Ballot Box Exceptionalism

In the wake of last Thursday’s primary election, I’m thinking once again about Vineyard exceptionalism. This is nothing new. I’ve blogged about it, I rant about it, sometimes I obsess about it. But first here’s how my candidates fared:

  • Paulo DeOliveira won his race for Dukes County register of deeds. This is not surprising, since he’s got the most experience and was highly recommended by the retiring incumbent, his current boss. What might have been surprising is how handily he won it: garnering 68% of the vote in a four-way race is an impressive mandate.
  • Marc Rivers lost his race for Dukes County sheriff to Robert Ogden. Disappointing, but not too surprising.
  • In the state senate race, I wound up voting for Sheila Lyons, who lost convincingly to Julian Cyr — 38% for her, 54% for him — but this was a win-win race and I think Cyr’s going to be great. He does have a GOP opponent in the general election, however, and scuttlebutt has it that the GOP has made this race a priority. So it ain’t over yet.
  • In the contest that had me watching the incoming vote tallies on MassLive all night and posting occasional updates on Facebook, Dylan Fernandes scored an impressive 48% of the vote in a five-way race, a tribute to his experience, his energy, and an inspiring grassroots campaign. He expected to take his hometown of Falmouth (which he did, with 68% of the total) and was saying he needed to run a strong second on the Vineyard and Nantucket to win. He did.

The candidates for sheriff and register of deeds all live on the Vineyard — not surprising, because these are Dukes County offices and Martha’s Vineyard makes up about 99 percent of the county. In the state senate race none of the candidates were Vineyard residents, neither the two Democrats nor the two Republicans.

Yours truly wearing the T-shirt of the SECEDE NOW movement that protested the Vineyard's loss of its very own representative.

Yours truly wearing the T-shirt of the SECEDE NOW movement that protested the Vineyard’s loss of its very own representative.

Of the five candidates for state rep, however, one lives on the Vineyard, one lives on Nantucket, and the other three live in Falmouth. This is why in the course of the campaign I frequently heard the argument that only someone who lives on the Vineyard can adequately represent the Vineyard.

Once upon a time, the Vineyard had its own representative in the state house of representatives and so did Nantucket. That ended in the late 1970s when the house shrunk from 240 members to 160 and the Vineyard, Nantucket, and part of Falmouth were bound together in what is now the Barnstable Dukes Nantucket house district. This district, like all the other house districts, comprises about 40,000 people. Unlike all the other house districts, you cannot get around Barnstable Dukes Nantucket by car. It poses, to put it mildly, a logistical challenge.

Since the house was shrunk, I don’t believe the district has ever been represented by a Vineyarder, but at least since the early 1990s the rep from this district has had a legislative liaison on the Vineyard to help keep him (it’s always been a “him”) current on Vineyard issues. Once someone is elected, they tend to get re-elected barring conspicuous incompetence, which has not happened in the three decades I’ve lived here.

This year the incumbent, Tim Madden (of Nantucket), decided not to run again, so we had a real horse race to succeed him. One of the hopefuls, a genial, articulate fellow, was from the Vineyard. For many people that settled it: The best person to represent the Vineyard is the one who lives on the Vineyard, QED, vote for this guy.

I do believe that long residence on the Vineyard can make a difference. If a candidate from, say, Falmouth and one from the Vineyard seem equally qualified, I will go for the Vineyarder, the same way I’ll go for the woman, or the person of color, when otherwise it’s six of one, half dozen the other. Because a certain expertise, a certain potential, comes with who one is in the world. (This gets into the huge, and hugely contested, issue of identity politics.)

Seen from a slightly different vantage point, however — well, Barnstable Dukes Nantucket may be logistically challenging, but the issues confronting Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties are remarkably similar: an economy based on tourism and the second-home market has made housing unaffordable for many working year-rounders, leading to an emigration that threatens the fabric of our communities; the heroin-opioid epidemic; the fisheries and shellfisheries; and environmental challenges, including those related to climate change. Someone who grasps how these issues affect, say, Nantucket is well on the way to grasping how they affect Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth.

The remaining question for each candidate: How do you propose to keep in touch with — listen to — your constituents in the parts of the district where you do not live?

Dylan Fernandes impressed the hell out of quite a few Vineyarders by knocking on their doors down long dirt roads, handing out leaflets and listening to their concerns. No candidate had ever called on them before. The fact that the guy lived across the water was not going to keep him from representing Martha’s Vineyard. The Vineyard guy, however, lacked Fernandes’s energy and Fernandes’s experience. For this voter, Vineyard exceptionalism went out the window.

