Posts Tagged sanity

On Standby

Living on an island, you have to learn to accept certain aspects of daily life that are just facts. Getting a reservation for your vehicle on the boat going off island, for instance, is not always easy, especially when you wait until the last minute. If you are lucky, standby will be open. Now, standby does not mean you WILL get off the island, it just means there is a CHANCE you will get off the island. The days of “guaranteed standby” are long since gone. If you do get in the standby line, try to be driving a really small car; it will increase your chances of being tucked into an otherwise unusable spot on the freight deck. In any case, if the standby line is long, prepare to spend a while waiting your turn.

Beyond the hassles of the Steamship Authority, it seems there are other aspects unique to island living that are fixtures on Martha’s Vineyard. Ever try to get a return call from a contractor? Yeah, if you do, it is from the boat, leaving the island, not returning for two weeks. Last February I emailed my contractor regarding finishing a punch list, from 2008. He stopped over a week or so later and said, “I should be able to get some guys over here next month…” I bumped into him in December and he said, “I haven’t forgotten about you, we have a job coming up in your neighborhood soon…” When I saw him in January he asked, “Are you going to be around in February…?” Now that it is March, it occurs to me I should have asked him if he meant February of THIS year.

Many times over the past couple of summers, I have had clients ask me if I knew what happened to the smoothie shop across the street, as the door was locked and it was within the shop’s usual hours of operation. I shrugged and said I had not a clue as to what the story was. Perhaps there was some personal emergency once or twice, but half a dozen times in a week, for several weeks “in season” does not bode well for the reputation of the business.

The epidemic of being kept on standby might not be strictly an island curse, but it does seem to be more prevalent here. I might need to call, text, email, and eventually stop by an office or worksite in order to get the attention of certain individuals. Even when there is a verbal agreement, there is no guarantee they will follow through, even when doing so would mean either immediate financial gain or future prospects for financial gain. As a business owner, it is difficult for me to comprehend how that business model could possibly lead to success. If I used a similar practice in my office, I would not have very many clients, let alone a business.

While a few summer visitors sometimes think it quaint that small island shops close on short notice for quirky reasons, to have to deal with such annoyances on a daily basis tends to try one’s patience, if not one’s patronage. When I saw a contractor in the grocery store eighteen months after he was supposed to write up a quote for a landscape project on my property, he apologized and said he could stop by next week. “No need,” I replied, “it was done a year ago.” He stared at me blankly and mentioned needing the work. I needed it, too; so I did it myself. I left him standing there, saying I had a reservation on the next boat. He called after me, complaining he was on standby. “Good luck with that,” I thought to myself.short staff

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The Jenga Schedule

So the season winds down for yet another year on Martha’s Vineyard. The traffic has thinned out; the stores have already begun closing. Islanders start their off season schedules, the one that resembles a life more normal than hectic. During the summer months everyone on island juggles jobs, social and personal affairs, as well as familial commitments while navigating the crowds, the weather, and the little unexpected events that life brings. Often we find ourselves focusing only as far forward as the few hours before us, simply to avoid that fact that our schedules are full of chaos.

Personally, I try to focus on my business schedule during the summer months. I have a few precious weeks to earn what usually amounts to approximately eighty to ninety percent of my annual income. The fact that the majority of my clients often call only a day or so, sometimes a few hours, before they would like to have their appointment does not make my life any easier. While I have been seeing the majority of my seasonal clients for many years, a number of them for more than a decade, they seem incredulous that I cannot accommodate a last minute request in August. While I do my best to fit everyone in, I am unwilling to compromise the work just to make a few dollars more.

The fact that I literally sell time, there are only so many appointments available on any given day. Additionally, the vast majority of my clients schedule their appointment to last an hour. I seldom, if ever, do half hour appointments anymore. When someone wants their appointment to be longer than an hour, I usually end up compromising the schedule for the rest of the day; starting earlier, finishing later, eliminating an open slot for another hour long appointment.

Most islanders have more than one job. I am no different, as I have been coaching two sports at the high school for several years. This adds yet another element of difficulty to an already busy schedule; one sport ends as the summer season begins, one sport begins before the summer season has fully ended. At worst, I work a twelve to fourteen hour day, trying to accommodate the requests and obligations associated with my commitments. Even so, I know of people with longer days; parents that have kids in the mix, business owners that do not have coverage, people working odd hours with several jobs.

