They say a good thing never lasts, but I generally feel as though I come into the good things I find at the tail end. As Cameron Crowe put it, via his incarnation of Lester Bangs contemplating rock and roll, I get there just in time for the death rattle. As I begin the end of my vacation, I’m feeling that way about this island.
It all started with The Monstrosity. Wait, first the good news and then the bad.
Here is why, in my opinion, this place—Vineyard Haven and West Chop in particular—is ideal. All the houses are pretty, tastefully landscaped, and well maintained without being cutesy or ostentatious. Cutesy is Oak Bluffs. Edgartown can certainly be ostentatious. But Vineyard Haven is fairly laid back.
The community is dedicated to preserving the quality of life here, but there are simply some roads that will never be paved because…well, what a bother!
There’s a family living in the lighthouse, maintaining that federal property, and they have a basketball hoop over the garage door. The tennis club is participating in the voluntary water ban. Most of the cars in the parking lot at the A&P have the same bumper sticker: Mopeds are Dangerous. Everyone waves at me or says hello when I run or bike past them…and they mean it—the pleasantry is sincere. They don’t know me, but I’ve found my way to their neck of the woods and that’s enough. They’re happy to see me enjoying their way of life.
Then there are the people themselves—families who’ve been coming here for generations and the friends they’ve lured in to keep them company. I overheard a conversation between two women at lunch the other day. The older one said, “I know the Elliots introduced you to your husband, but did you know we invited them here for their first visit and helped them find their house?” They look for any way to weave you into their lives.
The yacht club is not what you think. It has exactly eight deck chairs. Mainly there are benches and picnic tables covered in plastic tablecloths.
And no computers or cell phones are allowed on the deck. Everyone knows each other one way or another or they introduce themselves and find they have someone in common. There is no dress code. People wear bathing suits, tennis clothes if they’re actually playing in the courts out back, or cargo pants and a t-shirt. Strangers who sidle up and tell me they like my red polka dot dress simply mean it. There are no cocktails.
There is traffic in Vineyard Haven, but no one drives aggressively. They stop for you and wave. They ask you if you’re lost when you’re stopped on your bike consulting your book or map. Also, people drive hybrids and clunkers, not monster SUVs.
The food is mostly grown or caught locally due to the expense of bringing cargo on and off the island. I was at the fish market again yesterday and I saw a sign that read, “Fishing is not a life or death matter. It’s far more important than that!” And this is how people here feel about the food they provide. There is a farm here that operates greenhouses without soil and another that has backtracked the farming of peaches to recreate The Real Peach. I may get to taste one tomorrow, but my point is that someone cares about this. These people care.
I’m also staying in a gem of a house. Originally built in the1800s and architecturally renovated twenty-some years ago, it’s typical in size for West Chop. It is fabulously located with a view of Vineyard Haven Harbor and a high hedge that keeps out the noise and general obstruction of cars passing on the road between the house and the waterfront. The view remains unobstructed because my friends helped turn the waterfront land into an extension of the Sheriff’s Meadow preserve. And by securing against future building on this tract they unwittingly invited The Monstrosity…and the end is nigh.
Some Miami trial attorney with more money than sense bought the other two lots that face the protected waterfront land and is in the midst of constructing a five building compound with a swimming pool, tennis courts, a putting green, and a regulation basketball court. The hedge is not high enough to block this obstruction. As if anyone in the neighborhood were less than appalled by his activities, the owner has posted black and red signs at each end of the construction sight: Private Property, Keep Out! This is what my friends call The Monstrosity. I’ve taken to calling it Xanadu…better yet, Xana-Don’t!
I’ve been privy to all manner of worst-case scenario discussions since this business began, but you have to see it to believe it—to understand how things really are changing here. You let someone like this get a foothold and in twenty years all you have left is yet another enclave for the super rich. What do you wind up with? Loud parties, drunk drivers, dinner reservations, valet parking, spa day, and a makeover to cover those bags under your eyes. In short, mopeds are the least of your dangers.