Dylan Fernandes, Democratic nominee for Mass. state house of representatives

Dylan Fernandes, Democratic nominee for the Mass. state house of representatives

Julian Cyr, Democratic nominee for the Mass. state senate

Julian Cyr, Democratic nominee for the Mass. state senate

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Primary 2016: Fernandes, DeOliveira, Rivers, ??

State elections are usually held on Tuesday, but this year’s Massachusetts primary is tomorrow, and that’s a Thursday.

Some years primary elections are pretty ho-hum affairs. Not this year. This year no fewer than four incumbents are retiring or otherwise stepping down. The result is that all four Democratic primary races are contested, and in two the fields are downright crowded.

Which leads to a dilemma I wish we faced more often: How to choose, how to choose? When there’s an incumbent, it’s pretty straightforward: How’s the person doing? If there’s any opposition (and usually in the primary there isn’t), is it time for a change and is the opponent likely to provide the change you’d like to see?

With no incumbent, none of the candidates have experience in the office they’re running for, though they’ve all got experience in other, often related areas. It’s up to us to evaluate that experience and assess each candidate’s potential to do well in the position they’re running for. There is no scientific, objective way to do this. Earlier or later, gut feelings play an important role.

The blessing about most local races is that “the media” don’t play a large role. We are not bombarded 24/7 by pontificating pundits or glitzy TV ads. (I’m not bombarded at all. I don’t have a TV.) Campaigning consists mainly of mailings, yard signs, candidates’ forums like the one sponsored by the League of Women Voters last month, newspaper coverage, endorsements by local leaders and organizations, and word of mouth.

Endorsements can be crucial.

Endorsements can be crucial.

With four races to deal with and no prior preferences, I’ve been paying attention to how I make up my mind. In the race for register of deeds, word-of-mouth was decisive. There are four candidates running. I met Paulo DeOliveira at the candidates’ forum in August. He was outside introducing himself to voters and passing out flyers listing his qualifications and experience, all of which were impressive, not least that he’s currently the assistant register of deeds. Decisive for me, however, was the incumbent’s support. I ran into her at the fair a few days later and mentioned that I’d met Paulo and thought he looked pretty good. She said she wouldn’t be retiring if he weren’t so ready to step into the job. That did it for me.

The absence of word-of-mouth is why I’m still undecided about the state senate race. Both Sheila Lyons and Julian Cyr impressed me at the candidates’ forum. I’ve read their campaign literature and visited their websites. They’re both excellent candidates. I am, in a word, still undecided. So are several of the politically astute friends I’ve discussed this race with. We’ll see.

Marc Rivers, candidate for sheriff

Marc Rivers, candidate for sheriff

Since one of the open races is for Dukes County sheriff and I knew very little about what the sheriff’s department does, last May I went to a Q&A sponsored by M.V. Democrats and featuring the two Democratic candidates for sheriff. At the time I noted: “I couldn’t help noticing that one candidate was far slicker than the other — that the other wouldn’t last five minutes if all we had to go on was media presentation.” I heard the latter, Marc Rivers, speak again last night. Slick he still isn’t, but he’s clearer about why he’s running, what he brings to the job, and what he hopes to do if he gets it. Months of listening to people talk have persuaded me that the department needs more than the same old same-old, which is pretty much what Marc’s opponent is offering. I say give Marc a chance.

As it turned out, I found my candidate for state representative at that Q&A, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was impressed that Dylan Fernandes had come over from Falmouth to meet Vineyard Democrats at an event where he wasn’t even on the program. I was even more impressed when I read his introductory letter: he’d run Elizabeth Warren’s South Coast campaign in 2012, directed Maura Healey’s successful run for attorney general in 2014, and then worked in Healey’s office till he resigned to run for state rep. At that point I only knew one of the other candidates in the race — there are a total of seven, five running in the Democratic primary and two Independents who’ll be on the ballot in November — but Dylan was hitting all the right buttons.

Trav poses with our Fernandes yard sign

Trav poses with our Fernandes yard sign, currently on display on Old County Rd.

It kept getting better. The guy was knocking on doors on Martha’s Vineyard, facrissake. He’d knocked on the doors of some friends who live so far off the beaten track that I get lost trying to find them, and just about everyone who spoke with him was impressed. So, I learned, were the Vineyard elected officials I respect most. By the time I got to the candidates’ forum I was about 90% sold. When it ended I was over the top.