When all is said and done, after the tourists have gone home, the businesses have closed, and the island exhales a collective sigh of relief, we can look back and marvel at how we all made it through yet another season. The pages of the appointment books, the reservation books, and receipts will remain as a testament to the schedules that resemble some sort of elaborate puzzle, ready to collapse under the weight of cancellations, non-existent parking spaces, and lines of traffic stuck behind tour buses and mopeds.

Now we that live here year round need only deal with the seasonal boat schedule changes, the weather-induced cancellations, the mechanical difficulties, and the lack of reservations available around the holidays. In comparison, I think I’d rather juggle my in season schedule. At least then I have options.

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Five Years, Six Figures, Nine Lives

As I type this, I am thinking back to the lowest points that I have known in my life. None have really been life threatening, but a few made me shudder. One of the lowest was the aftermath of the house fire that left me questioning what my next step would be, when actually it was just taking one day at a time. The fire was in January of 2006. Planning and rebuilding took longer and cost more than expected, as it usually does. By September of 2007, I had finished the apartment, but not the main living space of the new house. It was also about this time that the economy started to sour and credit started to dry up, just when I needed it most.

I had maxed out the equity of both houses I owned, borrowed all I could from my family and friends, and finally resorted to my credit cards. Of the nearly dozen or so credit cards I had open, some had begun lowering my credit limits, and others closed them altogether. I used up the credit on every one that had funds available, to the tune of more than six figures. This was in the form of convenience checks and EFTs directly into my checking account in order to pay my contractor’s invoices during the construction process. When September rolled around in 2007, my contractor presented me with two invoices that had been a long time coming. He had said he needed more time to put them together, but when he did, they were a great deal more than he had estimated. I remember standing with him in the unfinished kitchen, looking at the invoices, turning to him and saying, “Stop. Stop everything your guys are doing and leave. I’m broke. I cannot pay these invoices. We’re done here.” His jaw dropped, he stammered, and I stopped him, saying, “I’m broke.”

Several weeks later, as I sat in bed in the apartment, my mind raced through all that had happened since the fire; my business slowing down, my credit lines disappearing, the uncertain financial future. I had begun commuting to New York City every week in order to work with clients there, as well as the clients I had on Martha’s Vineyard. I dreaded the long commute. I felt as if I had no alternatives. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, listening to the wind outside. In less than a week, I had more than ten thousand dollars in payments to banks due and not more than a hundred dollars left in my savings and checking accounts combined. I could not think of a more dire time in my life, financially or otherwise.

When I got out of bed that next morning, I took a deep breath and vowed to never give up. I worked deals with every client that would take my call. I cut deals for packages paid for weeks, if not months, in advance. I called the bank that was handling my home equity line of credit and applied to refinance my mortgage from another bank with their line of credit into a new mortgage. I floated my personal accounts into my business accounts and transferred, consolidated, or restructured whatever I could until things stabilized. Smoke and mirrors, whatever it took to get by until the next payments were due.

So earlier tonight I made the final payment on the last credit card that I had maxed out. It took five years to pay off six figures of credit card debt. Straight up, no special programs or deals with companies that want a piece of the action. I went all in and made it out alive. One day at a time, that was all I had. I wonder how many lives I have used so far, how many I have left?

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Island Time

What is your time worth? Well I suppose that most of us value our time rather highly. Life usually seems to fly by at such a pace that there never seems to be enough hours in the day. So whether it is time on the clock or family time, few of us would like to have our time taken from us by others; waiting in lines, finding a parking space, driving behind a moped (or two, side by side). The dichotomy of owning a business on Martha’s Vineyard is that there are only so many weeks to make money from tourists that want everything at the same time; dinner reservations, ferry reservations, appointments, rentals. The notion that other vacationers might actually want exactly what they want, when they want it, seldom occurs to them; unbelievable.

When the off season stretches into the doldrums of February and March, many businesses tend to cut back on their hours, if not close out right for a period of time. Still, there are days where every business needs to have posted hours and stick to them, if only to maintain a presence in the community. As a business owner, I understand the concept of regular hours and their importance. What I fail to understand is when people try to schedule outside of those hours, for no real reason other than wanting to do so. From May until late October I have rarely taken a day off since arriving on the island. This past holiday season I had clients calling the office late on Christmas Eve, asking if I were available for an appointment; the message said the office was closed until the 27th.

