Country Roads

I sometimes wax rhapsodic about the single-lane dirt roads of Martha’s Vineyard. True, they’re all very minor roads, sort of like long driveways that have acquired names and a place on island maps. But plenty of us live on them.

The dirt road I live on

Halcyon Way, the dirt road I live on

Driving on Martha’s Vineyard means learning the little dance required when one encounters a car coming in the opposite direction. Sometimes there’s room for both cars to pull a little bit off the track without hitting any trees. Other times one car has to back up a bit. Most dirt roads have occasional laybys so no one has to back up too far.

Pine Hill, aka the back way to the dump, the post office, and the grocery store

Pine Hill, aka the back way to the dump, the post office, and the grocery store

Who backs up? Generally this is decided by each driver’s instant assessment of the situation, often coupled by a barely perceptible glance-to-glance negotiation. Whoever’s nearest the layby backs up. One car backs up for two. A vehicle unencumbered by a trailer backs up for one that is. And so on.

It’s beautiful when it works, as it mostly does.

This morning, however, it didn’t.

I’m looking after a dog and a miniature horse for a few days, which is how I came to be at the State Road end of Old County just before 8 a.m. Light rain was turning to wet snow. Out of the gray gloom on State Road came a black pickup. It didn’t have its headlights on, which made me appreciate all the vehicles that did. Visibility wasn’t great. I fell in behind it.

The dog and the mini live just off a fairly well traveled dirt road near the Tisbury–West Tisbury town line. The black pickup signaled for the same left turn that I was about to make. Another pickup was paused at the end of the dirt road. To my amazement, the black pickup stopped to have a driver-to-driver conversation with this guy. This left me half stranded in the up-island-bound lane of State Road.  WTF?

Finally Black Pickup noticed (a) that someone was behind him, and (b) that there was no room to get by. He moved forward. I got off the paved road.

Approaching in the opposite direction, around a little curve but visible through the bare trees, were one, two, three cars. Black Pickup pulled over to let them by — finally his good manners, and perhaps his morning coffee?, had kicked in. I stopped where I was to give them room.

And what should come bulling past me but an enormous dump truck whose driver was paying zero attention to what was going on about 20 feet ahead. WTF squared!

I was far enough back to avoid the jam: Black Pickup and Blue Dump Truck going one way, three passenger cars coming in the other, in a spot where the single-lane road narrows to get around the curve.

I wanted the quick right, onto an even narrower dirt road. Fortunately there was just enough room between Blue Dump Truck and the trees for me and Malvina to squeeze by.

Unfortunately I don’t know how the jam sorted itself out. I’m sure it did, however. There were no bumpers or frayed tempers in evidence when I left about 40 minutes later.



About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to Country Roads

  1. Sharon Stewart says:

    Though I am a considerate driver, backing up is not one of my greatest skills. In parking lots I look for drive-through spaces so I’m pointing the right way to leave.


  2. tompostpile says:

    I may have told this story before, but on the Quansoo Road (the longest dirt road in the World) , some years back, like about forty, during the summer, a friend who lived down that way would, on his daily morning trips out, for carpentry work, regularly encounter a shiny black Mercedes, coming in, for who knows what…
    They met, every morning, and every morning the black Mercedes would patiently wait for my friend to pull over, so it could continue on its way.The friend, after weeks of this, was wicked unhappy with the Mercedes’ continual breach of road etiquette.
    He thought of a plan.
    One morning he placed an item in the passenger seat of his pickup, and left his home at the usual time. He encountered the Mercedes, also as usual.
    This particular morning, however, he drove right up to the big black car, turned off his engine, reached over to the seat next to him, picked up his chargeable electric razor, and began to shave.
    After a few minutes of this, the Mercedes’ driver got the hint, and backed up into a layby.


    • This is brilliant. For a couple of summers Once Upon a Time, the Deep Bottom road was the main access to Long Point. It might have been the closest I ever came to road rage. I was half convinced that cars licensed in New York didn’t come equipped with Reverse.


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