The vehicle safety situation on this little island is pretty funky indeed. We have no police or mechanics or any other way of keeping tabs on the condition of vehicles, or fixing them if we do find something wrong. What we do know is if it runs we should drive it. Then there’s the rust thing; even if you wanted to fix something, the odds of getting through to rusty bolts without breaking them off are pretty slim. Cars and trucks seem to dissolve around here. It’s like parking your car on the beach for months with all kinds of storms blowing through them all the time. The island is so small that no matter where you stand there is a view of the ocean in at least three directions, and you’re always within reach of wind-blown sea foam.
We should go back, though, to the day when any vehicle made its way to the island on the trash barge in the first place. Chances are it’s here because it couldn’t pass inspection on the mainland. Anyone who pays more than $200 for a car or truck is an object of ridicule for life. The problem isn’t the summer people or the retired people; they drive golf carts, even in winter, which have a much lower incident ratio, usually involving outright inebriation or the cold beer that emptied itself out between the legs and sent somebody off into the thorny raspberry bushes screaming. No, it’s the hard core who drive vehicles, the fishermen, guides and carpenters. The ones with troublemaking for sport in their blood. They’ll drive around for weeks or months without brakes, using the many stone walls on the island to stop them in times of dire need as opposed to running somebody over. This isn’t much of a problem in the winter but when things warm up . . . things warm up.
The selectmen had this great idea last July that they would set up a roadblock in an effort to inspect every vehicle on the island for at least working brakes and lights. It was supposed to be a secret. They got out there pretty early in the morning looking pretty official in their clean shirts sitting at card tables on either side of the road down at four corners, holding clipboards and flashlights. They probably should have worn football helmets and running shoes. Some secret. Not a single vehicle left a dooryard for two days, making them look a little more foolish with the passing of every hour.
They tried to pull a fast one by showing up again a second day. Not a chance. In hindsight, they should be grateful that nobody came by in anything but a golf cart or on foot, because there are no stone walls where they were set up and half the vehicles wouldn’t have been able to stop anyway. There would have been carnage and Coast Guard helicopters and the state police and probably even the Gazette, general chaos and all for naught. Golf carts,as you know, could not be included because it’s illegal in this state for them to be on the road anyway. There’s a can of worms for you. Could have been fun to watch that discussion especially in light of the fact that there is an unwritten rule on the island which states that one cannot operate a golf cart without a beer between the legs after nine o’clock in the morning unless it’s Saturday morning and it’s treatment for a hangover.
The selectmen didn’t catch on that nobody was driving until the middle of the afternoon, which is kind of surprising given the parade of banana boxes full of groceries on about 20 different shoulders that started as soon as the mail boat arrived. Even 85-year-old Gladys Ashworth came by huffing and puffing with a two by four over her shoulder, and on up the hill to where Bung was working. He didn’t bother going himself. It took A.P. almost the entire day to get that load of studs that came for him up to the job. The old folks like Gladdy were only good for one trip. She was a stoic soul, a real trooper, but the rest were awfully whiny about it. Buddy Bosworth put so many two by fours on his golf cart as a favor to A.P. that the roof collapsed, never to rise again.
The second day was a little different after some careful planning and a few beers down at the dock that first night. As soon as the boat hit the dock, everything was thrown in a pile and left, making sure that anything that came for any one of the selectmen was way at the bottom of the pile and nothing was touched until they gave up on the inspection idea. Which they did.
We got back to normal pretty quickly after that but it had been a couple of days of nice relief from being stricken with terror and fear for our lives every time we hear that familiar steel on granite screeching sound whenever somebody needed to stop. And we haven’t even touched on foggy nights, no lights, no brakes and no muffler night sweats. Sometime when I can find the courage.
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.