Tom Tyner drank his way through town...

Tom Tyner will discuss his essays on island life March 5 at Eagle Harbor Books. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Tom Tyner will discuss his essays on island life March 5 at Eagle Harbor Books.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

...And that’s a lot of lattes, but it began his now-storied career as a local columnist.

Beware the eyes and ears of Tom Tyner.

By day he’s an attorney for a nonprofit group, but day or night he’s on the prowl for funny material for his weekly Review column, “The Latte Guy.”

And the island is filled with it.

“By nature I’m an observant kind of person,” said Tyner, who calls himself a magnet for “offbeat, visually interesting things.”

All he needs is one or two funny images or jokes or stories for a column to take shape. Almost anything can inspire Tyner: ferry rides, something buried in the newspaper, his children’s activities.

“I do read a lot, a couple of newspapers, a lot of magazines. The material is there,” said Tyner, who came to local fame a decade ago by reviewing every latte stand on the island for the Review. “I’m looking for columns, I’m looking for stories. It doesn’t take too long to see something amusing, an idea.”

Tyner and fellow Review columnist Sally Robison will discuss their work on March 5 at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

“We’re going to talk a little bit about the process of writing columns and finding a voice for a columnist,” Tyner said.

He is toying with the idea of making this sound like “a horrible, painful process” to dissuade potential competition, but in truth he doesn’t mind writing at all.

“Not in the least,” he said. “I find it enjoyable and pleasurable, especially this column. It’s kind of an escape.”

Tyner’s writing routine goes like this: He has an idea in mind, sits in front of his computer and – without rising from his chair – has the finished product in an hour or so.

He might do a couple of drafts and polish it up, he said, before meeting his Friday morning deadline.

“I only do one column a week (and) it’s only a 500- to 600-word humor column,” he said. “I’m not solving world problems.”

Instead, he’s casting a happy eye on the goings-on around him and imparting his view with gentle humor.

“I’ve got kids that thrust me into those environs – band, soccer, Little League,” he said, and these activities have produced some of his favorite columns.

Tyner also enjoys regaling readers with tales of his weekend warrior obsession with his garden and power tools.

But some subjects are taboo, such as personalities and “civil issues.”

“I do purposely try to stay away from politics for the most part. It’s such a sensitive subject,” he said. “I want people to come away feeling good.”

Tyner also shuns issues like the bridge, the ferry and road improvements” because he doesn’t think they’re interesting.

“I have to find it sort of amusing,” he said.

His biggest fan

Unlike many writers, Tyner reads his own columns as soon as they come out in the newspaper.

“I’m religious about it. I like to see myself in print,” he said unabashedly. “I’m a pretty soft critique. Occasionally, I will spot something that doesn’t ring quite true or I make a note not to use that kind of joke again.”

He self-published his first book, “Skeletons From Our Closet: The Literary Latte Columns 1993-94,” 10 years ago. It contains 18 months’ worth of “The Latte Guy” columns, which started with an “only on Bainbridge” moment at Ace Hardware.

As Tyner ambled through the store, he marveled at the sight before him: next to the checkout stand loomed a John Madden cut-out next to an espresso cart, which in turn sat near stacks of wood pallets and compost.

As he sipped his drink, he started thinking about all the latte stands on the island and how he could write about them. After all, he reasoned, he was only working part-time and had a lot of time on his hands.

He used that time to visit 20 establishments. He wrote reviews about 12 of them and submitted these columns as a group to Becky Fox Marshall, then-editor of the Review.

She decided to run 10 and gauge readers’ reactions. Nobody complained, so she gave Tyner the go-ahead to do more.

“There were 24 latte-serving establishments on the island (at that time),” Tyner recalled and he drank his way through every one.

After that, Tyner turned his pen to the island’s tanning salons, all four of them.

From there it was an easy jump to “whatever was going on living on the island.”

That writing-go-round lasted two and a half years. In 2004, he revisited the latte scene at Review editor Douglas Crist’s request, which turned into a general humor column that appears every Wednesday.

Tyner works for the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that buys and sells land. The real estate work he does is “fun, but different.”

He has produced articles for legal periodicals as well as short stories and other pieces, but never worked as a journalist or wrote for a newspaper before starting his latte column. His second book, “More Skeletons From More Closets,” will be published by June.

Tyner was born, raised and educated in Southern California. He and his wife, Wendy, a Canadian, found Bainbridge via friends of his some 20 years ago.

When it came time to leave California’s “density and traffic and wall-to-wall people,” they made the move and never looked back.

Despite its changes over the years, Bainbridge “is still a pretty special place,” Tyner said. “I think the island is managing it. It still looks like an island.”

Tyner is very satisfied with the life he leads and hopes writing stays a part of it.

“I would like to keep writing indefinitely,” he said, “as long as I’m funny and timely. I enjoy it. I have not yet run out of ideas.”

* * * * *

Island prose

Bainbridge Review columnists Tom Tyner and Sally Robison will discuss the art of humor writing at 3 p.m. March 5 at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

Tyner’s book, “Skeletons From Our Closet,” features his reviews of espresso stands from 1993-94 editions of the Review. His second volume, which covers many more topics, will be called “More Skeletons More Closets” and is due out by June.

Robison’s columns, written over the course of eight years, are assembled in “A Permanent Guest’s Illustrated Guide to Bainbridge Island,” Book One (Winter & Spring) and Book Two (Summer & Autumn). All the books are available at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

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