In the throes of August, the height of the season, I have clients that show up rather tardy for their appointment. The scenarios run the gamut, from apologies to passive aggression; time waits for no one and I run a tight ship. The point being that we all must accept responsibility for our short comings or indiscretions. Clients that call up late to either cancel or reschedule an appointment due to a “conflict” usually understand that they will be held responsible for the missed appointment. A few will try to negotiate; seldom with success.

Years ago I was having dinner with a group of fellow business owners. When cancellations became a topic, one of the proprietors gave an example of how the conversation would go. He simply explained to the responsible party that a reservation at his inn was comparable to a reservation on the ferry, if you show up after your reservation has left the dock, and there is no stand-by, there is no refund; you will be charged. I have used that example and others, as the situation calls for, with little ill will or resentment. Other times, things don’t go so amicably, but it is the give and take of being a business owner.

As the summer season approaches, my fourteenth on Martha’s Vineyard, I tend to turn down the seventh and eighth session of the day; I have come to value a steady pace rather than a mad dash, and my sanity is the better for it. I no longer accept the drama of the client that MUST see me TODAY, even though it is already after 2 PM. They might only be here for a short time in the summer, but I live here year round. This is my home and I value my time here.

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Going the Distance

How far would you travel to get to a party? What about going to see a really great musical act or movie? Would you drive for more than an hour? If you live year round onMartha’s Vineyard, chances are you are less willing to drive than you are to complete your annual tax forms. There seems to be some sort of malaise when it comes to travelling once one resides on island for any period of time. Call it one of the idiosyncrasies of island life. Allow me to provide a little background information before I elucidate the phenomena.

When I worked as a private investigator aroundNew England, I drove hundreds of miles every day. In less than one year I drove sixty thousand miles for work alone. I drove from Denver, Colorado to Mystic, Connecticut in less than thirty-six hours, non-stop. The odometers of my collective driving career total over half a million miles, amassed while driving nearly a dozen automobiles. Through all sorts of weather, at all types of traffic and terrain, it rarely mattered to me once I started on the journey; as long as I was off island.

During my first season living and working on Martha’s Vineyard, I barely used a single tank full of fuel in my car. My commute to work took less than ten minutes on my bike. Truth be told, I probably ran more miles training for marathons than I did driving that summer. Aside from saving money and getting more exercise, it felt a little more liberating knowing that I did not have to worry about finding a parking space, let alone getting a parking ticket, whenever I rode my bike or walked to my destination.

Still, whenever there was something happening at night or on another far flung part of the island, use of a car was pretty much mandatory, especially when going with someone else. As time passed, and the weather turned colder and less conducive to non-automobile forms of travel, decisions had to be made. Conversations would go something like this: “Hey, are you going to the film festival tonight?” “The one happening in Chilmark; no, that’s too far out to drive.” “Dude, you RAN ten miles this morning!” “Yeah, but not to Chilmark; that’s like WAY out there.”

So the conversations often go here on island. “There’s no parking in ______.” (Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven) “I don’t feel like driving ALL THAT WAY and not find parking.” Forget taking the bus unless you are going to school because in the off season, the route coverage is scant at best, even in the middle of the day. You could always call a taxi, but seriously; you own a car, why would you call a taxi?

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded or just more of a curmudgeon, but I have heard the same story from many of the residents relating to social or non work related travel on the island. Actually, I have actually turned down work that would have required me to travel to, wait for it, Chappaquiddick. Okay, discuss…

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Holed Up On Island

I just finished off an Italian sausage sub the size of my head. It took me all afternoon, but I did it. I also consumed about a pound of raw string beans, a head of steamed broccoli, a couple of handfuls of pistachios, several tangerines, and whatever I ate for breakfast. I’m still hungry. Before you think that I have given up and given in, you should know I have been doing double workouts every day. Yes, one before work and another after. It’s what I do to pass the time. Borderline OCD, it actually keeps me sane. That and blogging. I have several online. Under various identities, maybe you have already seen them?

Okay, so I do leave the island every now and again to fulfill certain familial obligations, as well as tend to off island business interests. I would rather not leave my island lair, but life is sometimes cruel that way. I wonder how long a reader would continue to read this post if I simply extolled the virtues of my magic bed that remains toasty warm nearly an hour after I drag myself from it’s warm embrace to brew the daily yerba mate’. It calls to me as the Sirens called to Odysseus; threatening to ruin my morning schedule. It is worse in the doldrums of February and March, when then sun does not rise until after 6 AM.

