Best of Fish & Bicycles: There Goes The Neighborhood!

Originally Published: August 5, 2010

No, the following headline is NOT from The Onion:

IHOP mascot Suzie Pancake assaulted at Bellingham restaurant

BELLINGHAM – IHOP’s mascot Suzie Pancake was assaulted by a bystander at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, outside of the restaurant at 3619 Byron St., according to Bellingham police.

A 19-year-old woman dressed in the pancake suit was outside the IHOP, waving at passers-by, when 22-year-old James Manas approached her and began yelling at her and hitting the suit with his hand, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young said.

A passer-by stopped Manas as he tried to hit her again; Manas then walked to a nearby bus stop, said Young.

Disturbing. I know. It’s the kind of thing you never think will happen in your town. It’s so A Clockwork Orange!

It’s funny, right after I read this story in the Bellingham Herald this morning, I started to take off on my bicycle for work and found that our car, which we park on the street in front of the house, had had both front windows wide open all night. Truth is, this is a common occurrence, arguably foolish complacence for sure, but crime is, fortunately, incredibly rare in our neighborhood.

Question is: Now that Suzie Pancake has been assaulted here in Bellingham, will all that change? I mean, what’s next? Will Ronald McDonald go on a crazed vigilante binge seeking revenge on Suzie’s behalf?

Best of Fish & Bicycles: When Wednesday became Sun Day in Bellingham

Originally Published: March 25, 2010

A friend of mine who lives in famously sunny San Diego sent me a link to an MSNBC item this morning, an item that our local Bellingham Herald didn’t even publish:

    Bellingham school cancels classes for ‘sun day’

    BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A forecast of warm clear weather prompted Bellingham Christian School to cancel classes today for a “sun day.”

    Principal Bob Sampson says sun day celebrates spring, promotes positive school culture and is “just for fun.”

    Because the school lost no days to snow over the winter, the principal says it can afford to take a spring day off.

When I moved to Bellingham in 1993, I knew what I was getting into in terms of the weather.

From Wikipedia:

    Although the rainy season can last as long as eight months or more, it is usually about six months long, leaving Bellingham with a picturesque late spring and mild, pleasant summer. Although Bellingham receives an average annual rainfall of 34.84 inches (885 mm), many long weeks of short and cloudy days are commonplace in winter.

Sunbreak is a word I never heard before I moved to Bellingham. I hear it on radio weather forecasts all the time, and yet a Google search provides no evidence that it is an official meteorological term. Search strings like “weather+terms+sunbreak” or “meteorology+sunbreak” yield absolutely nothing.

I did find a post by a fellow blogger in similarly rainy Portland, Oregon who mentions this colloquialism, and Googling “sunbreak+definition” finally brought me to this:

From Urban Dictionary:

    Sunbreak – When the sun appears in a cloudy sky for a little while, then gets covered again.

    Commonly used in Seattle, WA.

    Person 1: Sure is cloudy this morning.

    Person 2: Look outside, there’s a sun break, how beautiful.

I’d been living in Bellingham a few weeks, when, on one rainy day, I parked my car in a lot and, out of habit, ran towards the building I was heading into. I wore no rain gear. A man standing in front of the building, wearing a rain jacket with his hood up, unprotected by any shelter whatsoever asked with a sarcastic tone, “Don’t you just get wetter that way?”

I hate to admit it, but I spent a considerable amount of time pondering the answer to that obviously rhetorical question, and I concluded that even if it was true, even if, because the rain is not only coming down onto a running person but the person is running into the raindrops that they would otherwise miss, the obvious answer is that, yes, you do get wetter if you are not wearing a rain jacket with a hood in its upright and secured position.

Another anecdote: The first time I visited notoriously wet Western Washington, before I drove up to Bellingham, I spent a few days in Seattle. On one of those days it rained, I was in the University of Washington bookstore, I innocently asked someone who worked there if it’s true that it rains like that as much as people say, and the reply I got was, “If you live in California, I’ll say it rains like this everyday.”

But that’s another story altogether.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Bellingham: Art Mecca?

Originally Published: November 12, 2009

The lede photo here is of the new Maxxi museum of contemporary art in Rome, which, according to The New York Times, opens this Saturday.

Not to be outdone by those elitist, eurotrash Romans, Bellingham will open its own new museum the very same day.

