Only on Vashon – The Weekly Rundown 10/01/2023

Only on Vashon – The Weekly Rundown 10/01/2023

History is repeating itself, as we again rehash our feelings on the pressing issues of our times, which I swear we talked to death just two weeks ago, but here we are again, complaining about sandwich boards.

This is  the part of a sprawling post that spawned a 140+ comment thread:

I like the rigorous, scientific approach to this issue. We need a  control group and a test group. We need to see the ledgers of each business, and account for any confounding variables that might influence sales, such as the weather, the seasons, and the global economy. I wonder if we could make it a double-blind study, where businesses don’t know if they have a sandwich board out?

Someone has no idea what we’re talking about. They say, “Where are all these sandwich boards I keep hearing so much about? That’s an honest question, so it may also say something about how effective they are. More likely it says something about my attention span.”

I know what this commenter is getting at. So many times I’ve been unable to locate the sign-in button on a website because it looked like an ad, and my mind blocked it out. At some point, we just stop seeing the clutter. 

Another person is in the same boat, if you will. “ In the maritime industry we call it placard fatigue. There are so many, everywhere, that they just get ignored.”  

This raises an important question, why does the maritime industry have problems with signs? Are there signs in the water? What are they advertising?  Is it, like, mermaids with signs saying, ‘come hear our beautiful songs’? 

Someone thinks the signs are there to serve a different purpose. They say,  “also possible that the signs are there to discourage the tourists from walking on the sidewalks & drive them into the road🤷🏻‍♀️

Well, that’s not very sporting of us. Tourists are already so easy to pick off.

In the town I come from in Connecticut, there is a ban on billboards and public advertisements. A local farm got in trouble for putting up a sign that said ‘EGGS’. So they flipped the word backwards, claimed that that made it art, and have since not had to take it down. 

I hereby propose all sandwich boards be printed backwards, thus making them public art rather than commerce. 

People researched and posted laws, which I didn’t read because they’re long and in small print and also I don’t care. The big question, though, was, who would enforce those laws? Someone spoke to the cops about the scourge of billboards, which ought to be arrested for violating ordinance number 23 or whatever, and the cops didn’t care. Did you know they don’t even make handcuffs big enough to fit around a sign. Someone says that sounds more like a county issue. Maybe call the King County Roads hotline, like when there’s a tree blocking a street. They could come and trim the tops off the sandwich boards. 

Others take issue with the esthetics. One says,  “I find them cheesy and cheap. Vashon is starting to look like the shady parts of cities with signs in front of pawn shops, nail salons and massage parlors.”

I support anything that brings down property values, so feel free to plaster my neighborhood. 

We get deeper into the esthetics discussion. Someone says, “This post seems more concerned with aesthetics, which is KILLING ME because downtown is UGLY and we are focusing on sandwich boards and trash cans?!!!!”

They go on to describe the esthetic failure of our island, “Whole neighborhoods sold on vinyl siding and cheap masonry.”  This sounds like an Allen Ginsberg line- I saw the best minds of my generation replace herringbone tile with linoleum.

We go into the horrors that people have wrought on our beautiful town. One person says, “and people painting brick buildings brown. WTF?”

Another adds, “same mentality as gluing cheap shag carpeting onto an oak floor.”

Okay, we get it. Vashon has no class. We don’t appreciate the beauty of natural materials and feel an urge to cover them with glitzy artifice. All our furniture comes from Ikea. 

No one appreciates good architecture anymore. 

A remnant from when they used to build beautiful things. 

One person goes so far as to describe their family’s own fall from grace. “The old Victorian houses are drafty creaky mouse dens. The New McMansions are hermetically sealed charmless caves. Change my mind.”  Wait, are you trying to sell us on mouse dens? I know I said I want to lower property values, but not in a way that invites rodent-borne plague. 

But at least we can agree on one small, beautiful detail: “I do love the little rhubarb patch next to the scabrous water fountain.”  Me too! I would be afraid to eat that rhubarb, though. 

One islander reminisces on when they took direct action against the ugliness: “When I was a teenager, we just stole them 🤣 lmao Sorry but there was literally nothing to do for teens on this island back then.”

Someone asks, “why stop?”

Finally, we have a novel solution. One commenter says, “Maybe instead of sandwich boards, there could be a more visually appealing permanent kiosk for wooden signs, maybe with arrows, near the main intersection where businesses could pay a small fee to have their business posted.”  

Would this be, like, an information booth? Will it be staffed? Can I be the giver-of-information, answering people’s questions and pointing them to the various Vashon destinations? My qualifying  skills are: I can point both to the left and to the right. Pay me double, and I’ll point both directions simultaneously. 

We have this cyber-dystopia vision of how to manage public advertising: “Idea: Suspend large monitors above the 4-way, facing drivers in each direction, and flash paid messages until it’s time for that lane to go, then flash a green YOU GO NOW! Slide. Two problems solved!” 

Maybe people will then come to see our flashy advertisements, much like people go to Times Square to see two-story ads for underwear and the Lion King.

Speaking of signs, there’s one that no one has complained about yet. The fire danger sign needs our attention.  One islander poses this question: “The sign about fire safety off of Vashon Hwy (near the Country Store) still reads High. How long does it have to rain before it gets to Medium or Low?”

The answer: the sign will change as soon as it gets vandalized. 

One person tells us, “The best was the Halloween years back when some joker covered the one on the north end with a big, spray-painted “Zombie Danger” sign with the gauge marked to High. Didn’t stay up long, but I remember it almost every time I drive past.”

For a real answer – the island is still dry, and if you dig down under the top layer of soggy mud, you’ll find dusty ground. So give it a few more good soaks before you set off your illegal fireworks or burn those sandwich boards you’ve been stealing. 

Anna Shomsky
Author: Anna Shomsky

I'm a former teacher and a data engineer living on Vashon Island. My writing has appeared in Five on the Fifth, Women on Writing and on the Post-Culture Podcast. I wrote and produced the radio show Whispers of Vashon for 101.9 KVSH. I’ve had short stories published in the anthologies Island Stories and Chicken Scratchings, as well as through the Open Space Literary Project.

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