The guy has got it. Not only does he understand the big issues facing this district — the lack of affordable housing and how it’s affecting our communities, the heroin-opioid epidemic, climate change, and the rest — as a fourth-generation Falmouth resident he knows them up close and personal. The Barnstable-Dukes-Nantucket house district has to be the most logistically challenging in the state, but he’s made it clear that Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound are no barrier to effective representation. He’s experienced, he’s unbelievably energetic, he’s effective, he’s respected by those he’s worked with, and he listens.

Do think seriously about voting for Dylan Fernandes in the Democratic primary tomorrow, September 8. If you want to know more, check out Ann Bassett’s two Vineyard View interviews with him from earlier this summer. They’re available “video on demand” on the MVTV website: look for Vineyard View shows 240 and 245.


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Sunday Closing

Up-Island Cronig’s (the one in West Tisbury, as opposed to Down-Island Cronig’s, the bigger one in Vineyard Haven) recently posted a notice on its door that after Labor Day (tomorrow!) it would close on Sundays for the off-season.

Entrance and exit at Up-Island Cronig's Market.

The front doors at Up-Island Cronig’s Market. The white paper on the right-hand door is the Sunday closing notice.

I live a 15- or 20-minute walk from Up-Island Cronig’s and am in there a couple of times a week, but I learned about the planned Sunday closing when someone announced it in Islanders Talk, a humongous Facebook group with more than 7,000 members. This person solicited comments from up-islanders and volunteered to pass them along to Steve Bernier, the owner of both Up-Island and Down-Island Cronig’s and very much a public figure on Martha’s Vineyard.

My hunch was that the original poster (the OP in online lingo) was Not Pleased by the announcement. I expected a feeding frenzy because people have strong feelings about Bernier and about Cronig’s and because, well, islanders talk and just in general the ferocity of the talk is inversely proportional to the importance of the issue. (Earlier this summer, in “Crusaders,” I elaborated on one of our favorite bêtes noires, mopeds.)

The Sunday closing notice.

The Sunday closing notice.

It didn’t happen. True, some people leapt to the conclusion that this was just one more instance of a business dissing year-round Vineyarders and a few zeroed in on Bernier himself, notably for his role in blocking the proposed expansion of the Stop & Shop in downtown Vineyard Haven.

But the pushback started almost immediately. People who’d actually read the notice pointed out that this had to do with staffing — with not having enough year-round employees to maintain Sunday hours. Others noted that Cronig’s has long had the reputation of doing well by its employees, and that the employees are competent, courteous, and loyal to their employer.

It was about the bottom line, several agreed, although exactly what “bottom line” meant to various commenters wasn’t always clear. Often enough “it’s all about the bottom line” implies that economic advantage — money — is the only factor, but here I think it was more about trade-offs and cost-effectiveness.  Up-Island Cronig’s shares a parking lot with the West Tisbury post office and Fella’s, a popular takeout. Monday through Saturday it’s a bustling place, one of West Tisbury’s two centers. On Sunday the PO and Fella’s are closed, and the nearby pharmacy is only open a half day. When I pass that way, the parking lot often looks pretty desolate. Sunday could not possibly be a big business day at Up-Island Cronig’s.

One shopkeeper whose business I patronize regularly has said he’d happily close on Sundays if he could get away with it. Business is generally slow. Staff aren’t enthusiastic about Sunday hours. But people expect you to be open.

Quite a few participants in the Islanders Talk discussion, including me, recalled times when nothing was open on Sunday and “bankers’ hours” meant 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (This was before ATMs, by the way.) We survived. “Plan ahead!” someone posted.

Side view, with bike rack.

Side view, with bike rack.

True, for up-islanders — residents of Chilmark, Aquinnah, and most of West Tisbury — Up-Island Cronig’s is the closest grocery store, but if you’re driving all the way from Chilmark or Aquinnah, how big a deal is it to drive another three miles or so to Down-Island Cronig’s, which will continue to be open on Sundays?

Not to mention, on Martha’s Vineyard if you run out of anything after 9 p.m. any day of the week, your only option on this side of the island is Cumby’s — the Cumberland Farms convenience store at Five Corners, Vineyard Haven. My neighbors and I have been known to borrow eggs, milk, and flour from each other rather than make a trek to Up-Island Cronig’s, even when Up-Island Cronig’s is open.