While Bellingham does have a vibrant arts scene, up to now, besides the grand Mt. Baker Theatre, it’s been a scene of smaller theaters (iDiOm, Upfront, Pickford) and art galleries (Allied Arts, Blue Horse, Lucia Douglas). In order to see anything resembling what the Maxxi will offer, a 90 mile trip to the Seattle Art Museum, at the least, was a necessity.

Enter the new Lightcatcher Building addition to the Whatcom Museum.


I think that’s pretty stunning, myself.

And, in true Bellingham spirit, the building, designed by Seattle’s Jim Olson, with its use of natural light and ventilation, radiant floor heating, rainwater catchment and green roof is slated to meet the standard for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification.

That said, a new contemporary art museum needs more than a cool building. How exciting, then, to get advanced glimpses of at least one of the inaugural exhibits, a mysteriously beautiful installation titled Bloom: The Elephant Bed, by Seattle artist John Grade.


The city’s vision is for the Lightcatcher Building to be the centerpiece of a downtown arts and culture center, and from the looks of it they are off to a great start.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Bellingham and Me: Proudly Provincial

Originally Published: April 5, 2010

I like big cities, really, I do! Where I grew up, in Central New Jersey, I could drive 45 minutes to New York City, 60 minutes to Philadelphia, 3 hours to Washington, D.C., and 5 hours to Boston. One of the greatest things about living in Bellingham is that Seattle and Portland are only 90 minutes or 4.5 hours to the south respectively, and Vancouver is only 90 minutes north.

I love big cities…but I wouldn’t want to live in one.

For one thing, I’d miss items like this in the local paper:

Mallard Ice Cream to introduce new flavor at Sunday event

BELLINGHAM – An ice cream social to celebrate the naming of a new Mallard Ice Cream flavor will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 11, at The Leopold Ballroom, 1224 Cornwall Ave.

The new name and flavor will be kept secret until its Sunday debut. All that has been revealed so far is that the ice cream will be in honor of Kulshan Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable homeownership to people of modest means.

I love seeing people I know wherever I walk, I love that there’s usually only 1 to 2 degrees of separation here, I love that it takes me no more than 15 minutes to get from my house to the farthest parts of town that I regularly visit, and most trips are 5 to 10 minutes, I love locally-owned businesses, like Mallard Ice Cream, that become community institutions.

I know these these things aren’t really nonexistent in big cities, but I sure wouldn’t like Bellingham half as much as I do if they didn’t exist here.

Bellingham Herald Goes Tabloid

Shame, shame, shame on the Bellingham Herald, for their sensationalist tabloid reporting in today’s paper.

One has to wonder who at Western Washington University (full disclosure: my employer) pissed off who at the Herald, because two substantial hit pieces were published today — At WWU, few safety changes made a year after freshman’s death; WWU defends police chief’s vacation during search for Clark. And, even if someone was pissed, how incredibly irresponsible and unprofessional to vengefully publish two sleazy articles that try to expose problems that don’t even exist?! (More on that in a moment.)

As I mentioned last week, this is the biggest weekend of the year at Western, when 4,100 students move into their on-campus housing ahead of Wednesday’s first day of classes, with many thousands more students moving into off-campus housing. These students have an ENORMOUS amount of stuff they are dealing with: many are moving away from home for the first time, or moving out of the supportive on-campus housing communities for the first time, their tuition and fees have been steadily going up, there are fewer student jobs available on campus and off, they’re worried about getting the classes they need, about moving into their rooms, meeting their roommates in person for the first time, saying goodbye to their parents, buying books, getting their student ID cards, learning their way around campus, getting used to dining hall food, etc.

The LAST thing they and their parents need is a reminder of a terrible tragedy that befell a Western student shortly after move-in last year, a tragedy that hit me and the whole campus pretty hard, one that I wrote several posts about — The Value of a Life, The Terror of Being a Parent, Happiness is a Verb.

How can the Herald be so heartless? A lot of folks are still healing from that experience!

As I said above, the articles are blatant attempts to claim controversy where there isn’t any, offering absolutely no substantiation for assertions that Western hasn’t done enough to improve safety by educating students about the perils of drug and alcohol use, or that the University Police Chief was in any way negligent for having gone on vacation once the investigation of Dwight Clark’s disappearance was taken over by the Bellingham Police Department. The disappearance happened after Dwight left a house party held off campus, and all indications suggest that he headed to the waterfront from there, rather than returning to campus first.

