So Obama’s picked Martha’s Vineyard for a week vacation, and regardless of how much his weekly rental costs during the recession, it’s an excellent place to relax and fulfill his main goal: ‘spend time with my daughters.’ The home — the $20 million Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark — is away from most towns — and should help minimize extra summer traffic blocks by the Obama entourage, and it puts them nearer to some great lesser-seen parts of the island (West Tisbury’s Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturday is a sure bet, I’m guessing).
I just came back from the island, and pulled together my 22 (of maybe 122) reasons why Obama was right. And why anyone would win if they visited the Vineyard.
It’s diverse. It’s not just yacht clubs, Nantucket reds and Kennedys. Pittsburgh expat/historian David McCullough describes the island as a ‘microcosm of America.’ Oak Bluffs is famed for its African American roots. There are many Portuguese Americans, plus college students (and kids!) working on farms. Notably too are the Wampanoag — New England’s first federally recognized tribe (1987!) — who own the western tip at Gays Head/Aquinnah (a recent pageant told the traditional tales of Moshup creating the island by dragging his toe; above).
You get what you want out of it. The sea, fresh tomatoes, beaches, fishing, kayaking, sailing, reading (great bookstores and local authors), ‘mudslide’ cocktails with chocolate syrup, whirlwind of events (from plays to puppets to chamber orchestras), hikes, architectural history, clams, more reggae per capita than anywhere in the US but Burlington, Vermont.
Menemsha bike ferry. James Taylor’s brother owns a $5 bike ferry ‘up island’ (ie the western half of the island, more or less) that makes the tiny trip across the Menemsha Pond — great for bikers wanting to head up Lobsterville Beach without the trek uphill to the pond’s south shore. What’s better is the guy running it — a (possibly one-eyed) guy named for an Ohioan city and apparently with some history with a bong.
Old salts. You find them anywhere, the stiff-legged bearded salts casting an uneasy eye to the see — to sail, to fish. Best are Gannon & Benjamin, who make sailboats for the rich at Vinyard Haven and open their messy, fascinating workshop to anyone wanting to look.
Here’s the guys, and their beards, talking about what the Vineyard mean to them:
Bike paths. If you don’t like the sea, screw it. Rent a bike for $20 a day and hit 37 miles of bike paths, plus many more options on ‘ancient ways’ — back-country paths that crisscross the island.
Farms. If you don’t like the sea, screw it (again). Farms fill the interior of the island, best accessed at the West Tisbury farmer’s market at Grange Hall on Wednesday and Saturday — first tent features giant, authentic Vietnamese egg rolls.
Friendliness (& outright chattiness). Those conditioned on Hamptons’ coolness (even the New York Times finger-pointed Long Island’s playland recently) will be shocked by the easygoing approach of locals. Show an interest, and you’ll get an earful. At a detailed tour of Edgartown’s Vincent House, I learned about how many generations the people behind a fundraiser to relocate the house to its present spot 15 years before had been on the island. That was 10 minutes right there. The tour started after another 10 minutes of fascinating tangents. A great visit.
Ice cream. Mad Martha’s dominates the ice cream circuit (and polls) — with options, and colorful flavors, in Oak Bluffs (a town of colorful gingerbread houses, no less), Vineyard Haven and Edgartown (a town of more prim-and-proper white-paint-please housing). Mad Martha’s famed cones are good, but Edgartown’s quiet Scoops’ creamy options are actually better.
That apostrophe in Martha‘s Vineyard. You don’t see places get the apostrophe often — and, thanks to recent legislation, you wont see any streets in Birmingham, England sporting it — all of which makes the island that could have been called The Vineyard Belonging to Martha so special.
–> If you’re as curious as I am, apparently four other places in the US have clearance for an apostrophe per strict rules by the United States Board of Geographic Names (Ike’s Point, NJ; John E’s Pond, RI; Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, AZ; and Clark’s Mountain, OR).
Really nice beaches. Some, like the nudie one at Lucy Vincent Beach, are private unless you have property or staying at local inns with key access. No need. There are many superb ones. Oak Bluff’s State Beach and Inkwell Beach is nice, but Long Point is particularly nice, with a long stretch of gold sand you can (technically) walk in the wet part of the sand down to Robert McNamara’s old place where the Clintons once stayed. The water’s often rough, but there’s a couple freshwater ponds with sandy beaches to swim in, and kayak tours. Helping keep numbers down, the parking lot is small, filling usually by 11am.
