Why We’re Cautious


Wolfie is based on Travvy, my Alaskan malamute, but he has a different backstory.

Wolfie, my novel in progress, takes place on Martha’s Vineyard, as did its predecessor, The Mud of the Place. Those who eventually read it may have no acquaintance whatsoever with the island, and those who do don’t live on the same Martha’s Vineyard that my characters do. So from time to time I do a little of what fantasy and science fiction writers call “world-building”: showing readers what they need to know about the world the characters live in.

I’m especially fond of this bit. Shannon, my co-protagonist, has to go to a West Tisbury selectmen’s meeting on account of — you guessed it — a dog. Wolfie, the dog in question (and also the novel’s title character), is suspected of killing chickens and hassling livestock. A few days before the appointed date, she thinks:

Nevertheless, walking into town hall was venturing into a web of histories and connections some of which were obvious and others opaque, and you better know who you were talking to before you said anything stupid. Underneath its pretty beaches and picturesque fields Martha’s Vineyard was a tangle of feuds and grudges. They lay like smoldering embers till a spark or strong wind brought them roaring back to life. At that point a handful of cooler heads would step in to contain the blaze with buckets and garden hoses, and if they were lucky and the wind died down, the fire would do likewise before too many people got scorched.

Until something flared it up again.

No, Travvy has never been busted for killing anything. This is because I don’t let him run loose. I have been to a selectmen’s meeting on his/our behalf, however. See “No Dogs! No No No!” More than four years later, the sign is still up on the tennis court, but Trav and I practice there occasionally when the court isn’t padlocked for the summer. My grudge against Parks & Rec isn’t exactly incendiary. I don’t vote for any of them in town elections, true, but this doesn’t matter because they always run unopposed.

Posted in dogs, Martha's Vineyard, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Off Island

From Off Island, by Dionis Coffin Riggs, in collaboration with Sidney Noyes Riggs. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1940.


The cover for the new edition was painted and designed by Elizabeth R. Whelan.

This is the 2016 facsimile edition of the novel first published in 1940 by McGraw-Hill’s Whittlesey House imprint, based on the life of Mary Carlin Cleaveland, the grandmother of author Dionis Coffin Riggs (1898–1997). In the fall of 1852, Mary Carlin, then 16, left her home in Sydney to live with her sister and brother-in-law in San Francisco. During a layover in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), she met, fell in love with, and married James Cleaveland, a whaling captain from Martha’s Vineyard who was more than a decade her senior. Instead of San Francisco, she eventually made port in Holmes’s Hole (now Vineyard Haven), then a bustling center of the seagoing trades.

To say that Mary Ann Cleaveland, James’s mother, was not amused by her son’s impulsive marriage is to greatly understate the case. In the 19th century, and well into the 20th, Martha’s Vineyard was insular in more ways than one. Vineyard families were all interrelated, and anyone from “off” (now, as then, on the Vineyard “off” is frequently employed as a noun) was by definition beyond the pale. Mary Ann made young Mary’s life intolerable, and it got worse while James was away on his next whaling voyage. The younger woman escaped her mother-in-law’s petty but relentless cruelties by, in effect, adopting herself into another family. When James left again, his wife went with him. During the five-year voyage she gave birth to her older two daughters.

From Off Island vividly evokes life both on 19th-century Martha’s Vineyard and on board a whaling ship, all from the women’s perspective. The book is rigorously researched — the author’s husband, educator Sidney Noyes Riggs, was her collaborator — and the notes at the end on sources and how the Riggses found them make for fascinating reading. But newspapers and ship’s logs can tell only so much. It’s the poet-author’s imagination, skill with language, and deep knowledge of the Vineyard that bring both the people and the places to such vivid life. The book will be of special interest to anyone interested in whaling, New England (especially, of course, Martha’s Vineyard), and women’s lives in the mid-19th century.

Fans of Cynthia Riggs’s Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries will be interested to know that Dionis Coffin Riggs, the author of From Off Island, was Cynthia’s mother and the model for Victoria Trumbull, Cynthia’s intrepid 92-year-old sleuth.

The new edition of From Off Island is available at both Vineyard bookstores, Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books. Cynthia will be at the Thanksgiving weekend Artisans Fair at the Ag Hall, retailing this along with her own books, and it should shortly be available for mail order via her website.

Note: This review is very slightly adapted from the one I just published on Goodreads.

Posted in Martha's Vineyard | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Early Fall Laundry

It rained and rained and rained all day yesterday, but today has been a perfect laundry day: bright and very breezy.

Sleeves, I see sleeves . . .

Sleeves, I see sleeves . . .

