People who’ve got some relationship with Martha’s Vineyard love to go on, often at great length, about why Martha’s Vineyard is different from anywhere else: its beauty, its beaches, etc., etc., etc. Having dwelt on the cherished isle for 26 years (and counting), I’ve come to believe that the more you know about Martha’s Vineyard, the better you’ll understand the rest of the world, and the more you know about other places in the world, the better you’ll understand Martha’s Vineyard.
This tends to undermine the notion that Martha’s Vineyard is unique.
Nevertheless, I am right this moment pondering what makes my life — not unique, but different from that of my off-island friends. I am pondering this because I am currently off-island. Travvy and I are competing in a Rally Obedience trial in Westford, Mass. (As I write this, we’re at a Motel 6 in Nashua, N.H.)* I am pondering this because the highway miles from home to Westford can be covered in two hours, but Saturday morning I got up at 5 a.m. in order to get to Westford by 10:30 or so.
The highway miles from home to Westford could be covered in two hours if Martha’s Vineyard weren’t surrounded by water. This doesn’t make Martha’s Vineyard unique, but it does make my life different from the lives of my off-island friends. To get to Westford by 10:30 a.m. or so, I had to be on the 7 a.m. boat. To get on the 7 a.m. boat, you’re supposed to be in line at the Steamship Authority dock by 6:30. Getting dressed, packing my stuff and Travvy’s stuff, loading the car (usually I do this the night before, but last night was pouring buckets), and taking Trav for a brief walk? Maybe I could do it all in an hour, but the absolute necessity of being on that boat makes me set one alarm for 5:00 and another for 5:05.
I made it.
I paid $59 to get Malvina Forester, Travvy, me, and our gear on that 7 a.m. boat and was properly grateful that this was $29 less than it cost us to get off in June. Knowing I was going off-island, of course I let Malvina’s gas gauge slide as close toward empty as I could so I could fill up on the other side. The price differential for gas here and away is 75 cents and up a gallon. Put 10 gallons in your tank on the far side and you’ve saved $7.50, which is (I just did the math) like getting almost 13% off the cost of your off-season boat ticket, 8.5% in summer when the fare for vehicle less than 17 feet long and 6 feet high is $88. Not bad.
My return reservation for Sunday night was on the 7:30 p.m. We usually make return reservations for later than we think we’ll need, on the theory that you can often, especially in the off-season, get on an earlier boat, but if you miss the boat you’re booked on you’re SOL, especially in high summer: you’re in the back of beyond with all the other reservation-less standbys. Having made good time from Westford, I rounded the curve on Route 25 to see the Bourne Bridge rising ahead — it always makes my heart skip a beat or two. Four o’clock: another half hour to Woods Hole, not much chance of getting on the 5:00, so I stopped for gas in Falmouth.
When I rolled into Woods Hole at 4:35, the Nantucket was discharging its vehicular passengers. I sized up the lines of cars with reservations, then all the standbys ahead of me. Would we make it onto the Nantucket? Prognosis looked poor to doubtful. The freight boat looked likely, if it was making a return trip to Vineyard Haven, but this was a mixed blessing: the freight boats are boats, whereas the big ferries are more like parlor cars that float. The only beverages served on the freight boats come from vending machines, and I really wanted a beer. Only a Vineyarder will understand the thrill I felt when the SSA employee waved me forward and Malvina rattled onto the freight deck of the Nantucket. My rez was for 7:30, I rolled off in Oak Bluffs at 5:45, and I got my beer.
Here’s how to tell someone who knows Martha’s Vineyard from someone who doesn’t: Ask her what SSA stands for. If she says Social Security Administration, she flunks. If she says Steamship Authority, she’s one of us.
*As I write this, I’m sitting in my little apartment in West Tisbury. Writing on the road plays havoc with your verb tenses. Sorry.