The Off-Off-Season

It finally happened the other day. Four people in line at the coffee shop, and I knew every one of them.
It’s that time of the year again where life in this part of the world – as it does in most summer communities in the winter months – gets pretty cozy. Cozy might actually be a too-polite way of putting it. There are folks among us who’d prefer the term “stifling.” True, our numbers here on the Island dwindle to where that same person I was standing beside at the coffee shop is the same person who pumps my gas later that day, who is the same person who is J. Lo-ing it up at Karaoke Night at the pub where I grab a burger for dinner.
Did I say Karaoke? Yup, we're scraping the barrel for things to do here on Martha’s Vineyard in this, the off-off-season.
Without the summer folk here to support restaurants and art galleries and clothing stores – or even the busloads of senior citizens and student field trippers in the fall and spring – most doors are padlocked and windows boarded up. Some parts of Martha’s Vineyard resemble a ghost town – no tumbleweeds here, but when the wind picks up, a common sight is a ball of dried seaweed whipping down Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs past the muted carousel and several deserted ice-cream stores.
There is a difference between the off-season on a resort island versus a remote mainland resort town in Maine or even the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Those places, when the desire strikes in the depths of winter to escape your cloistered environs, you only need climb in your car and drive. However long it takes you, eventually the road will lead to the brighter lights of some citified place where no one knows your name . . . or the name of your dog . . . or the name of your ex-wife . . . or the name of that elective surgical procedure you’ve signed up for and are not very comfortable having people ask you about.
This is not to suggest that if you live in Bar Harbor in Maine or even the Outer Banks of North Carolina you’re making midnight runs to the big city every Friday, but the point is, you could if you wanted to.

Spontaneity here has its limits. When the mood strikes, you can’t just get in your car and go. At some point there’s going to be a splash, a glug-glug sound, and your plans for Thai food and a Hungarian art movie are sunk.
With all that said, I admit it – I love the winters on Martha’s Vineyard. Not just because it’s often impossibly beautiful here in the off-off-season, but that very sense of isolation appeals to me. It’s that stranded-on-a-desert-island syndrome, the desire to get away from it all that hides inside so many of us, that delicious sense of separation.
Okay, I’m not going to get too carried away. We get the same bazillion-and-one cable stations everyone else does and FedEx delivers on Saturdays. And we’re not exactly stranded. Ferries leave several times a day and there are flights out of here even in February.
The isolation we experience here is in large part a state of mind. Getting to the big wide world involves time, money, and inconvenience, and it’s easy to develop a mental block about leaving this rock. Though it’s not a state of mind I fight very hard.
So when the ferries stop running at about eight in the evening – long after the last commercial flight has flown out – you might stand on the harbor and look out over Vineyard Sound at the lights twinkling on the mainland so far away and think to yourself: if the worst thing about living on Martha’s Vineyard is the five miles of frigid water between the Island and the mainland, well, it’s also the best thing.

Originally broadcast on WCAI and WNAN, the Cape and Islands National Public Radio stations.