Roundabout the end of July, the people on San Juan Island can start getting, shall we say, a tad bit irritated with the tourist congestion. At our island, the ferry lets cars and people off in Friday Harbor, our main town. All the cars unload and drive up the main street past all the businesses. So, when the ferry unloads, it might be a wait at the grocery store or a few times around the block to find a parking spot right adjacent to where you want to go. The beautiful thing is that we island residents are lucky enough to have it our way for the rest of the time. Still, Summer seems to try our patience. I think we have been fortunate for so long that we come to expect it. It goes without saying that the tourist brings dollars to our economy and therefore we are able to have fine restaurants, good theatre, and many stores that otherwise would not exist here in the outback.
But those obvious reasons are not what I think is the true gift of the tourist. The true gift from the tourist is seeing our island in a fresh way through their eyes. You can catch a glimmer of their excitement as they jump around at the ferry terminal, hardly able to contain themselves at the trip on a ferry. On the boat they may bring cameras, binoculars, or simply stand on deck for the entire trip. It takes the boredom right out of you if you are a frequent rider.
When tourists arrive by walking off the ferry, they appear to be in a state of surprised shock. They are finally here! They cannot believe it! They are looking about deciding where to go first. They are asking silly questions like “When do the whales go by?” They want to know where to get the very best hamburger. They ask you if you live here “full-time” and gasp when you say yes. Where ever they are from it is not here, and their joy in our island lets us appreciate anew how truly lucky we are to reside here. Seriously, let’s face it islanders, we were nearly all tourists here before we became residents. The tourist is a gift to remind us of what brought us here and what made us decide to stay.