And that’s part of what this discussion was about, the subtext, if you will. To live on Martha’s Vineyard, you have to get used to the idea that you can’t have everything you want exactly when you want it. Many businesses close for the off-season, and most year-round businesses close for the day at 5. You can’t even get off the island when the boats aren’t running — with Hurricane Hermine currently making its way up the East Coast, you can be sure plenty of people are thinking about this.

Up-islanders are reputed to be more spiritual than the general island population, more given to meditation, yoga, healthy eating, and ecological correctness. (This is why I like to emphasize that I’ve lived half my Vineyard life in Vineyard Haven.) With this in mind and tongue partly in cheek, I posted this to the comment thread:

“Here’s an idea. Think of Sunday closing at Up-Island Cronig’s as the opportunity for spiritual practice. The lesson: You can’t always get what you want at the instant you want it. Pretty soon it’ll get to be second nature, and you won’t have to pay for a workshop or a class or anything.”


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August License Plate Report

201608 aug license plate

Iowa and Kansas both showed up in August, good ones both, especially for August. Vineyard roads are jammed in August — most years it’s all anyone talks about, though this year the lack of rain and the presidential election are in the running — but the hard-to-get license plates are no easier to spot, maybe because I’m staying off the roads as much as possible.

I spotted Iowa, I think it was, right outside the Oak Bluffs post office one afternoon as I walked from Reliable Market to my car in Ocean Park. I did a double-take because that’s a loading zone part of the day so usually all the vehicles illegally parked there have Massachusetts plates on them.

Parking in downtown Oak Bluffs can be a bear in the summer. The parking lot at Reliable is small and often full. Circuit Ave. and Kennebec are generally jammed, and the traffic that’s always on one’s tail makes one reluctant to pause when some car’s brakelights come on, signaling it’s about to vacate its spot. Some people I know do their grocery shopping in pairs — one to shop and one to drive around and around until either a parking place is found or the shopping is done, whichever comes first. I’ve had very good luck with the 15-minute spots on Ocean Park. It might take me as many as 20 minutes to walk briskly to Reliable, do my shopping, and carry my bags back again,, but I haven’t been ticketed yet.

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Behind the Signs

In the early spring of 2014 I blogged about a new sign in the neighborhood. The sign — DRINKING WATER SUPPLY AREA • PLEASE PROTECT IT! — bugged me. It bugged me because it was completely unnecessary. Nothing was being done in the vicinity to threaten the Vineyard’s sole-source aquifer.

It bugs me less these days, one, because I’ve gotten used to it, and two, because it’s now pretty well concealed by leaves. The trees are having their way with puny human interventions. Go, trees!

Lately I’ve been noticing new signs in my neighborhood and in the areas I wander frequently and contemplating their significance. Here are a couple of them.

072016 pine hill

Pine Hill is a dirt road. On an off-islander’s map or maybe GPS it might look like a through way, but it’s not — unless you’re on foot, bike, horseback, or an all-terrain vehicle. Only two houses have motor vehicle access from Old County Road. My hunch here is that the year-round residents of #43 (with whom I have a nodding acquaintance) got tired of UPS and FedEx drivers pulling into their driveway and asking how to get to a house with a much higher number. How often can you say “You can’t get there from here” without losing your patience or your sense of humor?

Within a couple of weeks of my landing on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1985, an overnight parcel — something editorial — arrived for me. I had no fixed address at the time. Maybe two people total knew I was here at all — so I thought. Otis, the UPS driver at the time, stopped at Alley’s General Store, where the main West Tisbury post office was then located, and asked how to find me. He was directed to the house where I was staying, back in the woods off State Road, and there my package was delivered. I wasn’t officially on anyone’s radar, but they knew whom I knew and thus where I was.

Those days are long gone. I miss them.

airport sign 1

airport sign 2Every three weeks I do my laundry at the Airport Laundromat. While my clothes are washing, Trav and I stroll around the airport grounds. The sign above appeared earlier this year. My immediate reaction was “WTF?” We’re not talking about runways here. To the right you can see the sign in its natural context.

In other words: Yeah, right. Any aircraft operating in this area is going to have more trouble than a couple of trespassers. Trav and I ignored it. A couple of times we’ve run into dog walkers from Animal Health Care’s kennel. We look at the sign, then we look at each other, and we wonder what the hell those sign posters are trying to prove.