There is no right way to grab brass rings at Oak Bluffs’ Flying Horses Carousel. It’s the oldest carousel in America — with underrated all-wood horses spinning around a corridor at $1.50 a spin. But that’s not the point. It’s to catch as many brass rings in a spring-action ring holder. And islanders ARGUE over which way to do — the quick finger curl vs the tilting reach forward/back. Personally combining both makes the most sense (it got three rings in one pass). ‘That’s nothing,’ the ticket seller told me. ‘My son got nine.’ I think he cheated.
Eating sandwiches & watching biplanes land on grass. On the road between Edgartown and South Beach (aka Katama Beach), you can stop at Right Fork Diner on the grass landing strip of Katama Airfield — food’s great and little biplanes land and take off nearby.
‘No! We DON’T have a stoplight.’ Locals are hilarious over this one, linking a possibility of a stoplight to a nuclear power plant. Between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, there’s a ‘blinking light’ (actually three at one corner, but who’s counting), and there are indeed a couple stoplights at the Vineyard Haven drawbridge that rises a couple times a day. ‘But that’s NOT a stoplight though. It’s for the bridge,’ one local quickly protested when I suggested otherwise. ‘Not on this island.’ Never mind the five-way intersection in Vineyard Havens may be the most bizarre, confusing traffic point I’ve ever seen.
‘Chappy.’ I’m sorry, no matter how many times I say the abbreviation for Chappaquiddick, or see it on a t-shirt, it never ceases to be funny. Good thing that the beaches — particularly the one at East Beach, past the infamous Dike Bridge — are super, and the overlooked Mytoi botanical garden (free and empty when I visited) is a great spot to sit, write poems of clam attacks or contemplate growing a beard.
Plus, you have to take a 70-second ferry to get over to Chappy from Edgartown. One 17-year-old ferry worker loves her job. ‘I get to talk all day. See what’s going on.’ Anyone ever fall in the water? ‘Yeah, there was one drunk lady who did last winter.’
Swimming holes. Locals know where to go to swim — at inland, fresh-water swimming holes, like the Ice House Pond in West Tisbury, off Lamberts Cove Rd. One catch, per one local, ‘You can’t do anything there but swim. No sunbathing, no picnics.’ Good thing that was the goal anyway.
The fun bus. No need for a car on the island. The well-organized Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority spins a web of routes around the island, and pick up/drop off anywhere along the way. Sometimes it requires a timetable study to figure out connections to reach Aquinnah; otherwise just ask. The drivers are a chatty bunch. One lectured me, ‘You know you’re traveling when you go to places without postcards.’ (The Vineyard doesn’t qualify, alas.)
The ongoing fiery MV Times vs MV Gazette debate. Locals are quick to point out which side of the local media line they reside — the Times is a bit ‘trashier’ to Gazette fans; the Gazette (around since 1846) is a rare brooooadsheet and with undeniably high quality stories. Both are better than most places with a year-round population of 15,000 would expect. (And I read them both.)
Outdoor showers. Many many homes have outdoor showers. And if you stay at one, it’s expected you’ll use it.
Jumping off ‘the bridge.’ On State Beach, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, everyone stops to jump off the rather small ‘Big Bridge’ (aka American Legion Memorial Bridge). It’s not high up, but you have to know when to go. One 12-year-old swore you could jump only at high tide. ‘Otherwise you’ll be killed.’ Nevertheless, I saw belly flops (successful, if painful) at most hours. Once in, you’re on your own though. And, yes, Jaws was filmed off this beach.
Bad transport links. That’s right, bad, awkward transport actually helps keep the island from being overwhelmed with MV lovers. It recently took me over 12 hours to return to New York City (door to door) on the ferry to New Bedford then Peter Pan bus. This came after going to Oak Bluffs on New England Fast Ferry‘s new direct ferry from Wall Street to Oak Bluffs — though some passengers learned why it’s nicknamed the ‘vomit comet.’ (Wasn’t that bad.)
Net Result’s secret picnic area. Everyone around Vineyard Haven knows that Net Result is the spot to pick up fresh seafood or ready-made lobster rolls. But most eat at the picnic tables by the parking lot. Breeze right by them. Across the parking lot is a grassy picnic area with empty tables facing the Lagoon (a popular kayak spot). ‘No one realizes it’s public,’ a local told me.
The Aquinnah Cultural Center. Housed in a 19th-century homestead by the Gay Head Cliffs (shown at top of post) just debuted a 40-minute loop of interviews with elder Wampanoags over the past 30 years — lots of fascinating details of Wampanoag life over the years to take in. Also, the energized staff sometimes put out fresh lemonade and cookies.
Rule: ANY museum with free cookies is worth a visit. Obama should go.