Where's Johnny?

A search for Jack Sparrow on Vashon Island yields inconclusive results.

One of Vashon Island's best-known residents, Services Group of America CEO Tom Stewart, died in a helicopter accident in February. From Stewart's tragedy stemmed the most awesome rumor ever to hit the small community: A famous actor expressed interest in buying the sprawling estate the multimillionaire left behind. That actor was allegedly Johnny Depp, whose biggest commercial success came from his turn as a sexy swashbuckler in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Depp's presence would be considerably more exciting than that of other "celebrities" who have called Vashon home, including Cheers' John Ratzenberger and Family Guy's Alex Borstein. Hence, we volunteered, under the guise of intrepid reporters rather than star-crazed stalkers, to venture across the water to get to the bottom of the rumor.So is Johnny Depp currently, or soon to be, a resident of Vashon Island? That depends where you go and whom you talk to. Our first stop: The Hardware Store (17601 Vashon Highway S.W.), a popular downtown restaurant with a misleading name that serves standard American fare and cocktails with quaint names like Frog Holler (it's green). There we chatted with Karina Deutsch, a cute brunette bartender in her 20s who spends her free time at "a lot of beach parties and bonfires." Has this social butterfly ever run into Johnny? "My mom told me about that rumor," says Deutsch, who moved back to Vashon last year to be closer to her family. "She was, like, 'Somebody saw him at Burton Store (24002 Vashon Highway S.W.) buying PBR!' Then I come to find out four months later that totally never happened." We received more promising news from "The Bee Man," a Hardware Store regular whose hobbies include keeping honeybees and gazing at apple blossoms. He hasn't seen Depp buying cheap beer, but he confidently confirms that "he's buying Tom Stewart's old place. That's for sure. I've heard it from several different sources."Wanting another source or two to corroborate the Bee Man's assertion, we then visited the Vashon Tea Shop across the street (17610 Vashon Highway S.W.), a cozy space with 80-plus varieties of tea and shortbread cookies. A quiet customer named Mike Morgan revealed little, except that he enjoys the Hardware Store's all-you-can-eat pancake buffet and hiking in the woods. But a store clerk, who declined to give her name, was more talkative. Unfortunately, she was also quick to shoot down our hopes that Johnny could stroll in for tea at any moment."It's a total rumor—a rumor that's been dead for months," she says. "But when it was alive, everyone talked about it. Some people want more tourism, more traffic, more rich people. Others like the community the way it is."Regardless, she continues, the consensus in town is that "Johnny is a pretty good guy. It wouldn't be so bad if it was Johnny. It's a good thing it's not Tom Cruise."We agree, bid our farewells, and venture down the street into Spice Route (17530 Vashon Highway S.W.), an Indian restaurant managed by Fernando Luis, whose favorite Johnny Depp film is Pirates of the Caribbean 2. He enthusiastically tells us that he'd be happy to host Depp in the "pillow room," a sexy space at the back of the restaurant adorned with countless cushions, velvet, and candles. He is fun to talk to, but unfamiliar with the rumors. And we arrive too late for the lunch buffet.Enter Red Bicycle (17618 Vashon Highway S.W.), a watering hole jam-packed with locals who gather daily for the 5–7 p.m. happy hour. It serves strong drinks and sushi; we were too squeamish to sample the latter, but met a woman named Katie McKnight who described the yellowtail as "exquisite!" (We decided to take her word for it.)McKnight hails from New Orleans. The Hurricane Katrina survivor now lives on Vashon, where she owns five horses and drinks straight vodka with her friend Dick Bolmer, a retired carpenter who helped build the Kingdome. He has lived on the island for 45 years and hasn't set foot off it for two. He doesn't eat sushi, but he drinks screwdrivers. And he recommends we come back in July for the island's Strawberry Festival, so we can get "French fries, onion rings, and all that kind of crap."We inquired as to who now owns—or is looking to own—the late Stewart's property. Bolmer doesn't know. He claims, however, to have met Ratzenberger, who "once took down a telephone pole and all the power. It was a [car] accident. I think he moved off the island. He's a nice guy. I don't think he's here anymore." Then he adds, "He's gone. I think he's dead." (Reporter's note: John Ratzenberger is not dead.) It was time to move on. We saved Sporty's (17611 Vashon Highway S.W.), the island's most beloved bar, for last. Bartender David Mish boasts he knows everyone and everything about Vashon. He's blunt when it comes to Johnny: "That's bullshit. I heard about it in the Beachcomber [Vashon's local rag]. And then the next week they said it wasn't true." Given what we do to draw a paycheck, we're not a pair to root for a newspaper to screw up. But for Johnny? Just this once.*****CORRECTION: In this piece we give the impression that Johnny Depp began his rumored property hunt on Vashon Island only after the late Food Services of America CEO Tom Stewart's death. In fact, Depp allegedly began searching well before Stewart died. We hope, for the authors' sake, that his search ends soon.

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