In the last month I’ve traveled by car, ferry, train, taxi, bus and private car to and from Port Townsend, Wash. to visit family. As an Islander, I couldn’t help noticing that the Washington State ferries, particularly the ones between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, are incredibly well run. They are spacious and the fare (sit down and breathe deeply) is $14.25 roundtrip for a car and driver. The ride is about seven miles or so, in sheltered water (no big doors) and there is plenty of room to get out of your car instead of having to be tiny or a contortionist to maneuver out of one’s vehicle. And yes, you did read the fare correctly: $14.25 for a round trip ticket, and for much of the year reservations are unnecessary.

Back on the Vineyard, not only does the ferry trip cost a whole lot more, try taking a taxi from the ferry terminal, something I have not done for some years. The rate sheet for my street in West Tisbury, approximately five miles (and no traffic) from the ferry, was between $28 and $34, depending upon specific location. Any stop in Vineyard Haven costs a minimum of $7, Aquinnah is $70 and I was in such shock that I didn’t read the fares for Chappy. This calculates to well over $7 or so a mile, which seems rather hefty considering that the van was many years old (are we being charged extra for antique vehicles?), the price of fuel the lowest in decades, and the driver still learning Island roads. The driver was so apologetic that I didn’t ask what they charge if there are multiple passengers and several different destinations.

This leads inevitably to some questions. Considering the cost, why do folks come here? For the very expensive accommodations? The even more expensive rental housing? The pretentious and overpriced restaurants (few of which are open at this time of year)? The shops specializing in providing high end merchandise to outfit high end houses? Narrow roads and, in the summer, incredibly crowded streets? Crowded venues and expensive tickets? Exposure to ticks and their nasty diseases? Actually, considering the incidence of tick borne diseases, price gouging could be the lesser evil. Oh, and don’t forget those taxi fares. Again, where is the regulation on this?

There was one bright spot and that was being greeted by Bridget at the VH terminal with a big smile and a hearty hello; although she did mention that she’d recently come back from a month visiting family in Oregon. As I thought about my own experiences and the tone of the Island, it seems that the Vineyard’s message is “go west young man” and that includes men and women of all ages.  

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Port Townsend it is very similar to the Vineyard in many ways. It is a very progressive and environmentally aware community with rising real estate prices and a somewhat skimpy economic base — hence the similarities.

One huge difference, though, is that while many residents have very small lots (5000 square feet is common) there are city services (very expensive), and ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units of up to 800 square feet) are allowed. Indeed, many houses have ADU’s. However, and here is the difference, they are utilized as per the intention for their creation: for family members, for affordable housing, for young couples starting off and for older singles or couples. The ADUs must comply with all building codes and can only be rented on long term leases (strictly enforced) at reasonable rates, and not used for short term/weekly rentals. 

Another big difference is that not everyone is in the construction/landscaping/catering business. The population does swell in the summer but without short term rentals the numbers are more moderate. And with lots of space, the traffic is far less offensive or noticeable (even in August). The private jet problem doesn’t seem to exist, although a nearby island military airport does schedule “touch and go” training which can be noisy.   

Some of us are deeply rooted in place and very loyal to our own Island. The ties are incredibly strong, however the seeds of change, and the desires to “emigrate” are slowly germinating. Why live in a place which is so greedy, one where the economy is based on such a tenuous and fiscally improvident base? Why put up with millions of tourists on an Island which is much more comfortable for a few thousand committed residents?    

This is not a xenophobic view as many would declare; it is actually about encouraging and promoting our Island way of life, and not grasping and gouging for the last thin dime. Ultimately, this may be democratic socialism (as per Bernie Sanders?) but, perhaps, it is also a matter of cultural survival.

Meanwhile, sign me up to drive for Uber.