Yes indeed, the president and first family are here. They arrived yesterday.
I’ve been saying for years that if you’ve seen one presidential visit, you’ve seen them all. This is not quite true. The first — by President Clinton in 1993 — was hands-down the worst. I was working for the Martha’s Vineyard Times so it was totally impossible to ignore. The national press corps was here in force. Since the Clintons spent most of their time out of the public eye, all these reporters, commentators, and camera crews spent their downtime swarming all over the island and filing stories about what they saw. This was before the World Wide Web, but friends from around the country sent me news clippings.
It was appalling, even to me, who’d learned long before how the news media can look right at something, not understand what they’re seeing, and be totally oblivious to the possibility that they might be missing something. The following spring a snippet from a Grace Paley interview leapt out at me from the pages of The New Yorker: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you’d better watch where your mouth is.” I took that as a challenge — if not me, who? — so the First Clinton Visit, or rather the media coverage thereof, did help inspire my first novel. (I could go on; I have in the past and I will again, but for now I’ll spare you.)
The presidential visits since then have been pretty much interchangeable — until this year. This year is different. It became different when word went round a couple of weeks ago that a portion of South Road in Chilmark would be closed during the president’s visit, August 10–18. The first family’s vacation rental, so the reasoning went, was on that stretch of road. Security precautions, yadda yadda yadda.
Well, during previous visits the first family stayed at Blue Heron Farm, also on South Road, also in Chilmark (though so close to the town line that it’s West Tisbury across the street), and the road wasn’t closed then. What’s up?
In the last few days, I’ve heard more buzz about the detour signs than about any other aspect of the presidential visit. The Secret Service ordered the closing of South Road. They didn’t bother to notify, never mind consult with, Chilmark town officials. The Obama bashers are dead sure that it’s all Obama’s fault. Others, most of whom generally support the president, lament the insult to the “character of the island.”
I figure the Secret Service is as riddled with groupthink and “better safe than sorry” as the rest of the U.S. population, probably even more so. And for them, as for most summer visitors, Martha’s Vineyard only really exists when they’re on it. Add to that the natural egoboo that comes with we’re guarding the president of the United States and it’s not hard to understand. Sad, yes, but not hard to understand.
Anyway, yesterday Travvy and I went out to check out the signs.
The DETOUR signs are pretty ordinary. They aren’t the only signs on the road.
What’s attracted the serious buzz are the big electronic signs. Here Travvy checks out the base of the one near the West Tisbury fire station on the Edgartown Road.
In broad daylight my little point-and-shoot couldn’t do justice to the letters on the electronic signs, so after sunset I revisited the sign on State Road near Takemmy Farm. It has three faces. Here they are, in order:
Up in the sky to the right of the sign, sunset was doing its thing. It doesn’t have a permit either, but so far they haven’t figured out a way to shut it down.