Usually I do laundry when I’m about to run out of underwear. This time I’d run out of jeans. It was either do laundry or perform the Great Seasonal Clothing Switch. There are more jeans in my two winter clothes bins, but there are also longjohns and sweaters, gloves and Yaktrax and other things I’m not ready to face yet.

This was a quintessential early fall laundry: a blend of summer and fall. Jeans hanging next to shorts. T-shirts sleeveless, short-sleeve, and long-sleeve. Two sweatshirts. Some mornings I go out walking in jeans, long-sleeve T, and sweatshirt, but by noon I’ve shed the sweatshirt and changed jeans for shorts. Then at the end of the day I do it in reverse.


Jeans, shorts, sleeves, no sleeves . . .

Posted in home | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

In Praise of Career Politicians

mocha chipComing home from grocery shopping yesterday, I pulled in to down-island Cronig’s to see if I could find a few things that Reliable either was out of (stew beef and no-beans chili) or doesn’t carry (Brigham’s mocha chip ice cream — the best).

Tobias Glidden, independent candidate for state representative, was outside talking with voters and passing out copies of his position paper. I stepped up and said that although I was actively supporting Dylan Fernandes, the Democratic nominee (which had to be obvious because I was wearing Dylan’s sticker on my shirt), I’d liked what Tobias had to say at the candidates’ forum this past August. It was good, I said, to have two qualified candidates running. The district would be well served no matter who won.

As I headed into the store, he said, “You know, I’m not planning to run for higher office.” I laughed and said he was young, who knew what would happen, he probably shouldn’t say things like that. He said no, he meant it.

And I’ve been wondering ever since why not planning to run for higher office was a plus.

No, I’m being disingenuous. Before I picked up my basket inside the store, I got the subtext: I’m not using the district as a stepping-stone to further my own career.

Unlike, ran the sub-subtext, my opponent.

This is a local variation on what I blogged about the other day in “Anti-Delusional“: “In national politics, inexperience and downright incompetence have become virtues, even among those who must know how many skills are required to understand and balance the interests of a diverse population and to keep the craft moving forward.”

Glidden’s experience is impressive. He’s demonstrated considerable competence. This is why he impressed me at the candidates’ forum. So perhaps he seeks to set himself apart from his equally experienced and competent opponent by insinuating that he’s not a career politician.

Google “career politician” and you’ll quickly gather that career politicians are in a class with pederasts, drug pushers, and serial killers. Why is this? Do we sneer at, say, career teachers or career carpenters in quite the same way? We do not.

town meeting

Town meeting is about as democratic as it gets these days, but the citizens would have a hard time getting anything done without those who put in the time to develop expertise.

What’s going on here?

Maybe we’ve got the old image in our heads of citizen farmers and scribes laying down the tools of their respective trades, serving a term or two in Congress, then going back to the plow or the quill.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way anymore, if it ever did.

According to my favorite dictionary, a politician is one who engages in politics, and politics is “the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.”

This takes aptitude, skill, training, and expertise. Not everybody has it. And even those with aptitude need experience to develop their skills.

I’m an editor by trade. Although editing takes both aptitude and experience, plenty of people think that anyone who can read and write is a potential editor.

Um, no. Maybe this is why it bugs me so much that some people believe that politics doesn’t require aptitude, expertise, and experience.

So back to this guy who thinks it’s a plus that he doesn’t plan to run for higher office. Say he gets elected this time, next time, or in the not-too-distant future. Does he plan to keep running for re-election and (most likely) getting re-elected till he hits retirement age?

I see a couple of problems with this. One is that he’s effectively blocking anyone else from winning the seat and acquiring the experience that serving as state rep brings. Another is that at some point he’s bound to realize that he’s getting a little bored, a little stale, and wanting to move on. Where to? Well, higher office would seem to be a sensible choice: he could take his experience and his understanding of his own district to the next level.

But oh no: that would make him a career politician.

Of course he could always go back to his plow or his quill — noble trades both — but is that the best use he could make of his political experience?

I don’t think so. I would love to see Dylan Fernandes and Julian Cyr (Democratic candidate for state senate) take their energy and the skills they hone in the state legislature and move on to the next level, taking their deep knowledge of the Cape and Islands with them. If one of them knocked our so-so (Democratic) congressman off his perch, I’d be thrilled.

Among Barack Obama’s many assets as president is his experience of being a black man in the U.S. No previous president has had it. It’s freaked some people out, and led others to nurse unrealistic expectations of what he could achieve. Something similar will play out when Hillary Clinton takes the oath of office next January. No previous president has had the experience of being a woman in our very sex-divided society.

