Squid Row

For as long as anybody can remember, Menemsha regulars have been coming to the bench outside Marshall and Katie Carroll’s Texaco station and store to shoot the bull. It’s called Squid Row, and it is the harbor’s number one repository for gossip, stories, memories and fishing tales of questionable veracity.

Pull up a seat and spend the morning at the Chilmark General Store. — Maria Thibodeau

It’s nothing more than a couple of planks propped up on four cinder blocks. The words Squid Row are painted on a piece of driftwood, hung just below an American flag. There is a chair on the other side of the Texaco station door, and a picnic table on the lawn just around the corner, to handle the overflow when things really get hopping.

Chris Murphy says he’s not a regular, but on rare occasions, he will plop down on the planks and join the conversation.

“You don’t talk about the people that are there, you talk about other people,” Mr. Murphy said.

The bench tends to be populated by Island regulars early in the morning, and late rising visitors later in the day.

On one recent morning, in between politics and fish stories, the regulars were chewing over the subject of when the harbor neighborhood known as Creeksville, became known as Menemsha.

“I so look forward to waking up early in the morning, and coming to sit here,” said Rosemary Raymond, visiting from Westport. “It’s a wonderful little secret.”

Beau the collie is keeping his opinions to himself in Menemsha. — Mark Alan Lovewell

She refers to Paul Mayhew, an old-timer a few seats down the planks, as the mayor of Squid Row.

“That and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee at the gas station,” said Mr. Mayhew, whose family came to the Island in 1641.

There are no moderators and no rules, though several observers said the political bent of many Squid Row residents is on the conservative side of the spectrum.

But, like the New England weather, if you don’t like the tone of the conversation, wait a minute.

Sebastian Gale, 21 months old, is ready for some conversation. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“That bench changes maybe every half an hour, an hour, but it’s the same group of people at any particular time,” Mr. Murphy said. “If you came at 6 a.m. this morning, you would find a certain group of people there. Probably tomorrow morning they’d all be there again. It changes. Each group thinks they’re a unique group.”

In any small harbor town, the position of harbor master is one of the most delicate jobs in town government. Maybe that’s why Chilmark harbor master Dennis Jason doesn’t want to talk much about Squid Row. He usually avoids taking a seat.

“Not if I can help it,” he said with a laugh. “Too much politics.”

— Steve Myrick


Alley's General Store

Sunday morning visitors to West Tisbury are likely unaware that their every move is observed by three Island elders with decades of town wisdom in their gaze. For John Alley, Harry Athearn and Shirley Howell, downtown West Tisbury is their kingdom and the wobbly bench on the porch of Alley’s General Store their shared throne.

John Alley, Harry Athearn, and Shirley Howell, gathered on the porch at Alley's, have been swapping tales since grade school. — Ray Ewing

Every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. they are there among the hula hoops, sandcastle building supplies and pool noodles for sale on the porch of the Island’s oldest store. The three have known each other since childhood.

“I fell into this,” said Mr. Alley of the morning gathering. “I sort the mail here, and one day I wasn’t doing anything so I sat in with them, and I wasn’t overly impressed, but I came back.”

“He’s the one here that nobody believes what he says,” Ms. Howell said.

“It’s called stirring the pot!” said Mr. Alley.

As the sun moved up over the porch roof last Sunday, they watched the cars, trucks, and tourists go by. They noted the low license plate number one one car, a couple of kayaks poking out the back of another. Mr. Athearn waved as his brother James rode by on a tractor.

Time ticks by at the porch of Alley's General Store. — Ray Ewing

In the 7a parking lot, a group of about a dozen cyclists in spandex drank Gatorade and buckled helmets.

“These look like the kinds of bike riders that won’t use the bike paths,” Ms. Howell said.

Between observations, they remembered what West Tisbury used to look like. They all went to school upstairs in the town hall when first through fourth grades were taught in one room.

“If you were closest to the blackboard you were in first grade. If you were closest to the window you were in fourth grade,” Mr. Alley said.

In fifth grade they were taken by bus to the Tisbury school down-Island.

“Vineyard Haven was a city compared to here in those days,” Mr. Athearn said.

Mr. Alley said the church a couple of doors down used to be in the cemetery, but it was moved in the 1800s. The steeple was built on the new location with a clock inside.

Rob Oslyn. — Ray Ewing

“His father wound the clock for 40 years,” Mr. Alley said, nodding to Mr. Athearn. “It has four faces, it’s a bugger. I remember your mom out there on the lawn yelling, Left! Right! Because you can’t see anything from in there.”

After what seemed like just a few minutes, eleven o’clock had come and gone, and the three bards of West Tisbury got on their way. Ms. Howell said she would be back to the porch in the evening too for the 5 o’clock group.

“We talk about real issues then,” she said. “And we don’t let him in,” she joked of Mr. Alley.

“I wouldn’t go anyway,” he said.

— Holly Pretsky

Chilmark Store

Henry Mojica, 8, and his mother, Bethany, enjoy a cooling moment. — Maria Thibodeau

Henry Mojica, age eight, desperately wanted some ice cream. His mother Bethany Mojica was cradling his brother son Winston, age 11 months, and desperately needed some coffee. Her husband, J.C. Mojica, wanted both and maybe a place to sit down. The daytrippers from Boston had just spent Sunday morning at Moshup Beach and were heading back down-Island when they saw the Chilmark Store porch, bustling with activity.

“I feel like a local,” said Ms. Mojica as she sat down one of the porch benches with a coffee-flavored Haagen-Dazs ice cream. “This feels like the place to be.”

Mr. Mojica, holding a cold brew coffee and an ice cream sandwich, agreed.

“I feel well cared for,” he said.

Frank, Diego, and Melanie Perez. — Maria Thibodeau

Henry licked at an ice cream drumstick (vanilla ice cream with a hardened chocolate shell) and hopped up onto one of the porch’s 14 rocking chairs. He settled in with a smile, but his legs were fidgeting.

“This porch needs a bathroom,” he said.

It was also the first visit to the porch for Bay Behar, an art director from Los Angeles who was designing a magazine on his laptop. One hand was on the keyboard, the other scratching his long, thick beard. A group of teenagers sat next to him gossiping about a lifeguard they thought was cute.

“There are a lot of distractions, but I like to people watch,” Mr. Behar said with a grin.

What to do today? Chilmark Store porch has lots of ideas. — Maria Thibodeau

Over the course of the next half-hour, roughly 50 Islanders, tourists and dogs made their way up and down the porch’s wooden staircase. Many lingered to chat with old friends and look over the massive bulletin board of flyers for yard sales, guitar lessons and lost cats.

Aquinnah highway foreman Frank Perez was looking out at the Jeep-filled parking lot while his wife Melanie Perez played with their six-year-old son Diego. Mr. Perez was barefoot. He wasn’t the only one.

“I love the camaraderie here, and you might see a famous person,” he said, though he didn’t see any at the moment.

A Tri-Town ambulance drove up and a man got out and briskly walked into the store. A few minutes later, the man exited with several slices of pizza wrapped up, in paper already darkened from grease. “We all work, but we at least stop here,” said Mr. Perez.

— Landry Harlan