Ron Judd

Welcome, Western! Please don't run over the deer

Insider 'Ham hacks for the newbs
September 21, 2022 at 5:20 a.m.
Mount Baker looms behind downtown Bellingham. It's always watching, and it's closer than you think.
Mount Baker looms behind downtown Bellingham. It's always watching, and it's closer than you think. (Ron Judd/Cascadia Daily News)

Executive Editor

Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Not you local grumps. All the new folks.

It’s that time of year when Whatcomites look out the window with disgust each morning because they honestly cannot remember the last time it rained — and when those who live in the south end of Bellingham look out the same window and realize they live in a very different place. 

Namely, a suddenly crowded one, with the doors spinning freely on that giant walk-in beer fridge room at the Sehome Village Haggen, and freeway exits clogging like an undermaintained RV toilet twice daily. This can only mean one thing: Western is back in town!

We kid, Western. Actually, yours truly has a long history with the institution, beginning with an undergraduate (ahem) career and record parking violations in the early '80s, and culminating with many years inside classrooms, teaching journalism, history and other anti-lucrative endeavors over the span of some 15 years, until a few years ago, when they sold the last parking spot to some rich kid with a Tesla from Archbishop Murphy High School.

This four-decade brush with Subdued Excitement has granted the author sufficient chutzpah — not to be confused with wisdom — to pass along to incoming students some friendly user tips here in 2022, The Year We All Started to Wonder What Happened to Our Catalytic Converters. Please consider the following tried/true WWU/Bellingham “hacks,” as the kids say these days:

The (Iconic) Acid Ball is a thing, not an event. Sorry, but it’s true. Really it’s just a big steel ball, a remnant of a former pulp mill that used to pump megatons of pollutants into Bellingham Bay, for the purpose of toilet paper and other products, all while filling the air with the scent of rancid tuna salad. Some people won a contest about what to do with the Acid Ball: The idea was to shove it over near the water and cover it with some glistening-snot roadway treatment that’s supposed to make it sparkle and look cool at night. Which it doesn’t.

You should get your coffee at SBUX. This will support the growing labor movement there and also leave the good coffee places open to the rest of us. Sorry. It’s just a rule.

You’re going to have to adjust your meal times. Most restaurants start packin’ up and preparing for closing around here soon as it starts to get dark. Unfortunately, in winter months, that’s around 3:30 p.m. here in the Lower Arctic Circle. Did you know you’re now living in the northernmost burg of more than 50,000 souls in the continental US of A? That often gets left out of the brochure. Grief counselors with SAD lights are standing by.

Don’t expect much face time with your Ph.D-bestowed professor. We personally know many exceptions who are passionate, talented instructors who put teaching first. They’re out there, but it’s a crapshoot. Let’s face it — your average six-figure-public-till-draining tenured prof these days is less a teacher than an elite academic. This means they are (understandably) focused on conducting important research that informs the rest of us just how stupid, lacking in foresight, mired in the past and generally ineffective we are.

Anyway, you get the point: If you need something, please text your underpaid, undergraduate TA. 

Important traffic note: Yes, those really are original pioneer wagon-train ruts in the streets around the Exit 252 Samish Way offramp serving as your gateway to your new city. This is said to be a result of the overly excitable, Santa Cruz-north City Council declaring the ‘Ham an Asphalt-Free Zone back in 1989, the same year kazoos were banned in public Spaces of Serenity. Since then, Public Works officials apparently have been limited to repairing street gouges and potholes only with week-old gluten-free tortillas. With mixed results.

Our multi-gen mix is a feature, not a bug. Lots of Q-tips (older folks) and deer live among us. They move sort of slow through crosswalks and fumble around with stuff. But we love them. Please don’t strike them with your vehicle.

You'll see lots of campers on city streets. Like many places in the U.S., we struggle with a homelessness problem. It’s ongoing, has gotten worse and is troubling. And it’s not for lack of many good folks trying many different solutions. Be aware and be empathetic.

It's a beautiful place; don’t mess it up. In spite of its less-than-auspicious beginnings, the ‘Ham has grown into what, as time passes, is a livable enclave, situated at the navel in a magical region along the Salish Sea. If you doubt this, get out in Bellingham Bay someday (really, you should find a way to do this), and if you can withstand the riptide chop, admire the place you’ve chosen to live, with islands surrounding you and that impenetrable wall of Cascades to the rear.

Koma Kulshan is watching over us, even when we’re not watching back, which some of us find comforting. Everyone needs a mentor.

Bottom line: We're glad you're here. The place is a bit slow without you. A quickened pulse beats a flat line every time. Lean into the wind, and enjoy.

Ron Judd's column appears on Wednesdays. Email:; Twitter: roncjudd.

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