Years ago contra dances were held monthly on Martha’s Vineyard. We even had one here on Chappy at the Chappy Community Center one summer. Sally and I attended regularly enough that we could easily carry out the steps and figures. Contra dances usually include some square dancing as well as a few waltzes. During the contra and square dances the caller would tell us what figure to do next. A big part of it was teaching the figures to the newcomers and introducing new figures to the old-timers. Just by the nature of the dance everybody would get a chance to dance with everyone else, if only momentarily. Callers like to mix things up and after each dance would suggest that we all find a new partner for the next dance. Sally and I would just hold on tight to each other, eager to take advantage of the rare opportunity to do something together that didn’t bring on a disagreement. We excelled at “swing your partner” and the waltz.
The CCC contra dance sticks in my mind because of the laughter I associate with it. It was summertime and since there were many unfamiliar faces we had name tags. It was an early evening dance and there were folks of all ages. We each wrote out our own name tag with a marker and stuck it on our chest. I have retained the sense of humor of a 13 year old so I was especially amused when two young guys wrote nonsense names on their tags — Hugh Jass and Ben Dover. They even addressed one another as Hugh and Ben, which brought on gales of laughter. I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that it tickled my funny bone so.
A lot of time and effort is required in the planning of a dance and as years went by we all got too busy with other obligations, so the dances have been fewer and farther between. But thankfully someone has recently made it their priority to organize a dance for this weekend. I know that this is short notice, but I give you my personal guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. So get yourself over to the Portuguese-American Club on Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs on Saturday night, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. The Flying Elbows will provide the music and Kansas Brew will call the dance moves. No prior experience is necessary and you don’t need to bring a partner. Accomplished dancers will be pleased with the talented musicians and the skilled caller. This is a fundraiser put on by the Martha’s Vineyard Row Club for the benefit of Sail MV. Admission is $10 per person. Across the bottom of the poster advertising the dance are the words, “What’s a contra dance? It isn’t ballet but it’s fun.” I hope to see you there.
One last reminder about the Chappy ferry open forum at the CCC this Saturday, Feb. 8th at 10 a.m. I’ve posed the question “How well is the present ferry service working and what do we envision for the future?” I look forward to hearing your responses.
Though our focus at the ferry is primarily on keeping the boats running, as in every enterprise, it’s still about human interaction. I’ve met some interesting people at the ferry. One summer morning a big black SUV with tinted windows pulled up to the ferry house. Out stepped a guy in a jacket and tie. He had a curlicue of wire coming from his ear and a lump that looked like a pistol below his left shoulder. He introduced himself as an agent with the capitol police and that they would be transporting a government official to Chappy later in the day. I had already heard through the grapevine about this visiting dignitary and even knew with whom he was going to have dinner. The efficient information network that has long been established on Chappy should impress the secret service. The agent explained that because of a very full schedule, our dignitary would be getting to Chappy late in the evening and therefore the party might run beyond the usual close of ferry service. He suggested that perhaps the ferry captain would be willing to make a special trip after midnight and emphasized that price was no object. I’ve seen enough movies to know that there is only one correct response to such a request and I told him that we would be delighted to do our part to keep the government running smoothly.
As promised, late that evening two big black SUVs with tinted windows boarded the ferry. I happened to be on board. As I approached the first SUV the driver’s window opened just a few inches. Since I couldn’t see into the vehicle in order to calculate the fare I began to recite our price structure. After a brief consultation with another person in the vehicle he said that the other SUV would take care of it. I proceeded to the other SUV and again the window opened just a few inches. I went through the same routine about the price, explaining that the other guy told me that he would take care of it. After a brief consultation with another person in the vehicle, he said, “We don’t have any money.” I inquired if they were the guys taking the dignitary to so and so’s house and for whom we would be staying up late. He confirmed that indeed they were and that the United States government appreciated our cooperation. I’ve seen enough movies to know who had prevailed in that conversation. It occurred to me that perhaps this was just a facet of President Bush’s effort to cut government spending. So when we arrived in the Chappy slip, I just waved them off. Thinking back to my morning conversation when the first agent said that price is no object, I really hadn’t realized the full extent of how inconsequential an object it actually was to these guys. Anyway, they came back just before midnight and I chalked up the lost revenue as a lesson learned. Next time I’ll address financing at the very outset of negotiations.