Western can’t be expected to be responsible for safety issues off campus, nor the poor choices students often make off campus.

Speaking from the experience of ten years working at Western, the campus Counseling, Health & Wellness department works in concert with other departments all over campus, through a variety and frequently refreshed programs, to promote healthy lifestyles and safe choices, and, really, that’s about all they can do.

Precipitation Blues

The rain in Bellingham is legendary. It either drives people to depression, to move to Arizona, or to wear Gore-Tex.

Appropriate, then, that I’ve written about the rain quite a bit, in ways ranging from matter of fact, to dismissive, to angry as hell.

Well, we’re currently having one hell of a cold and wet spring…

Via The Bellingham Herald:

Bellingham on track for temperature record – but not the good kind

If temperatures don’t warm up in the next two weeks, Bellingham may beat its record for the longest stretch of days below 70 degrees.

As of Wednesday, May 25, Bellingham had gone 240 consecutive days without reaching 70 degrees, as recorded at Bellingham International Airport.

The record is 254 set in 1955, according to the National Weather Service, which keeps records for Bellingham as far back as 1949. In 1955, it didn’t hit 70 until June 6, said National Weather Service meteorologist Carl Cerniglia.

Now, if this was just a matter of our comfort level or our mental/emotional health, then I probably wouldn’t chime in on this news.

But, this is getting more serious than that.

Also from the Herald:

Lack of sunshine creating problems for Whatcom Co. farmers, dairies

As this cold, wet spring continues to deprive Whatcom County residents of much-desired sunlight, local farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about what this is doing to the crops.

Now, that said, I may have stumbled upon a solution.

This morning as I was donning my rain gear, preparing to pedal my bicycle to work in a nasty downpour, my wife suggested that I just drive to work, but I forced myself to get on the bike.

I got soaked…

…but then about 15 minutes after I arrived on campus the rain stopped, the sun’s been peeking out from time to time, and it hasn’t rained since.

So, what we’ve gotta do is get everyone to get out on foot or on their bicycles and act like it’s not raining at all.

It’s a kind of sun dance.

It could work!

Who’s coming with me?!!

Bellingham Burglary: Crime of Conscience?

Sometimes you have to read between the lines to find the humor in news stories.

Other times, it’s hard to distinguish between a real news story and a story from the news parody website The Onion.

Today, The Bellingham Herald posted a prime example of the latter:

Former Bellingham sports bar burglarized; condom machine stolen

A condom machine is missing and an ATM is damaged after the old Quarterback Pub in Sehome Village was burglarized early Tuesday, March 22.

One or more burglars entered the former sports bar through a roof vent sometime during the night and, once inside, pried open an ATM and stole a condom machine out of a bathroom, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young said.

Now, normally the comments section at the Herald is a very unpleasant place, a forum for the worst kind of polarized and unproductive political discourse.

But, as of this writing, this story has not only disarmed the usual suspects — there have been no attempts to politicize this thoroughly apolitical story — it has also inspired a string of funny retorts, some of them VERY funny, and I couldn’t resist posting a few of them here:

  • See, this is what happens when you cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • When condoms are outlawed only outlaws will have condoms.
  • Hopefully the idiot(s) know how to use the condoms so they don’t birth more idiots like themselves.
  • Prolly just some kids intent on screwin’ around.
  • condom machine ??? i thought that gum was awful chewy….

Bellingham’s Coal Train Blues

There’s quite a drama brewing here in Bellingham, Washington, my adopted hometown of 18 years, out on the edge of Puget Sound.

A little north of town, at Cherry Point, there is some land that has been designated for industrial use for many, many years. It’s already home to two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter, and yet it’s also adjacent to a 3,000 acre offshore aquatic reserve, created in 2000, with a new management plan implemented in November 2010 that garnered praise by both environmentalists and the local industries.

However, now there’s momentum building for the addition of a major shipping terminal at Cherry Point, a project that has stirred up passions from camps both for and against.

It’s shaping up to be an epic battle, a classic Pacific Northwest conflict pitting the very real needs for jobs and economic stimulus against the very real needs for environmental protection and public health. Already, as seems to be de rigueur in America, the public debate is polarized, treehuggers on the left and free market preachers on the right.