20160821 road signWithin the last couple of weeks street signs appeared on the Dr. Fisher Road, the beloved road whose ruts, moguls, and monstrous puddles I’ve documented a few times. Street signs! on the Dr. Fisher Road! Mind you, I wouldn’t love this road so much if I lived on it or had to drive on it. As it is, I just walk on it — frequently — with my dog.

Now there are street signs at either end, one on Old County Road, the other on the Old Stage Road across from the dump. Any passerby with eyes will now know where the Dr. Fisher Road is.

Everyone who’s lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 10 years or so has their idea of when exactly the island started on the long, slow (or short, fast) slide to hell. Mine is when street signs went up on either end of Lambert’s Cove Road, so newcomers didn’t have to ask anyone which was the upper end and which the lower. The signs told them. Oldtimers became superfluous. New arrivals no longer had the thrill of finally getting it straight.

The slide, slow or fast, long or short, continues. There are signs at either end of the Dr. Fisher Road.

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Candidates Forum

Vineyarders packed the Grange Hall yesterday, on a sweltering August afternoon, to hear candidates for the state senate and the state house of representatives introduce themselves at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters. Neither State Senator Dan Wolf nor State Rep Tim Madden is running for re-election, so the field is crowded: four — two Democrats and two Republicans — vying for the nod of their respective parties in the senate race, and five Democrats competing for the house nomination plus two who, running as Independents, get to bypass the September 8 primary and go straight to the November ballot.

A sampling of campaign lit for candidates at the forum

A sampling of campaign lit for candidates at the forum

The good news is that they’re a well-qualified lot. Even better, several of the candidates are young — in or not far out of their twenties — and even the youngest already have several years of solid experience behind them.

The not-so-good news is that you can only vote for one in each race, and only one will be elected.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow — Lynn Christoffers was there recording for MVTV (Martha’s Vineyard Community Television) and the whole thing should be up on their video on demand page shortly — but here’s the basic format.

The state senate candidates took the stage first. The Cape and Islands state senate district includes the Vineyard, Nantucket, and the mid and lower (outer) Cape. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t include Woods Hole and the rest of Falmouth, which are part of the Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket house district. The State Senate comprises 40 seats, each representing about 169,000 people.

State senate candidates, from left: Democrats Sheila Lyons and Julian Cyr and Republicans Antony Schiavi and James Crocker.

State senate candidates, from left: Democrats Sheila Lyons and Julian Cyr (speaking) and Republicans Anthony Schiavi and James Crocker.

Each candidate got three minutes to introduce him- or herself, then moderator Deborah Medders posed three questions, which each candidate answered in turn. The questions were about (1) sustaining the shellfishery (very important here — it’s a coastal district), (2) the heroin-opioid epidemic, and (3) preparing for climate change. Each question came with enough background information to give audience members an idea of what was going on with each issue even if they weren’t following it closely. The candidates all knew the questions in advance. Then each candidate gave a one-minute wrap-up, probably 10% of which went to thanking the League of Women Voters for sponsoring the forum and the audience for turning out on a hot and humid summer afternoon.

The Grange isn’t air conditioned, by the way, but the windows were open, and by 5:30 or so the occasional cooler breeze was wafting through.

Dylan Fernandes, candidate for state rep.

Dylan Fernandes, candidate for state rep.

When the candidates for the house stepped up, the stage was considerably more crowded. Their portion of the program followed the exact same format. The state house of representatives has 160 members, each of whom represents about 40,000 constituents. The Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket district comprises the Vineyard (which makes up most of Dukes County, or the County of Dukes County as it’s officially called), Nantucket, and most of Falmouth. It may contain the same number of citizens as the other districts in the commonwealth, but it has to be the hardest to get around. Dylan Fernandes has astonished several of my friends by knocking on their hard-to-find doors to introduce himself and his candidacy. (Yeah, I’m supporting this guy.🙂 )

Candidates for the house seat in the Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket district, from left: Democrats Michael Heylin, Ewell Hopkins, Jessica Lambert, and Timothy Soverino, and Independent Jacob Ferry. Offstage left is Democrat Dylan Fernandes; offstage right is Independent Tobias Glidden. I told you the stage was crowded, didn't I?

Candidates for the house seat in the Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket district, from left: Democrats Michael Heylin, Ewell Hopkins, Jessica Lambert (speaking), and Timothy Soverino, and Independent Jacob Ferry. Offstage left is Democrat Dylan Fernandes; offstage right is Independent Tobias Glidden. I told you the stage was crowded, didn’t I?

