Sunday, December 1, 2013


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The image above is of a page from the BMW owner's magazine (Roundel - Nov. 2013), of  a column written by Nikki Weed titled, "The 1 Series travels to Devil's Island."

As poorly researched, written and disguised a journalism piece as that is, it is even more surprising that the reputable carmaker BMW's magazine editors would print her submission.

But, we'll let you read it for yourself, as many Islanders already have.  (You may want to go to the Roundel website and print your own copy for easier reading.)

In the interest of fairness, and at least the resemblance of balance, Weed and her editors ought to retract their words with an apology, and perhaps print a selection of some of the comments representing a more realistic (and positive) side of Washington Island, not just the thinly distorted slice presented by Weed.

A well-written, solid response to Ms. Weed was written by youngest son, Thor Purinton, visiting over Thanksgiving.  He "penned" his first draft using an iPhone, while waiting in line for the ferry at Northport.   His comments (Nov. 30, 2013) follow:

Dear Ms. Weed:

I write to you today regarding a column you wrote entitled, "The 1 Series travels to Devil's Island," published in Roundel magazine, November 2013.  What you said in that column about the people of Washington Island, and ferry captains in particular, was insulting and offensive.   I demand - and expect - an apology from you and your editor.  It's unfortunate that you seem to have had a bad experience there, and I do not presume to tell you how to feel.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion, whether or not I find it offensive, but your editor should certainly know better.  "Devils Island" is a pretty thin veil - enough to protect your publication from accusations of libel, perhaps, but transparent to any reader familiar with Door County geography.  There is, after all, only one island in Door County with regular car ferry service, and the list of ferry captains in Door County is a short one.  All of the people on that list I call friend, and two of them are members of my immediate family.  It may surprise you to learn that at least one of them is an accomplished author.   I'll let you use your sharp journalistic skill to figure out who that may be…

It's difficult, as I write this, to avoid attacking you personally, as I did just now.  I apologize for that, and for those quips that may slip through hereafter.  Such is the visceral nature of my reaction to your column.  But let me be clear:  I want to be your friend, Ms. Weed, and in the spirit of friendship I'd like to try to clear up some of the obvious misunderstandings in your piece.  First and foremost, the only ill will you will find on the island is that which you bring with you.  In your column, you adopt a tone of being in some sense better than the locals you encountered.  Now, looking down your nose at every one you meet is hardly the way to make friends, is it?  I think all of us, yourself included, tend to get defensive in perhaps an abrasive way when confronted by a stranger who considers himself - or herself - their better.  That's just human nature.

Since we're already on the subject, I'd like to talk a little more about your tone and your intended audience.  Your tone seems to be that of an urban, upper-middle-class automobile enthusiast who looks down on those in less "civilized" areas, in tougher economic circumstance, or who don't happen to bear a striking resemblance to Ann Coulter.  I'm worried that you, by writing from the perspective of a typically urbane BMW owner out for an adventure among the rustics, are doing a disservice to other BMW owners, many of whom are in actuality well-adjusted adults.  That your editor read and approved the piece before publishing speaks to the contrary, and is a condemnation of his or her diligence.

The other misunderstandings are relatively straightforward. Calling the Island uncivilized is perhaps obvious to someone from an urban area, and let's face it, what most others would call a small town seems big to an islander.  But what exactly were you expecting to find there?  Curbs?   Traffic signals? A Starbucks nestled at the foot of a twenty-story office building?  I would argue that the bedrock of civilization is a sense of community, a cooperative spirit.  These qualities are necessary for a community that relies mainly on tourism for its economic well being in a climate that permits at best a five-month tourist season, and I'm sure you can understand that a column such as yours, even in a reasonably obscure car club newsletter, raises our hackles a bit.

Also worth noting, Old Style is not the libation of choice on the island.  It's probably a close race between Anheuser Busch and Miller products, just like the rest of America, but you may be surprised to learn that Capital Brewery, of Madison, Wisconsin, brews a number of beers exclusively from grain grown on the island.  There is also a line of spirits, under the moniker of "Death's Door,"  distilled near Middleton, Wisconsin, from Island-grown ingredients.  Both beer and spirits are quite tasty, and I invite you to try them at your leisure.   If none can be had where you are, I'd be happy to mail you a sampler.

And now to your jab at ferry captains, your coup de grace as it were.  You begin by saying that you missed the last ferry.  If you like, I'd be happy to explain what a schedule is and how it works, and answer any questions you may have about what time the 5:00 boat actually leaves.  I suspect you may have been a little angry at yourself for missing it.  All of us who call ourselves islanders know how that feels.  It certainly was lucky that there was an extra trip that night, or some innkeeper or there would likely have had to square off against a crafty, fast, multisyllabic speaker armed with such vertiginous and obtuse bits of thrasymachian sophistry as to make Plato himself blush in frustration.

In summation, I am not happy that a self-described "random blonde" came to the place I call home, insulted it and the people with whom I share it, and then went out of her way to insult a captain who was certainly my friend, and may also have been my brother or father.  For that, I require an apology. As you may expect, an island full of American steel is pretty short on subscriptions to Roundel.  I suggest a heartfelt, concise apology be sent to the local paper, the (Washington Island) Observer, at:
    Washington Island Observer
    1253 Main Road
    Washington Island, WI  54246

Going forward from there, I'd like to invite you to visit the Island again.   I would relish the opportunity to prove to you how wrong you were, to show you the places and introduce you to the people that make this island so special.  

