A walk down Vineyard Haven’s leaf-strewn Main street this week, with the rain-stained shingles of shopfronts announcing clearance sales and new opening hours, will tell you that summer is finally, officially, done with. For many on the Island Columbus Day marks the true seasonal watershed, bringing with it the final bulk batch of beachcomber tourists. Last Friday Steamship Authority ferries were filled to the gunwales with these last gaspers looking for sun, parties, an exchange of marriage vows or a bit of peace before the grind of fall begins in earnest.
To hear the weekenders tell it, the Vineyard is a paradisal annex from the 21st century where the listless can turn to hardy outdoor pursuits, the industrious can tinker with their boats and the contemplative can suck down freshly shucked oysters and throw a lucky line off the harbor jetty.
“Martha’s Vineyard has a certain reputation,” says Vineyard-raised Jeremy Meacham, a student in his junior year at Brown University, as Island-bound city escapees jostle for space in the ferry Martha’s Vineyard’s rowdy lunchroom. When Jeremy’s four school friends were offered a chance to stay in his family’s Oak Bluffs summer home they didn’t hesitate.
“And I’m going to be throwing mad parties,” Jeremy adds as people push past, beers and cups of chowder in hand. The boat rocks relatively hard in a stiff wind, but Jeremy’s all-male guests have their noses buried firmly in textbooks. Jeremy is undeterred. “I plan on doing so. The ladies are coming, man. Well . . . there aren’t that many girls.”
Off-Island living, meanwhile, is a bottomless cocktail of stress and pollution set against a color-free backdrop of commuter drudgery. “We’re here to get away from it all,” declares Barbara from New York city. She and Tara tough out the evening bluster on the deck and consult video footage on their PDAs. “Whoa, it’s so windy,” Tara says. A hot dog plate missiles past her face and splats dramatically against the railings in front of them, before being whisked on out to sea. “Oh my God,” says Tara. “That could have been me!” They retreat to their car on the freight deck.
“What happened to the guy who drank nine root beers?” asks a stocky man with a beer on the other side of the deck. He is setting up a joke for a girl of around four, though she is not his only audience. “He burped seven-up!” The punch line gets a raucous reception from the jokemaster but appears to provoke little more than confusion from the girl and from everyone else listening in.
Over in Woods Hole, The Leeside bar is a magnet for holidaymakers who have arrived a little too early or a little too late and have missed their ferry. “People come in saying what can I get real quick, like a chowder?” says the barman, with both eyes still on the sports page. But regular travelers such as Harris Benton and his cousin Scott, both electricians, know to leave enough time to enjoy a plate of chicken, the free popcorn and beverages. “You want a shot?” asks Scott. This is not their first shot. In fact, Harris had his first beer at midday. “There was a house I was supposed to be working on but the guy had put in a wall border already. So I went and bought a six pack,” he said. The cousins plan to catch the 7:30 p.m. Martha’s Vineyard to meet Harris’s brother and father. Scott proffers some of his chicken as Harris explains. “It’s a tradition we’ve been forming, coming out here for the past three or four years to fish,” he says. “It’s just the men.” Scott underlines the point. “No wives,” he says. “We catch around 20 pounds of scallops and they last the winter.” They detail an enticing recipe called scalloped scallops (ingredients: scallops, scalloped potatoes, broken-up crackers and more scallops). Then, draining their beers with familial synchronicity, they sling their bags and head out to the dock.