Lee's Whidbey: Where is Oak Harbor?

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Where is Oak Harbor?
by Lee Brainard

Remember the old bumper sticker, "Where the heck is Oak Harbor?"
(It wasn't 'heck' but this is a family publication.) The last time I remember seeing one was on a car in a ferry line in England, of all places.

Speaking of bumper stickers, we don't seem to see as many as we used to. Maybe people with new cars don't want to mess up their shininess with sticky banners. Except, of course, at election time. You can still see a few Clinton-Gore stickers, and even a Nixon-Agnew, on an old beater around town.

One of my favorites is one I saw on the freeway in Seattle: "So many men, so few who can afford me."

And one a woman friend of mind had, not on her car but on her desk at work: "Of course I don't look busy, I did it right the first time."

Now for my lament.

The travel articles about Whidbey Island that I've had the misfortune to read, from the East Coast to Seattle and the Deep South to California, all seem to skip Oak Harbor. They start out with a ferry ride to Clinton, stop for lunch in Langley, meander on through Freeland and Greenbank, then maybe have a picnic at Fort Casey or take a walk through old, historic Coupeville.

Now and then you'll find San de Fuca mentioned, but not often, and only because of the Captain Whidbey and Penn Cove Mussels.

At Coupeville, visitors get back into their vehicles and head north . . . to Deception Pass! What happened to Oak Harbor? It might be mentioned in some articles that Navy planes fly in and out of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. But for the people who live on North Whidbey, it's as if we don't exist.

We know Oak Harbor is the largest city on Whidbey Island, but as far as travelers go, it's nowhere. They could at least mention we have a lot of car dealers, the only WalMart on the Island, North and South 7-11's and Blockbusters, a Big Kmart and Big 5, besides supermarkets and a zillion fast foods . . . but the highway just zings right through it all.

Everyone knows . . . or is told by these so-called visitors . . . that we have a plethora of parks on the Island, both county and state. Besides Fort Casey there is South Whidbey State Park (closed in the wintertime) Fort Ebey, Joseph Whidbey Park at West Beach, and of course the biggie, Deception Pass State Park.

I remember Dorothy Neil telling me one time about a friend of hers. He lived next door to her on what is now Barrington Ave., and made his living writing for travel magazines. He would sit down at his typewriter at home in Oak Harbor, and write about whatever attraction the travel magazine of the day wanted. Snoqualmie Falls? "Sure, I can do it." And he would bat out a thousand words on Snoqualmie Falls.

Or how about a resort somewhere in the state? Lake Quinault? Sure!
He collected brochures (the ferry is a great place for brochures) so he'd find one that applied to whatever he wanted to write about and just do it. And never had to leave his home in Oak Harbor!

I'm not saying that all travel writers work that way, but why not if you can get away with it. And no one at the magazine, which is published back east, knows 'cause they've never been there. If they want photos, that's a bit of a problem. But everyone knows someone who has been there, so borrow a photo from a friend and give the photographer a credit line. They love it!

I remember reading an article written just after World War II about the Navy on Whidbey Island. The writer . . . the article appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer in 1945 . . . sat in his car in Langley and wrote the story. He even admitted it. The dateline was Langley, Washington, and he said he was sitting in his car watching the airplanes while he was writing about our great Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

I still have the article; I think I ran it in Spindrift Magazine some time ago. He did mention Oak Harbor, but only because he couldn't get around it, since this is where the Navy recreates (and that's a nice way to put it!)

Nevertheless, Oak Harbor does have a few great things going for it besides the Navy. It has a talented community playhouse, a growing community college, an old downtown, a classy marina for boaters, a country club for golfers, and three yearly festivals . . . Holland Happening the last of April, St Patrick's Day, as near to the big day as they can (no parades on Sunday, this is still a Dutch town), and the 4th of July. They also feed the homeless, support their kids (we hope) and have more service organizations than you can shake a stick at.

And to top the list, we have one of the best City Beach Parks in the state, with lots happening there in the spring and summertime, including Little League games, which I can watch from my window.
And . . . it doesn't cost anything to park!