I would love to be represented in Congress or in the Massachusetts statehouse by someone who carries in his/her mind and heart what day-to-day life in the Cape and Islands is about, what we’re good at, what we worry about. And that is not going to happen if our elected representatives choose not to go any further, lest they be considered career politicians.

Posted in musing, public life | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments


emperor's clothes“The Emperor’s New Clothes” has been my favorite fairy tale for a long, long time. Everyone identifies with the lone child who points out that the emperor is parading down the street in his undies. They’re sure they’d be brave enough to shout out the self-evident truth when everyone else was oohing and aahing at robes that were not there.

I’ve long suspected that in the U.S. the child would be torn limb from limb for saying any such thing, unless a few quick-thinking adults snatched her away to safety.

Thanks to this presidential election cycle, I’ve got a new take on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In this take, the child calls out that the emperor has no clothes on, the emperor (or one of his quick-witted advisers) says that robes are passé, the undies are a fashion statement, and the faux tailors get away with their swindle.

In national politics, inexperience and downright incompetence have become virtues, even among those who must know how many skills are required to understand and balance the interests of a diverse population and to keep the craft moving forward. It is no coincidence that this disregard and even contempt for experience and competence has reached a crescendo when the most experienced, competent candidate is female. When a woman surpasses the men by the current rules, there must be something wrong with the rules, right?

Disruption is all the rage. This is not surprising. Experience corrupts, but disrupting is easy. It takes little skill or experience and no patience at all. But what comes next?

In dystopian fiction, the usual scenario is that some apocalypse wipes the earth clean of all its corruption, Noah’s Flood style, and a valiant band of survivors build utopia on its hopefully not-too-radioactive ashes.

If you want to see what disruption looks like in real life, check out what happened when the former Yugoslavia fragmented into mutually hostile states. Or when the U.S.-led invasion knocked out central authority in Iraq. “Central authority” may be flawed to the point of despicable, but when it collapses, whether from within or without, what follows is not pretty.

In other places — say, the U.S. after the Civil War or Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union — the old order manages to reconstitute itself and conditions for the oppressed do not improve. From the ashes of slavery arose not emancipation but Jim Crow, and not for nothing is a recent biography of Vladimir Putin titled The New Tsar.

So often those calling most loudly for disruption and “revolution” (a form of disruption) seem unaware of what they’re disrupting, and what their world would look like without it.

Decades ago I took to heart something Sir Thomas More said in Robert Bolt’s play (and film) A Man for All Seasons. More is arguing with William Roper, his hotheaded and idealistic son-in-law. Roper has just said that he’d “cut down every law in England” to get to the Devil, and More responds:

“Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

When King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, in order to sanction his own divorce and remarriage, More refused to go along. The law couldn’t protect him — he was beheaded for treason — because the king was above the law. The lesson here isn’t that law doesn’t matter but that no one should be above it.

More’s conscience got him killed, a fate that does not await those whose consciences won’t permit them to vote for Hillary Clinton. Do any of these people truly believe that Jill Stein of the Greens or Gary Johnson of the Libertarians is of presidential caliber? More important, do either the Greens or the Libertarians offer, or even aspire to offer, the kind of infrastructure that gets people involved in the political process, not only during election campaigns but afterward? That encourages qualified people to run for office and offers the resources (e.g., volunteers, mailing lists, and know-how) necessary to support their campaigns?

Without political parties, each aspirant has to build an organization from scratch. That’s exhausting, and I’m pretty sure it favors those with the money to pay out of pocket for everything they need.

From where I sit on Martha’s Vineyard, the Democrats at least are looking pretty good. The primary races for state senator, state representative, register of deeds, and county sheriff were all contested by qualified candidates, quite a few of whom are in their twenties or not much older. No one’s calling for disruption. They’re too busy talking about the issues, listening to constituents, and working for change.

Photogenic dog lured by string cheese into supporting Dylan Fernandes for state rep and Julian Cyr for state senator.

Photogenic dog lured by string cheese into supporting Dylan Fernandes for state rep and Julian Cyr for state senator.

Posted in musing, public life | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

September License Plate Report


Just one September sighting: Missouri. Fall pickings are notoriously slow in the license plate game, so this may be it for the year. Eleven states are still blank on the map. On the other hand, Nevada, Wyoming, and Louisiana aren’t all that rare, and didn’t I spot Nebraska in the last days of December 2015?

It ain’t over till it’s over.

Posted in license plates | Tagged | 1 Comment

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

Posted in musing, public life | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


Posted in Martha's Vineyard, public life | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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.”


Posted in Martha's Vineyard, public life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in license plates | Tagged , , | 3 Comments