The treehuggers (a group that I’m mostly aligned with) are concerned about the impacts on the aquatic reserve, other natural habitats in the area, and particularly worried about the amount of coal dust that escapes into the air as the train rolls through town, since coal cars, such as those pictured here, are not covered.

The free market preachers, on the other hand, argue that they are tired of treehuggers saying no to everything and slowing down economic growth with their nitpicky worries about the trees, plants, and animals that don’t need jobs and don’t appear to contribute to the local economy.

All the more refreshing, then, to read this in today’s The Bellingham Herald:

A community group has been organized to gather information about the potential impact of increased rail traffic through the city if the Gateway Pacific cargo terminal is built at Cherry Point.

The group is called Communitywise Bellingham, and it has a website up and running.

“The big focus from my standpoint is adding light rather than heat to the conversation,” said Patricia Decker, a former city planning director who is heading the effort with her husband, Jack Delay…

But rather than oppose the project, Decker and Delay say they want to gather information and make sure that Bellingham impacts are considered and minimized as part of the study and permit process.

The truth is that the current economic situation in our county and state are a perfect setup for making hasty public policy decisions that could bite us in the ass down the road. Yes, we need more tax revenue and we need family wage jobs, but we also need clean air, clean water, herring, and salmon, and all manner of birds and mammals, etc.

So, good on Communitywise Bellingham for their fair-minded approach. The proposed operator of the shipping terminal, SSA Marine, has to complete a two-year environmental impact study anyway, a process that will provide for public input at various stages. Communitywise Bellingham is simply an effort to organize like-minded individuals who wish to participate in that public input process, to empower them to exercise their right to provide that input, and to ensure that their input is well-informed, fact-based, and persuasive.

The Woods Coffee: It’s All About Process

Photo source: Bellingham Herald

Blogging on current events, as with other forms of opinion journalism, can be a tricky business.

If you write about an event still in progress, you don’t know how things will transpire, and so, at a minimum, the chances of having to eat crow are steep, or worse, if you are particularly emotional about something, you run the risk of embarrassing alarmism.

At the same time, if you wait until after a given story plays out before jumping in with your commentary, you might find that there really isn’t anything worth saying by then, like jumping into a swimming pool that’s been drained for the winter.

In the case of the brief drama that recently played out concerning plans by The Woods Coffee to construct what the Bellingham Herald called a downtown art landmark in front of their new location in the Flatiron Building at the corner of Holly and Bay streets, I certainly had very strong feelings when I saw the photo I’ve included here, was tempted to post something right away, but I’m glad that I held off commenting until now.

Brief Backstory
The new Woods Coffee location is in a part of downtown that has been designated by the city as the Arts District Gateway, the center of a broader arts district that encompasses — all within comfortable walking distance: Mount Baker Theatre, Pickford Film Center, Allied Arts, iDiOM Theater, UpFront Theatre, Wild Buffalo House of Music, Whatcom Museum, Blue Horse Gallery, and a host of other smaller galleries and music venues to whom I apologize for not being able to name off the top of my head.

To christen said Gateway, the city solicited submissions of design concepts from artists for a large outdoor art installation, and the commission was eventually awarded to Seattle artist T. Ellen Sollod for her 22′-high piece titled Sentinel and Archimedean Seats.

Sometime later, across the street, a local donut shop, Rocket Donuts, installed their nearly-as-tall 1950s sci-fi movie rocket, bringing the total of large phallic symbols in the Gateway to two.

Back to the Present
Enter The Woods Coffee and their owner, Wes Herman. A very well-intentioned Wes solicited design ideas for what he felt would be his own contribution to the Arts District Gateway, an outdoor sculpture of a cup of coffee, with actual steam coming out of it. Wes even offered a $1,000 gift certificate to his own establishment as an award for the winning submission.

Via The Bellingham Herald:

“I’m really looking for something that is better and bigger than the ideas I have,” Herman said. “We want something that embraces this art district. We want the community to take ownership of it by coming up with a design.”

Great idea, huh? Very humble admission that he needs ideas better than his own. Recognition of Bellingham’s substantial pool of artistic talent. A desire for a kind of grassroots, community-born process.

How could it fail?

