Dark thoughts on Vashon's latest illumination

It has been brought to my attention by alert Islanders — though, given my attention span, why anyone would bother is a mystery — that there has been, within just the last few days, an astonishing 200 percent increase in the acreage of the Island’s scenic viewscape devoted to (some would say blighted by) terrifically distracting, flashing, neon, wide-screen retail video display signs in town. Which is to say they’ve gone from one to two: Thriftway’s trying to outdo Island Lumber. Clash of Titans.

I can imagine the Thriftway board meeting where this was discussed, can’t you? Some hippy-dippy liberal at the conference table says, “I don’t know about this idea. I mean, we’re an essential part of this Island’s soul; we have sepia-tinted photos of classic ferries right above our cash registers and everything! We’re all about providing contemporary quality in the context of long and revered Island tradition. Are we prepared to abandon this deep connection with all that is quintessentially Vashon?!”

Then this other guy, who looks and talks a lot like the gecko who’s the spokes-reptile for GEICO, says in his weird English Cockney accent, “Look ’ere, mate. You’re missin’ the entire bloody point! I mean, lookit’: ’Ere’s Island Lumber on a measly, no-account sidestreet jumpin’ up an’ down like a schoolboy in short pants and knee socks tryin’ to catch the eye of the headmaster, and ’ere’s us wit’ our very own ’lectronic sign right on the bleedin’ main street! So you tell me: ’oo’s gonna get the attention, eh, mate? ’Oo’s gonna get the traffic? And anyway, it ain’t about ’ow big your video sign is, innit? ‘It’s ’ow you use it, mate!”

The bleeding heart board member responds, “But wait a minute! We don’t even sell the same stuff!” But the poor devil’s drowned out like some lame back-bencher in Parliament during Prime Minster’s Question Time by hoots of, “Aw, go on!” and “Siddown ya idgit!” And that’s that.

In the meantime, the offended masses voice their complaints like some sorrowful Greek chorus: “It’s an Electronic Epidemic! A Technological Tsunami! The beginning of the End Times for All We Know and Love about this Island!”

Having written about the subject of animated video signs once before and having been soundly thrashed by the Island’s libertarians (both of them), I have concluded that the time is right for a more thoughtful, measured view of these developments. So instead of giving in to popular hysteria I spent a few moments interviewing what became clear was a very well-briefed staff at the Thriftway. And I present below their thoroughly rational arguments on behalf of the new sign and, of course, the counterarguments of its detractors. After all, we’re all about fairness here.

1. The new sign is far more energy-efficient than the old one. The bleeding hearts’ response to this assertion was instantaneous and blistering: “Look, you send us a full-color newspaper circular of your grocery store specials in the mail every single week and who knows how many trees you kill and streams you pollute by doing so. You think maybe a street sign reminding us of a couple of those specials is gonna change our minds about what we need at home tonight? Like we’re driving up the highway from the ferry and we see on the blinking sign that cantaloupes are two for a dollar and we slap ourselves upside the head and say, ‘Hey, I need to get me some melons!’ Think that’s gonna happen? I don’t think so.”

2. The new sign is electronic, so we don’t have to send kids up on rickety ladders in the rain and cold and dark to put up those black plastic letters like with the old sign. To which these same anti-progress fuddy-duddies argue, “Well, you certainly don’t want to send old folks up those rickety ladders, now do you?! And besides, aren’t there child labor laws?”

3. The new sign gives us competitive advantage in difficult economic times. The Island’s Luddites struggle with this one for a while — because, well, let’s face it: Nobody wants a beloved business to falter — and then the light comes on: “Hey, wait a minute! It ain’t like you’re competing with QFC and Safeway and Fred Meyer and Whole Foods out here in the middle of nowhere in Puget Sound, ya know?! There’s only one other market here, and it occupies a wholly different market segment. You don’t have any competition in the first place, for goodness sakes!”

Such are the rantings of those who would stifle competition, progress and growth on this Island. Me, I have a completely different take on this issue: Here’s this splendid supermarket, stocked every day with virtually anything even a gourmet cook might need and staffed by some of the nicest, friendliest, most knowledgeable and helpful people on the planet ... and somebody thinks they need a garish new electronic sign to secure our custom?

— Will North is a Vashon novelist. His next novel is set on the Island.

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