MUSINGS FROM THE LAUNDROMAT | Small town life in the big city

One of the joys of living on Queen Anne when I moved there with my husband after living in New York City was the sense that Queen Anne, although part of a large city, was a small town. Our kids walked to school, neighbors dropped in on one another unannounced and the stores were mostly one-off, locally owned shops whose owners we knew by name. There were block parties in the summer and neighborhood sports games, which often ended in gatherings at someone’s home.

Although I’ve been gone for a while (I live in Ballard) and when I do return am amazed by the corporate culture and traffic that has taken over Queen Anne Avenue. But I imagine that Queen Anne still feels that way to the folks raising their families there. I hope so. Even in New York City, where I lived for many years, my neighborhood of Greenwich Village had its own mini-culture and community. I knew my neighbors and frequented the same shops each week. It’s possible to find that if you want it, and is worth the work it may take to get it. And when you do, it is something to cherish.

This summer, my husband and I are traveling on our boat, meandering our way through the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands. As I write this, we are crossing the Strait of Georgia on our way to Desolation Sound where the mountains are majestic, the water is warm, and there are numerous coves and inlets in which to drop anchor and enjoy the nature and wildlife all around.

While in the Gulf Islands, we stopped on Galiano Island, a frequent layover because of its protected harbor, Montague.

We decided while there to do something we had always meant to but never did: Ride The Bus to the Pub. An old, yellow school bus, driven by Tommy picks up folks from the marina and adjacent campground in Montague Harbor, and takes them round trip to the Hummingbird Pub. The bus’ exterior is decorated with hummingbird decals and “Pub Bus” signage. As you board the bus, Tommy greets you cheerfully and hands you a percussion instrument.

Just above Tommy’s seat are cymbals, bells and a tambourine sits where the horn used to be. As the bus takes off, music blares over the speakers playing old familiars like Yellow Submarine, Blueberry Hill and Ring of Fire. Passengers shake their instruments and sing along as Tommy drives with one hand and uses a drumstick to play his instruments with the other. Even those who resist at first can’t help but join in! Every so often, Tommy stops the bus to tell a story or point out a bit of local culture.

In the pub we met a couple from Cornwall, England, with whom we had much to talk about. The next day, taking a walk, we ran into them on the road and jumped in their van for a tour of the north end of the island, which led to lunch on our boat, and finally margaritas at the marina pub.

The following day, I made an appointment at the health clinic on the island to deal with a pesky little problem I was having. As there are no buses or taxis, we went ashore to investigate our options. We asked Ralph, from whom our Cornwall friends were renting mopeds, what he suggested. “Hitch!” he said. “It’s the main way to get around Galiano.” But then he remembered that he needed to go to the clinic to pick something up, and offered to drive us. Ralph gave us a brief tour of the south end of the island and suggested that since we had a few hours to wait until my appointment we have lunch at the Galiano Inn and then walk the 20 minutes to the clinic.

All patched up and ready to go, we walked out to the main road and stuck out our thumbs. Nothing. Car after car passed us, mostly tourists off the ferry. When it began to seem hopeless, I said to my husband, “I wish Ralph would come along.” The next car was — you guessed it — Ralph and he picked us up and took us back to the marina. But on the way, he had to stop at the Corner Market to get ingredients for a dish his wife was making for Tommy’s birthday party!

On our way to the pub that night, our Cornwall friends and the rest of the passengers sang happy birthday to Tommy, which surprised and delighted him!

Chatting with Tommy before heading back to the boat that night we learned about another connection. A marina neighbor who plays violin with the Seattle Symphony travels on his boat to Galiano every year. He rides the bus and plays at the Hummingbird with a fellow symphony member. One year, he invited Tommy out to his boat for a beer. He played his violin, practicing for an upcoming concert while Tommy relaxed on the boat. By the time he finished, kayakers had surrounded the boat and the lucky audience applauded when the music ended.

Galiano, with its bucolic scenery and undeveloped rusticity, is a beautiful island, made all the more special because of the generous and caring people on the island. Anyone who has lived in a small town, on an island or in a close community knows that they have their ups and down. But to live in a place where people pay attention and are there to help when needed is a rare treasure in our busy world. It is within our power and ability to create such communities if we so desire. That’s what Queen Anne was for me when I lived there. I hope wherever you live, you find the same.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS ( is a freelance writer and essayist who lived on Queen Anne for 20 years and now lives with her husband on a sailboat in Ballard.