Well, Herman received over 70 submissions, and he and 12 employees juried the entries themselves, finally deciding on the design you see in the photo above. And then, thinking they’d chosen a really cool design, thinking it was equally cool that the designer is a student at our own Western Washington University, Wes announced the winner to the world…

  • the Herald ran the story with the photo on February 25th
  • within three days over 600 people “Liked” a Facebook Page created in response to the design, titled: “HELL NO!” to The Woods Coffee Advertisement Sculpture
  • on March 2nd, the Herald ran a story announcing that The Woods Coffee has decided not to follow through with a sculpture project at this time

And while it’s hard not to feel a little bad for Wes Herman, given that he really did have good intentions and a desire for community involvement in the decision-making process (remember, his employees are actual community members), it’s difficult to understand how he could have not predicted the reactions, particularly from those opposed to the use of a disposable cup in the design, and those who feel that the Woods name and logo turn a well-meaning sculpture into a glorified billboard. For all all his acknowledgment that Bellingham’s arts community is central to the city’s core character, which it most certainly is, that he didn’t think to pass over the disposable cup given that Bellingham has garnered national attention for being the gold standard of sustainability really sabotaged his own vision.

So, you see, if I had blogged about my strong repulsion to the design when I first saw it, given that the problem went away just several days later, I would have been guilty of knee-jerk alarmism, something I try hard to avoid, although I admit that I’m not always successful.

I think that the saddest footnote to the whole story is thinking about how incredibly easy it would have been to avoid the public backlash and for Wes to have been able to make his contribution to the arts district.

The Woods Coffee Facebook Page has 5,840 people following it and judging by the coverage of the design contest they received from the Herald, they very much had the attention of the only local daily paper as well. They could have narrowed down the submissions to maybe three finalists, posted the final designs to their Facebook Page asking for feedback, and the Herald would have likely run an article about the finalists, including photos.

Between comments on Facebook and the Herald‘s website, they would have known in a day that there were problems with the disposable cup and the advertisement. And then, if they still liked the student’s design the best, they could have asked him to make revisions to his computer rendering, not hard to do, and finally they could have gone public with their award and the release of a revised design, perhaps with a reusable ceramic cup sans company branding.

This all reminds me of something I wrote about in January, when Western Washington University unveiled their new logo to the public.

As mentioned, the student reaction to the new logo was overwhelmingly, vehemently in many cases, negative. And, besides the fact that they didn’t like the design of the logo, a subjective issue to be sure and the focus of the entry I posted, the other predominant complaint made, arguably a very reasonable one, is that, while students were involved in the design process, the design should have been unveiled first as a draft along with a period of gathering public feedback on the design, followed by an attempt to make refinements based on that feedback.

Yes, a process like that takes more time. But, the public likes to at least be asked for their opinion before final decisions are made that impact them. They might not always get their way, but not getting your way stings a lot less if you have had a chance to be heard.

Washington’s Coffee Fetish

With a projected state budget deficit nearing $5 billion, a gap that needs to be closed by the start of the 2011-2013 biennial budget on July 1st, it’s comforting to know that our elected representatives are hard at work in Olympia, pushing for…

…the establishment of coffee as the official Washington State beverage?!

Via the Bellingham Herald:

Washington has an official state fruit – the apple, of course – and a state vegetable, the Walla Walla sweet onion, which makes sense, too.

But if you want a state drink to wash them down, you’re out of luck.

That could change. Barbara Bailey, a Republican House member from Oak Harbor, has submitted a bill that would make coffee Washington’s official beverage.

Interesting priorities you got there, Barb, and funny considering what you say on your website:

The solutions to our challenges must take into account our state operating budget. With a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, we need long-term solutions that reset, reform and reshape state government. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I am working to set priorities, find answers to tough questions and balance the budget without raising taxes.

Coming to her own defense:

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bailey knows the state budget needs far more attention than another state symbol. Still, she sponsored the measure (House Bill 1715) at the request of high school students in her district who are lobbying for the measure.

“Why would I want to shut my door to students who want to learn more about government?” Bailey said.

You mean, even if what they learn is stupidity?

Listen, this is not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a stupidity thing.

(Note: I post this snark today, knowing full well it’s in stark contrast to my mission to accentuate the positive, alluded to in my recent back-and-forth with mr. spaceneedl. What can I say? I reserve the right to a cranky moment from time to time.)