In this contentious election season — which may or may not be more contentious than elections past, but it sure has got my attention — with recriminations, animosities, and grudges at the center of the national stage, I can’t help wondering what holds this nation together. Is it possible to speak of a “we” that doesn’t shut out a significant chunk of the country?
The US of A is so vast and diverse that my imagination fails me. So, as usual, I fall back on Martha’s Vineyard. Vast Martha’s Vineyard is not, but it’s far more diverse than people who know it only by reputation realize.
Still, a year-round population of 16,535 (according to the 2010 census) and even a summer population of 100,000+ (all of whom seem to have been on the roads yesterday) is easier to imagine than the 310 million or so souls that make up the US of A. For months we’ve been quarreling about the presidential election. We’re still at it. But I can produce unity, or at least the semblance thereof, with one word:
Most of the island population, year-round and seasonal, loathes mopeds. We loathe mopeds even in the dead of winter, when there are none of them around. At the moment the loathing is particularly acute because a week ago this past Saturday there was a horrendous accident. The moped two young women were riding veered out of control on busy Barnes Road and slammed into a dump truck. Thanks to rapid intervention by first responders and passersby, both women survived, but one lost her leg.
An online petition is now circulating, asking the state to change the motor vehicle laws so that only those who carry “licenses similar to those required of motorcycle drivers” would be allowed to rent mopeds.
This is by no means the first effort to curb or outright ban moped rentals. The first big one arose in 1988. Stickers spawned by that campaign are still sported by many island cars and pickups. What struck me at the time, as a fairly recent arrival on these shores, was what an utterly perfect issue it was. People who squabbled about everything else, who’d been carrying grudges against each other since third grade, united in their opposition to mopeds.
What made it so perfect?
- It’s all in the best interest of someone else. How could anyone oppose an effort to save people from serious injury and possible death? See also #3.
- Mopeds are a PITA. Who hasn’t fumed while waiting to pass a moped on State Road or one of the narrow, winding roads that lead to Menemsha and the Gay Head Cliffs?
- Moped riders are easily dismissed as out of shape, stupid, and downright ugly. Listen to us describe the bleeping moped riders we got stuck behind yesterday or last year or half a dozen years ago. Big butts, beer bellies, tacky clothing, and inappropriate footwear come up a lot. Yes, there is a class element here. See also #5.
- The owners of the moped rental places are not especially popular. (This was obvious in 1988. It may not be as big a factor now.)
- People who rent mopeds don’t live here. Not only that, they’re unlikely to have friends or family here. They’re day trippers.
#5 is the clincher. It’s what makes the anti-moped crusade a perfect issue. It’s not true that everyone on Martha’s Vineyard knows everybody else, but if you’ve been here a while, and especially if you’re on Facebook, you’re probably no more than two degrees of separation from almost everybody else. This means you think twice before wearing your politics on a T-shirt or on the bumper of your car.
There is no downside to inconveniencing or pissing off people who toodle around the island on mopeds. And railing against mopeds won’t piss off the people you don’t want or can’t afford to piss off, like your friends, relatives, and co-workers.
Like I said, it’s the perfect issue.