Very Sincerely Yours, Thor Purinton

PS:  I've taken the liberty of reading the portions of your blog that aren't password protected, in an effort to get a better sense of your background and writing style.  You'll find I am follower number twenty-two.  It occurred to me that your column was maybe a misguided attempt at humor, which to be perfectly honest, is a whole lot more troubling than a simple bad experience or misunderstanding.  Make no mistake, Ms. Weed, to make game of a community in that manner is mean-spirited, and belies a profound insecurity on the part of the author.  So, I wasn't all that surprised to learn that you have had trouble with eating disorders, it being the case that those disorders are often rooted in one's self-image.  Battling that sort of thing takes no small amount of courage, and you have my sympathy and support. But, I promise you, your road to happiness will be much smoother if you can find more positive ways to express yourself.

Cheers - Thor

A few observations on the craft of English composition:   You will find that readers take what you have to say more seriously if you can refrain from describing things, and especially yourself, as random.  You will also find that relying less heavily on parenthetical interjections will force you to structure sentences in a way that is clearer and more direct.  It's a habit that's hard to break, I know.   I once went through a phase when I thought that frequent use of semicolons made me sound more intelligent. It certainly did not.  Good, sound, inexpensive advice on the nuts and bolts of writing can be had at many community colleges all across this great nation of ours, and I am confident that you would be pleasantly surprised at how rewarding mentorship in the areas of creative and expository writing and poetry can be.    

-   T

[A "well-done" to youngest son, Thor, who originally learned about the Roundel piece from Facebook connections with Island friends and was inspired to try to balance the record. - Pops]

   -   End  -


Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how slack-jawed I was after reading that "article" in the Roundel. Having vacationed in Door County for 20+ years, and living in a tourist town in Illinois, I am shocked that an editor would publish such a column. Thank goodness Thor replied! Please blog the response (if he gets one).

Don Kilpela said...

Rest assured, Richard, that all of ten people actually read her drivel. The BMW magazine? Haha.

Bill Tiobey said...

That wedding ferry got Her Ladyship off the island? I'd say the luck was definitely on the islanders' side.

Happy Holidays to all!

Kate said...

Excellent response written by Thor!

FYI - Nikki Weed is currently working on another piece:

It might be a good idea to reach out directly to the BMW Chapters with an invitation to visit the Island. :)

Richard Purinton said...

I believe Hoyt Purinton - on behalf of Washington Island Ferry Line and its employees, has addressed the editor of the BMW club magazine, to obtain a retraction and he has asked for a "re-do" (but not with Ms. Weed). - DP

steve cutler said...

Obviously she hasn't experienced the island like most of us have. All I can say is that the island is an amazing place. I had the privilege of spending lots of time there and the people are awesome. I guess rich snobby people can't handle small town life. Just remember you can't believe everything you read and thank you to all the islanders including the ferry boat captains for all their work getting people like me who love the island back and forth safely.

Mark Dewey said...

As someone stated in a comment on one of the many posts on Facebook, the positive in this is it has united the residents and friends of Washington Island in defending its character and integrity. And, as I stated in a comment to Thordur's excellent response, she managed to get probably several hundred people to read it rather than perhaps a few dozen.

Anonymous said...

I agree that using parentheses is a bad habit (I do it all the time), but in my defense, I remember reading Wiliam Faulkner in high school who wrote in run-on sentences (often with not one, but up to three levels of parentheses (with the third level running for perhaps a page or two)) which was so annoying that trying to find meaning in his writings was like trying to find a BMW dealership on the Island.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a 1980s-era joke:

A yuppie is driving his sports car down the highway. He hears a noise from under the hood and pulls over at the side of the road to investigate. Upon opening the driver's door to exit, a large semi rushes by too closely, tearing off the car door.

The sheriff immediately comes upon the scene and hears the yuppie whining.

"Oooohhh, my Beemer!" the yuppie cries.

The sheriff responds, "You yuppies are so materialistic, it makes me sick. You are so worried about the missing car door on your BMW that you don't even realize your left arm has been ripped off as well."

The yuppie looks down where his arm used to be. "Ooohhh, my Rolex!"

Richard Purinton said...

I hestitated (for maybe, 5 seconds) before posting the above comment / joke, made at the expense of those who drive BMW vehicles, many of whose lives, I'm sure aren't centered on their car or wristwatch. Nevertheless, such jokes reflect a common perception by the non-BMW owners. Wouldn't BMW wish to perk up their image a bit, and sell (if not to the masses) to a broader range of the driving public?

Are there also jokes by BMW owners about themselves? (Made in knowing jest, rather than one, big joke as provided by Ms. Weed.)-- DP

Anonymous said...

As an island outsider(and one who has driven there in a BMW), I have always been treated with warmth and respect by Washington Islanders.

Judging by Ms. Weed's writing style, I would say that the lack of sophistication was all on her side. You would think that people who think of themselves as being so far above it all would find better writers for their publications. As for her snobbery, she only embarrasses herself.

Captain Purinton's blog has far wider readership, and deservedly so. So much for unsophisticated island life.

Best regards to the Island and all of her friends and family. I am in exile and can't wait until I can return.

Jan Riordan