A schedule is the saving grace when the office hardly warrants more than three days of tending each week. Make a plan and stick to it; no distractions, no procrastinating, no excuses. Go to bed earlier rather than sleeping later; stick to getting up at a set time every morning. These are not resolutions, these are rules, people; we all need rules to function in society, or so I’m told.

Getting the morning workout done actually feels liberating. If nothing else is accomplished the rest of the day, the morning workout has been done. The second workout of the day is for those truly motivated individuals that feel the need, like runners and bodybuilders. The best part about working out is the eating; you can eat more to fuel your workouts, which brings me to the food.

This time of the year, the pantry seems to yield staples that have not been seen since I don’t know when. Packets of Indian food from Trader Joe’s get mixed with wild rice that was left behind by some long forgotten roommate. Vacuum packed MREs given as gag gifts are eaten with gusto when given a dressing of green curry. Sure there are occasions when one will splurge on some purchase at Stop & Shop or even Cronig’s, but that is the exception when there are several more months to budget before new revenue begins to roll in to replenish the coffers. I actually set aside one day each week to indulge, just to give me something to look forward to.

So there are several more weeks to go before the Spring Track and Field season starts, when my time is no longer my own; there will be no “home” meets this year, as the track has deteriorated to such an abysmal condition that it has been deemed “unfit for competition”. Long travel days lay ahead for the entire season. Another reason to continue to make the most of the time that is mine, while I bide my time until the days when the sun inspires us all to “rise and shine” and once again be sociable, possibly even civil, once more.

There is another way to guarantee to make an islander greet you warmly, possibly even invite you in for some conversation, bring food; fresh baked goods, savory slow cooked foods, or rich calorie dense desserts. Enough said, go in peace.

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Hibernation in the Fortress of Solitude

Well January passed rather quickly this year; must have been the mild weather. As February came over Martha’s Vineyard, those of us left here suddenly realized that here is a winter planned for us and we should not expect otherwise. It was too good to last really; sunny days, little wind, mild temperatures. Still, we have only had a few bitterly cold spells and the odd day or so where the mercury hits 50 still happens. The days are getting longer, but it will be some time before thoughts shift to a sunset picnic on South Beach or in Menemsha. No, this is the time of year when most of the year round residents tend to hibernate.

Now, I have been known to “call people out” when they call themselves year round residents. Their cars still wear the plates of other states, they disappear for warmer climes between January and March, and complain about needing to “get off this rock” before they go insane. Tenderfeet people that they are, they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. If you want to call a place home, take it for all it is; warm summer days, bitterly cold winter nights, weeks of isolation. They remind me of the tale of the ant and the grasshopper; but I digress.

There are an overwhelming number of artistic and literary type people left in this vast wasteland of winter during the most desolate time on Martha’s Vineyard, and that suits them just fine. Me, I’m just a recluse; days might pass before I emerge from my house. Neighbors cannot even tell if I’m at home. I designed the house like a cocoon, insulating me from all that which I wish to avoid. The internet and the advent of social media have permeated my life, but I need only switch off the various devices to achieve seclusion once more. It can be a blessing.

Festivities do happen here, even now. The Annual Chili Fest just lured hundreds of people to the island with promises of judicious libations and spicy omnivorous delights, but it was for only several hours. Soon hundreds of ectomorphic runners shall descend upon the island for the annual 20 Miler RoadRace, no matter what the weather shall hold for them on their epic run through the course. Other, smaller events will also be held; a film festival, the odd community dinner, etc. For the most part, the people remaining here for the duration appreciate the state that the island remains in at this time of year.

The slower pace allows the smaller, more intimate gatherings for quiet dinners or discussions. For others, it is a chance to work on literary pursuits or artistic endeavors. For me it is a time to hibernate in my personal fortress of solitude and contemplate what ways I might better myself; physically, culturally, financially, intellectually. Never settle, always strive for something more because if you do not, you will miss all of the glorious things that exist in this world, even if they reside in your own mind. Understanding how to discover all that could be sometimes requires a certain time, in a special place, in a proper state of mind. I have found that to be now, on my island, in repose. Now go do the same for yourself before life passes you by.

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