BY HARRY ANDERSON
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
November 18, 2015
Halloween’s come and gone, but I’m still scared half out of my wits. It was bad enough to be confronted by all manner of vampires, goblins, witches and Caitlyn Jenner look-alikes at those parties on Oct. 31. But the real horror began after midnight—at 2 a.m. on Nov. 1, to be exact.
That marked the annual “fall back” to Standard Time. Until then, it had been getting dark around 6:30 p.m., but that Sunday afternoon it started getting dark at 5:30 p.m. And, in about a month, it will be pitch black not much later than 4:30 p.m. That can be terrifying everywhere, but much more so here on the Rock.
Why is it worse on Whidbey? Three words: Driving after dark. Ask anyone who drives down Saratoga Road to Langley at night. Or Maxwelton Road. Or West Beach Road. Or Jones Road, east of Hwy. 20, north of Dugualla Bay. Or Lone Lake Road or Goss Lake Road.
Or even our beloved, if spooky, Hwy. 525/20.
When I lived in big cities like Los Angeles and Dallas, driving after dark was no big deal. Lots of big mercury vapor lamps all over the place made it bright as day pretty much everywhere. But as soon as I moved to Whidbey, I starting hearing people say, “Oh my no, I never drive after dark. It scares me to death!” Of course, like any newcomer, I thought they were all a bunch of wimps. Who’s afraid of the dark? Grow up, people!
But in relatively short order, I learned why it is that so many people here make dinner reservations at 5:30 and prefer afternoon matinees at The Clyde. Yikes! It gets really dark! And the few road lamps you see along our country byways seem to have 25-watt bulbs in them.
And can we talk about high-beam headlights? Everybody on this Rock is so small-town polite and civil when you meet them at the market or on a hike. So careful not to offend. But why is it that some of us become rude, inconsiderate Big City jerks when it comes to high beams?
The other night I was heading south on the curve by the Navy’s Outlying Field near Coupeville. First, I was blinded in my rearview mirror by a set of those LED lamps that surround headlights on some new cars. I thought I was being pursued by a warlock from Hogwarts. Fortunately, the warlock turned left on Welcher Road, an area notorious for witchcraft.
But then I was caught in the oncoming glare of some high beams so intense that I thought I was having a Close Encounter of the Third Kind and was about to be abducted by aliens. I gritted my teeth and let out a progressive’s howl at what I assumed was a big tractor-trailer driven by some thoughtless off-island Teamster on his way to deliver a bunch of stuff made in China to some big-box store in Oak Harbor.
Imagine my chagrin when I saw that the giant coming at me in the other lane was actually a Prius driven by an elderly woman. I thought high beams were illegal on a Prius. Don’t they violate that whole hybrid, use-less-energy, greener-than-thou narrative?
That experience left me simmering with very unkind, very un-Whidbey thoughts. I knew I had to change how I live. Want to meet at Prima Bistro for dinner? Let’s make it 5:30. I’ll call for a reservation!
Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.
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The thing Harry has most probably not yet experienced is the diminished night vision of older folk. (I really, really don’t want to count myself among them, but…) While we may scare other drivers, it’s nothing compared to how scared we are as we fumble our way down the road, every single light within sight assuming an aura that should surround only certain enlightened people, not their cars. So far, I’ve resisted driving with my high beams…but those days, I fear, are numbered. I’ve heard tell of night vision goggles designed to cut down the aura effect, but I want to warn Harry in advance: when you pull up next to me and I’m wearing a pair of these, it’s going to be far scarier than looking into my high beams. And, I admit, far safer.