Candidates who didn’t have to run for the boat hung out afterward to answer and ask questions. Others were represented by members of their respective teams.

Against a lengthy presidential campaign that’s been playing out for months like a violent thunderstorm in the distance or right overhead, this was so refreshing. Imagine: Listening to the candidates unscripted, with no intermediaries deciding what you get to hear and how much of it! Then having the opportunity to ask your own questions, one on one. Seven of the candidates are running as Democrats, two as Republicans, and two as Independents, but party affiliation took a back seat as all of them addressed issues of pressing concern to the Cape and Islands region — issues that in most cases have affected them personally.

When many of us hear the word “government,” we think immediately of Congress and the White House, and maybe the statehouse — in Massachusetts it’s familiarly referred to as Beacon Hill, where the governor sits and the General Court (i.e., the state senate and the state house of representatives) convenes. It’s Them, it’s a monolith, it’s only interested in Us when it wants our votes.

To meet and listen to the candidates, all of whom have been doing the unheralded work of “government” on various levels, some for many years — it changes one’s perspective a bit. And the caliber of these candidates is genuine cause for rejoicing.

  *  *  *  *  *

Once upon a time, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were each a single district, so the state house of representatives always included one member from each island. When the house was shrunk from 240 members to 160 in the mid-1970s, this came to an end. This provoked a (fairly) good-natured SECEDE NOW movement on the islands. I still have the T-shirt.

secede now 2


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Crow was hopping along the trail maybe 20 feet in front of us. It tried to lift off and couldn’t. Trav’s Flexi extends that far, but I held him back. He leaned into his harness and panted, not just from the heat. Crow had to know there was an eager dog just behind but still — hop hop, flap flap, it continued down the trail.

I let Trav’s leash out a little further. Crow veered to the right, through some not-very-tall grass into a little clearing. Hop hop, flap flap. No other crows in sight. Crow probably won’t last the day, but my dog won’t provide the coup de grâce.

Crows are so often portents, so no surprise that by the time Trav and I had crossed Old County Road onto Pine Hill, I was humming Sydney Carter’s “Crow on the Cradle,” one of the most haunting songs of all time. When I got home, I found a Jackson Browne cover of it, with David Lindley:

Lately one of the CDs in Malvina Forester’s CD changer has been Debra Cowan and John Roberts’s wonderful Ballads Long and Short. (Yes, it’s OK if you follow the link and buy it now. Just come back when you’re done.) Among the ballads on it is the traditional “Twa Corbies.” Corbies are ravens, not crows (although I just found a translation from the original Scottish that called them crows instead of ravens), but ravens and crows are both big, black, and portentous, so I was thinking of that too. “Twa Corbies” is not only haunting, it’s a little grisly if you’ve got a vivid imagination — though as traditional ballads go, it’s pretty tame.

Debra and John’s version isn’t available online, so here’s the Corries’ cover of “Twa Corbies”:

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White Tent

The white tent. The shadow you see at lower left is me standing on a picnic table.

The white tent. The shadow you see at lower left is me standing on a picnic table.

Trav and I cross the grounds or playing fields of the West Tisbury School at least once a day and often twice, so of course I noticed when the white tent appeared a few days ago. Tents are not unusual on Martha’s Vineyard. If you want a tent for a reception or wedding or outdoor event, there are at least three businesses you can call, at least in the summer. (When the northeast winds start blowing hard in the fall, the demand for tents drops PDQ.)

So was a music festival coming to the playing field behind the school? Not bloody likely. The place was too quiet. A couple of days ago, not for the first time, I found a golf ball lying on the path that runs behind the playing fields. I tossed it back onto the field. The golfer who was out there practicing his drives thanked me.

Yesterday morning Trav and I met a fellow at the edge of the school grounds, near the crosswalk on Old County Road. This was unusual. The fellow was smoking. This was even more unusual. He admired Trav, which wasn’t unusual, and I soon learned that he was from Virginia, a neighbor of his had huskies, and he’d never been to the Vineyard before. He was with NBC. The press was using the school as a staging area during President Obama’s visit.

Aha! I thought. The white tent!

