

The hearer interprets it to mean that the Rock dweller is sneaking off to America to do something unsustainable, non-local, ungreen, climate-degrading, selfish, materialistic, etc.

Things like buying double-ply toilet paper at Costco, or eating fast food from a drive-through, or loading up on cheap California wine at Trader Joe’s, or lusting after stuff we don’t need at an outlet mall.

“Off-island,” therefore, may be interpreted as something not good for the Rock or the Rock dweller. But it may also have a less toxic meaning.  Something like, “We’re going to visit friends or grandchildren who unfortunately live in America,” or “We’re off to a concert or a Seahawks or Mariners game.”

Such cross-cultural exchanges are deemed acceptable because they help build peace and understanding with tribes in America. Even if fossil fuels must be burned in the process. We Rock dwellers are big believers in peace and understanding among all tribes.

Lately I have become intrigued by a new phrase creeping into our Rockish language: “up-island.” This is a culturally loaded and dangerous phrase because it publicly exposes the tribal fissures within our beloved Rock that we sometimes pretend don’t exist.

I heard a friend from Langley use the term “up-island” a few months ago when he rather sheepishly told me, “I really hate to do it, but I have to go up-island for a medical appointment next week.” Now I live in Coupeville but I never say I have to go “down-island” to catch the ferry or grab a bite at Neil’s Clover Patch Cafe in Bayview. So why would someone from Langley say they’re going “up-island” and then add the negative qualifier that it’s something they “have” to do?

Blame it on the Rock’s micro cultures. Clinton, Langley, Freeland, Coupeville, San de Fuca, Oak Harbor. Not to mention the “planned communities” along the way like Teronda West, Ledgewood and Sierra Country Club, to name a few. Yes, we’re all Rock dwellers but we’re not all the same. And furthermore we don’t like to be identified with the others, or at least the ones we don’t much care for.

My Langley friend would rather pay for a ferry ride to buy a garden tool at Lowe’s in Lynnwood than drive to Home Depot in Oak Harbor. My Oak Harbor friend rarely sets foot in Langley because he isn’t quite sure folks there support the Constitution. Living in Coupeville, I try to stay neutral in such intra-Rock squabbles.

Besides, Langley’s just too far to drive and Oak Harbor’s just too big. And the Red Apple in Prairie Center has just about everything I could need.