Ferries etiquette 101

No fanny packs. No white pants. And don't eat the food on the boats.
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The locals will know you're a tourist.

No fanny packs. No white pants. And don't eat the food on the boats.

Although the media are reporting tough times for tourist towns, you'd never know it by the long ferry lines to and from Whidbey Island. As an islander living in Langley for the past 34 years, ferry talk is right up there with recycling the latest rumor that a new restaurant is opening on the rock. It's all about boats and food.

Fourth of July weekend was a biggie for the Washington State Ferries. I was on the morning sailing from Sidney, BC to Anacortes on July 3, and the line of vehicles in Anacortes stretched halfway into town. Here on the island on the Sunday after the 4th, there was a three-hour wait for the Clinton to Mukilteo ferry. Our son opted to drive back to Seattle via Deception Pass, which took him 2.5 hours. If there hadn't been a huge traffic snarl/jam on I-5 between Marysville and Everett, he could have made it in two. Although "driving around" is not what most people want to do, it's a scenic way to get off the island.

But don't let the long lines keep you away — my friends who own businesses and shops on Whidbey welcome your staycation dollars. Here are a few travel tips for those who plan to venture out this summer. Some serious, some not so much. Bon voyage!

1. Don't even think of heading up to the islands on a Friday after work. There was nearly a four-hour wait in Mukilteo for the ferry to Whidbey on July 3. Even Thursday nights have become long on lines, so get up early and catch the first boat Saturday morning. Usually there's not much of a wait.

2. Make sure you eat while in the Mukilteo ferry line. It's mandatory to either have fish 'n chips or an ice cream cone at Ivar's before you board the boat. Who cares if you're headed to a big barbecue on the island only a few hours later? Islanders know that Ivar's calories don't count. And with the 12 new ferry holding lanes that were added at the Mukilteo terminal in May, you're that much closer to the food source.

3. Don't eat the food on the ferries. The popcorn is too salty, the beer/wine overpriced, the coffee lousy, and other than some fresh/healthy food alternatives like fruit and yogurt, it's pretty slim pickins. Besides, you just polished off a tankard of Ivar's Famous Clam Chowder with extra crackers.

4. Don't dress like you're going to a tropical island. When you board either the Cathlamet or the Kittitas from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island, you are not off on a Caribbean cruise. You're still in the Pacific Northwest, so chill on wearing overly resort attire. And nix those white pants! We don't wear that stuff on the rock, so if you wanna sort of blend in, go for the casual post-hippie/rural farmer/entrepreneur look. No fanny packs allowed.

5. Taking photos and/or videos is OK on the boat. We know you're not a local, and it makes us sort of smile to see that you just took a couple dozen shots of a passing seagull. But please, no loud cell phone conversations; we don't really want to hear about your weekend plans or how much your stock has tanked. Texting and Tweeting are fine.

6. When you arrive in Clinton on Whidbey Island, please note the speed limit signs. Again, even though you're on an island, it's really OK to drive more than 30 MPH all the way into Langley. We appreciate you soaking up our sights and scenery, but keep in mind that the driver behind you may be trying to get to the feed store before it closes.

7. No gongoozling. This is my favorite word that I learned from a friend who grew up on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, which is home to many a gongoozler. According to dictionary.com, a gongoozler is "an idle spectator, esp. one who stares for a long time at something." Gongoozling is made worse by sucking on ice cream cones at the same time.

8. No goofy questions. I was recently up on Vancouver Island and stopped in at the tourist info centre in Qualicum Beach. The friendly volunteer said that they get some real doozies — like the person who asked if the island had fresh water on one side and salt on the other.

P.S.: We're salty folks.


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