Oddly enough, Trav was being reticent. Usually he’s sniffing at the hands and pockets of any stranger, looking for treats. Maybe the smell of tobacco put him off? This was probably the first smoker he’d ever met. The poor dog has lived all but eight and a half weeks of his life in West Tisbury, where no one will cop to eating anything that isn’t locally grown, certified organic, and GMO free.

Never mind smoking cigarettes.

We continued on our way. My mission was to photograph the new sign I’d noticed the afternoon before:

NB: This replaces an earlier photo of the sign before it was quite dry.


Finally the creators of the bike path planets were taking credit for their work. The paint was barely dry. I had to move a tall orange cone aside to take the picture. That vertical line down the middle looks like smeared paint.

Late this afternoon Trav and I passed close enough to the white tent that I could look inside it. No one was around. I took a picture. It doesn’t look like a rock band is going to appear at any moment, but maybe they’re planning on doing an interview?

20160809 white tent 1

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donkeyIn this contentious election season — which may or may not be more contentious than elections past, but it sure has got my attention — with recriminations, animosities, and grudges at the center of the national stage, I can’t help wondering what holds this nation together. Is it possible to speak of a “we” that doesn’t shut out a significant chunk of the country?

The US of A is so vast and diverse that my imagination fails me. So, as usual, I fall back on Martha’s Vineyard. Vast Martha’s Vineyard is not, but it’s far more diverse than people who know it only by reputation realize.

Still, a year-round population of 16,535 (according to the 2010 census) and even a summer population of 100,000+ (all of whom seem to have been on the roads yesterday) is easier to imagine than the 310 million or so souls that make up the US of A. For months we’ve been quarreling about the presidential election. We’re still at it. But I can produce unity, or at least the semblance thereof, with one word:


Most of the island population, year-round and seasonal, loathes mopeds. We loathe mopeds even in the dead of winter, when there are none of them around. At the moment the loathing is particularly acute because a week ago this past Saturday there was a horrendous accident. The moped two young women were riding veered out of control on busy Barnes Road and slammed into a dump truck. Thanks to rapid intervention by first responders and passersby, both women survived, but one lost her leg.

An online petition is now circulating, asking the state to change the motor vehicle laws so that only those who carry “licenses similar to those required of motorcycle drivers” would be allowed to rent mopeds.

moped stickerThis is by no means the first effort to curb or outright ban moped rentals. The first big one arose in 1988. Stickers spawned by that campaign are still sported by many island cars and pickups. What struck me at the time, as a fairly recent arrival on these shores, was what an utterly perfect issue it was. People who squabbled about everything else, who’d been carrying grudges against each other since third grade, united in their opposition to mopeds.

What made it so perfect?

  1. It’s all in the best interest of someone else. How could anyone oppose an effort to save people from serious injury and possible death? See also #3.
  2. Mopeds are a PITA. Who hasn’t fumed while waiting to pass a moped on State Road or one of the narrow,  winding roads that lead to Menemsha and the Gay Head Cliffs?
  3. Moped riders are easily dismissed as out of shape, stupid, and downright ugly. Listen to us describe the bleeping moped riders we got stuck behind yesterday or last year or half a dozen years ago. Big butts, beer bellies, tacky clothing, and inappropriate footwear come up a lot. Yes, there is a class element here. See also #5.
  4. The owners of the moped rental places are not especially popular. (This was obvious in 1988. It may not be as big a factor now.)
  5. People who rent mopeds don’t live here. Not only that, they’re unlikely to have friends or family here. They’re day trippers.

#5 is the clincher. It’s what makes the anti-moped crusade a perfect issue. It’s not true that everyone on Martha’s Vineyard knows everybody else, but if you’ve been here a while, and especially if you’re on Facebook, you’re probably no more than two degrees of separation from almost everybody else. This means you think twice before wearing your politics on a T-shirt or on the bumper of your car.

There is no downside to inconveniencing or pissing off people who toodle around the island on mopeds. And railing against mopeds won’t piss off the people you don’t want or can’t afford to piss off, like your friends, relatives, and co-workers.

Like I said, it’s the perfect issue.


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July License Plate Report

201607 july license map

Only two states added to the map in July — New Mexico and Minnesota — but on the whole this is not bad. July was an insanely busy month. I just discovered that I neglected to submit an invoice for a job I completed on July 11. I’m glad I realized this before I yelled at Accounts Payable for an overdue invoice. Oops.

Plenty of the missing states are doable. In August I’m going to spend more time on the road, and more time hanging out in the parking lot of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital where, it seems, every state passes through sooner or later.

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