With this year’s changeover I commence my 30th year as a year-round resident of Martha’s Vineyard. Traditionally the changeover is when the July people leave and the August people arrive. I’m not sure we have real changeovers anymore: it seems more visitors come for a week or two than for a whole month.
July people and, especially, August people live on in our imaginations, however. A few days ago a friend commented that the August people had arrived early this year. August people are said to be richer, more demanding, and generally more obnoxious than July people.
July people don’t seem to have any distinctive characteristics of their own. All you really have to know about July people is that they aren’t August people.
I dropped out of the seasonal rat race in 1999 when I left the Martha’s Vineyard Times to become a full-time freelance editor. It’s a dicey, hand-to-mouth existence, but it has its perks. One of the biggest is that I can stay off the roads when the traffic is seriously nuts.
Seasonal stress affects just about every year-round island resident. Now that it’s getting toward the end of July, cries of “Only 26 days till the Fair!” and “37 days till Labor Day!” are heard in the land. (The Ag Fair is late this year. Labor Day is early.) We swap stories of how long it took to get from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs and how many cars we saw on the way.
Back in early June I asked my MV Facebook friends to share the advice they’d like to give to tourists and other summer visitors. The resulting blog post, “How to Be a Good Tourist,” was a big hit.
Time for a sequel, thought I. I asked my Facebook buddies: “How do you keep your sanity and survive the summer?”
Once again, my friends obliged.
Counseled one woman: “Don’t go into town or through town or near town.”
When you have to go to town, as most of us do, the word was to go early. A fellow blogger from up the road wrote: “Do not go down island between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. if you can possibly help it. Save your errands and chores to make as few trips as possible. Take the VTA (Vineyard Transit Authority) bus if you can. Earplugs are good. But not while driving.”
The bus recommendation was seconded by several. Said one woman: “No more looking for parking spaces or driving defensively. I just sit back and relax and let the bus driver take the traffic stress.”
In the morning, noted an up-island resident, “No one is on the roads, it is peaceful and gorgeous, every parking spot is open, and you can even get early morning breakfast discounts at some joints.”
If you can’t go early, go on a good beach day. Don’t ever, ever go to town when it’s raining. Everybody who isn’t at the beach is shopping down-island.
Go to Edgartown the back way, via the West Tisbury road. The only alternative, the Triangle, is the worst bottleneck on the island. Avoid it.
Avoid Vineyard Haven during rush hour. Five Corners is a challenge at the best of times. When the ferry’s unloading it’s downright awful. In summer, ferries are docking and unloading all the time. One morning it took me 30 minutes to get from Grace Church in Vineyard Haven to Lola’s restaurant on the Beach Road in Oak Bluffs. A full 20 of those minutes were spent getting through Five Corners.
“Leave early to wherever you’re going,” advised one friend, “and drive slow because everyone else drives crazy.” She also noted that after picking up her daughter at the Beyoncé–Jay Z concert at Gillette Stadium on July 1, she had a new perspective on traffic. “It took us two and a half hours to get to our hotel six miles away. Six miles!! The Vineyard traffic is nothing in comparison.”
Many of us have turned dealing with traffic into something of a spiritual practice. My blogger buddy noted: “Cultivate detachment, and if stuck in traffic, consider it a golden opportunity to notice things you’d not have seen otherwise.”
Apart from the one at the drawbridge, there are no traffic lights on Martha’s Vineyard. You can wait forever at a stop sign before there’s a break in the traffic. I’m not the only one who makes it a point to stop whenever it’s safe to do so and let people in from the side streets.
Travvy’s vet does likewise. “When driving,” she writes, “I try to let three cars go at every difficult intersection. It calms me down to practice this courtesy, and I envision that each of those three drivers will be thoughtful to three more, then those nine to twenty-seven — and so on . . .”
One veteran of seasonal employment noted that summer is easier to deal with now that she doesn’t “have to deal with the public all the time.” She advised against working retail and driving a cab. “Be wary of landscaping, too,” she added, “as there is a lot of driving between jobs.”
A mainstay of the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, however, relishes the seasonal onslaught. “Breathe, smile and wave, that’s what I do,” she said. Crowds? “Bring them on, cha-ching!”
“You’re the involuntary staff of a theme park,” said a sage survivor of many island summers. “Since you have no choice, the way to be happy is to put your heart and soul into it. Go up to strangers with a big sunny smile and welcome them to this wonderful place. In Stop & Shop, greet them and say ‘Are you finding everything you need?’ On sidewalks, when tourists look lost, ask if they’d like a free walking tour of the town. Aside from testing your improv skills, these overfriendly gestures have the fun potential of really freaking people out!”
Be courteous and patient with overstressed cashiers and wait staff too. Look for opportunities to lend a hand. One fellow suggested, “If you are driving a truck or station wagon and see a bicyclist carrying their bike, stop and ask if they need a ride to the bike shop. It will take you a few extra minutes, but you’ll turn somebody’s day from black to golden.”
Having been a regular hitchhiker back in my summer-visiting days, I now regularly pick up hitchhikers, especially women. I’ve got into some great conversations that way.
A big summer stress for many Vineyarders is entertaining a never-ending stream of house guests. Know your limits. “If you have ‘friends’ who want to visit in July or August, either give them a nice list of inns and B&Bs, or suggest they come in October or November.”
“Easy does it” came up frequently, and in a variety of ways. “Try to enjoy the season itself,” advised a well-known writer. “The sweet pearly early mornings, evenings on the screen porch, the cry of an owl.”
For several respondents, gardening provides diversion, relaxation, and good things to eat.
A man who grew up here and now has two small sons of his own said, “Summer never bothered me until I turned 30. After that I never seemed to have enough time to get things done and my time was no longer truly my own. So my advice is simple: Slow down and stop worrying, everything on your list will get done in time, just not the time you want.”
Another Vineyarder concurred: “Take a deep breath, find some humor in human behavior and play with it. My favorite game is to keep my place and pace on the right-hand side of the sidewalk on Circuit Ave. while smiling and making eye contact with people walking three abreast or to smile and say ‘excuse me’ then ‘thank you’ to groups conversing in the middle of the sidewalk.. The Red Sea parts every time in an amicable way.”
Our techniques for surviving summer on the Vineyard work year-round, and in other places too. Live your life. Roll with the punches. Enjoy the show.
Thanks to everyone who contributed, including those I overheard in the grocery-store check-out line or the post office, but especially Linda Alley, Dan Waters, Jeremy Dunham, Cheryl Burns, Kelly Ames Smith, Annie Parsons, David Corriveau, Michelle Jasny, Kim Hilliard, Helen Green, Amelia Smith, and Tom Hodgson.