How to Survive Summer

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.

Island Closed smSeasonal 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.”

The bike path is more crowded than in the off-season, but bikers, runners, joggers, and walkers move at a manageable speed, and most of them are friendly.

The bike path is more crowded than in the off-season, but bikers, runners, joggers, and walkers move at a manageable speed, and most of them are friendly.

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.

Summer is not Trav's favorite season. The foot of the stairs is a cool place to sleep.

Summer is not Trav’s favorite season. The foot of the stairs is a cool place to sleep.

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.”

Rolling in the grass is fun, and cool. Watch out for ticks.

Rolling in the grass is fun, and cool. Watch out for ticks.

“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.

Take a seat, sit back, enjoy the show.

Take a seat, sit back, 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.

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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11 Responses to How to Survive Summer

  1. Luanne says:

    You’ve really given me a feel for the island here. Good job keeping people away in the summer! It sounds like chaos. My son lives in Newport Beach, California, and Pacific Coast Highway and the roads leading off are not even roads during July 4th holidays, for instance. The locals only walk or ride bikes. I thought about moving (once) to Coronado Island (San Diego) but the thoughts of people traipsing through my yard during the summer kept me from it. But Martha’s Vineyard has a lot of undeveloped land, right?


    • There’s a lot of conserved land, including the state forest, which occupies more than 5,300 acres at the center of the island. The M.V. Land Bank, established in 1986, has done an amazing job buying up and managing land for public use. It’s funded by a tax on most arm’s-length real estate transactions. So we landless and land-cramped have access to wonderful trails and fields and even beaches. But the price of land and the closely related cost of housing are IMO our biggest problem, driven by summer people with off-island incomes (and/or independent wealth) bidding up the price of property. Pretty much the only reason any farms have survived is agricultural development restrictions, in which farmers sell development rights to the state. Otherwise many more of those larger holdings would have been subdivided to pay the taxes (and send the farmer’s kids to college).

      The last few lines of Adrienne Rich’s “Power” were written about Marie Curie but I think they apply all too well to the Vineyard: “She died a famous woman denying / her wounds /
      denying / her wounds came from the same source as her power.”


  2. karen says:

    I did not find your book in Edgartown Books. Didn’t get a chance to stop in Bunch of Grapes. I’ll order online! Illumination Night — well, now I like it even less … and it came highly recommended by the clerk at EB … I believed Alice H. must have experience on island to talk of the few places she did but it became clear there wasn’t much evidence. I came away from the read thinking I had wasted my time, because you never get to really care about the characters or their choices, which is usually not a good sign. There is also not much in the way of a “feel” for the island … Now it makes sense. She has so many fans though, so I thought it must be — something-. You have validated my thoughts.


  3. I enjoy this insider’s perspective you offer us today. I have never been to Martha Vineyard but to Cape Cod and Nantucket. Always off season, knowing how busy it can be during July and August. That’s the advice I give to anyone who wants to visit Yosemite National Park.
    The most touristy place I ever lived in is Paris. But it’s much bigger than an island, so it is of course easier. However I remember my pride when tourists arrived in the summer. They come year round, but summer remains the hottest season. I was always happy to guide them or tell them about one favorite place of mine.
    As for the residents of popular locations, I think we should feel grateful to live somewhere that it so beautiful that people want to see for themselves. Off season arrives soon enough. And then the place is just for the locals to enjoy. What a great life to have both!
    Great post and great blog, too. Thank you.


    • Thank you, Evelyne! I’ve never been to Paris 😦 but I did live in Washington, D.C., for 11 years. D.C. gets tourists year-round but especially in the summer, when it’s beastly hot and humid. I didn’t notice the tourists much in Washington, partly because it’s a big city but also because they rarely came to the neighborhoods where working people live. They spent most of their time around the Mall, where the federal buildings and monuments and the Smithsonian museums are. By contrast — the year-round Vineyard population is 15,000, and in summer it shoots up above 100,000. It’s hard to miss!

      I love your blog, btw. I try to read the French posts too, even though my French is, ahem, rudimentary. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. karen says:

    I just returned hours ago from a weeklong stay in Edgartown. Your tips for locals are also observed by some of us who are regular tourists… We dine early for all meals and rarely have much of a wait, we walk instead of take our car whenever that’s possible. We enjoy the beaches sometimes on overcast days, when they are still bursting with ocean beauty, and avoid the grocery store any midafter noon, early evening, and weekend, period. I’m happy to report we are JULY people… because I think that’s probably better than an August visitor judging by your post. We have found the waitstaff, even when bombarded with crowds, do be pleasant and even fun. That can’t be easy! The five way intersection in Vineyard haven is absolutely crazy at times… dangerous is the word I want to use…. and i have a question for you locals.. why is that not regulated by a light of some sort? Atleast in crazy tourist season?

    I give you all credit for being gracious with the public, because too often I see litter on your beautiful island, and drivers who are angry or nuts or both…and I think to myself, if this where MY home, I would hate the summer traffic unless I had wares to sell.

    We had a wonderful visit and part of that is because of the locals who made it special. My thanks to all – I did some driving around and my children rode horses at Arrowhead Farm in West Tisbury… what a lovely place, and a lovely woman who owns it. We had a meaningful conversation about a handicap of mine and she couldn’t have been kinder. A true vineyarder, I’m sure.


    • During my years working retail, chambermaiding, and working for the Martha’s Vineyard Times I couldn’t help noticing that we were all a little, uh, frayed by the middle of August. In July we were still pretty coherent. There’s a point around the third week in the August where the summer-hire college students depart and everyone else is left to deal with summer still in full swing, including those dreaded August people. It sounds as though you were playing it smart! Was it Charlene Douglas you spoke with at Arrowhead? She’s the owner, but I’m not sure how much she’s involved with day-to-day operations.


      • karen says:

        I believe so… she was mucking stalls and raking around the barn, very petite brunette? I would guess she is in her late fifties? Lovely woman. and I LOVE the side roads and country ways of West Tisbury! Just beautiful. I asked if Arrowhead was her farm and she replied yes. Her horses are very well cared for. We discussed the cost of board..and it is very high compared to here in Connecticut. The reason, of course, is that everything has to be imported to the island.. and a hay truck cost $500. just to get across on the ferry. That does not include the price of the hay and delivery.

        I had five young adults to entertain and feed during the week, I did not get to the reading of the new book you discussed, I was hoping to see the red hat and meet you in person. While on island I read Alice Hoffman’s “Illumination night”… it was “eh”. I want to get a copy of his book next. I believe it’s available online now, must check.

        Thanks for giving us want-to-be-Vineyard folks a glimpse at what it means to be truly local.


      • That sounds like Charlene. Horsekeeping is very expensive here, even if you do most of the work yourself, especially if you don’t own land. I know: I did it for 10 years, 1999–2010. It also eats up your life.

        Kevin’s talk was great and very well attended. He recognized me by my hat. 🙂 Do read his book. If you haven’t read my novel, The Mud of the Place, I think you’d like it. You can find it online, and I really do hope to have an e-version out by this fall. The novel in progress picks up some of the same characters 10 or 12 years later.

        Illumination Night isn’t all that well thought of around here. I never read it, in part because IIRC around the time it came out Hoffman was quoted as saying she’d never been to MV and didn’t think it was necessary. This pissed me off!


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