Posts Tagged seasons

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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Of Housing and Tenants

I grew up in a family that made money in real estate. Not huge commercial deals, but residential housing that people called home. I bought my first house before I turned 24. I paid cash. The place needed a couple of year’s worth of “sweat equity” invested into it, but with the help and guidance of my parents, the house has remained an asset to this day. For nearly twenty years I have been renting space to others, either to house-mates or outright to tenants for properties I own. There have been times that I have had to rent space to live, usually when I am getting settled in a new place. Sometimes the space is less than ideal, like the tool shed I lived in for my first five seasons on Martha’s Vineyard. This has given me a unique perspective, given the disparity of incomes on the island I call home, when it comes to finding a place to live.

When I decided to return to college for another degree, I decided to rent out my house to finance the tuition and associated costs. I had a few tenants apply, and unfortunately chose a couple that in hindsight had every intention on trying to impress me while lying to my face. I now refer to them as “the gypsies”. Aside from trying to pay me half the rent the month after they moved in, it always seemed that more relatives were “visiting” every time I came to collect the rent. When they fell two months behind, I used every connection I had in city hall to force them out without legal action. Basically, I made it impossible for them to sell their “used” cars from my property, thereby taking their ability to run their “operation”, making life miserable for them. They left a week or two later, luckily for me.

Given that “once bitten, twice shy” adventure, I fared a little better over the years with different tenants, but when the current recession hit, my tenant at the time was already in dire straights. While being a landlord is seldom easy, I would like to think that I am not only fair, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When someone tells me a reason why they will be a little late with the rent, I would like to believe them. Sometimes the experience becomes more like scolding a child for not doing homework. Such was the case when I finally told this tenant she had to vacate. There comes a point where there are too many excuses, you are too far behind in rent, and you have no chance of “catching up”.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, housing is a bit more complicated. There are summer rentals (vacation homes), summer housing (temporary living quarters), winter rentals (off-season vacation homes), year round rentals (toss up), and people that own their homes. After my time living in an unheated tool shed, I bought a house. I housed people that worked in my office in the summer months, for a nominal weekly fee. Ten or twelve weeks out of the year the house was crazy, but it was necessary.

When I had to rebuild after a house fire, I designed an apartment into the new house. The unit would offset the inevitable higher mortgage, taxes, and insurance. I had the zoning board approve the unit I spent more than $30K on its design and construction, and priced it for a year round tenant. I have run the gamut from perfect tenants to the tenants from hell, fighting and screaming; finally stiffing me after the summer was over. I have helped a few friends with a place to stay when times were tough, but for the most part, the rental unit is a business deal, not a freebie or a “money maker”.

Prospective tenants sometimes ask if I would accept less than the asking price, or if I could just do a seasonal rental; sure, as long as the bank accepts a partial mortgage payment and seasonal payments. While we’re at it, let’s see if I can skip paying taxes and insurance on a duplex, eh? The point is, I busted my ass to make this whole property ownership thing work (and continue to hustle to keep it as so many others lose what they have). There are so many people that seem to think that the rents charged are just not affordable. Well, mortgages, taxes, and insurance are not freebies; they are a serious commitment that involves a responsibility that most tenants have yet to understand, let alone accept. If it was easy, we would all own homes.

Currently, my apartment is part of the Dukes County Affordable Housing Program. My apartment had to be inspected and approved, the tenant went through a thorough screening process in order to be approved for the program, and everything seems to be working out, going on two years. My house in Connecticut is still available for rent, however. After a year and a half of renovations from the last tenant’s “occupation”, it is ready for another roll of the dice for a tenant that can prove an ability to pay the rent and produce references, that are not friends or relatives, willing to vouch for their integrity. Sometimes renting to tenants really does feel like gambling with your hard earned assets.

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End Of An Era

After all of my years working on Martha’s Vineyard, I can count on one hand the number of clients that I can still call my “regulars”, those whom I can anticipate seeing whenever they find their way to the island, since my first season. Today that number decreased by one. Mike Wallace, a Vineyard summer resident for more years than many can remember, died last night. Though the Wallace property was sold last year, it is only now that people will come to the realization that an era has come to and end on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

I must first say that it is not customary for me to invoke the names of my clients, out of a sense of professionalism. But “Mike”, as he insisted on being called, as opposed to “Mr. Wallace”, had a candid demeanor about him and he was responsible for several generations of his extended family, as well as many of his friends, becoming my clients. Truth be told, I always addressed him as “sir”. While I believe it was also Mike’s way to address many people with whom he spoke, whenever he greeted me with a “good to see you, my friend”, I also believe it was genuine and heartfelt.

While exchanging general pleasantries was usually the extent of our conversation, the usual goings on about town was a topic that often came up. Seasonal residents have an entire winter’s worth of changes to catch up on when they first arrive; new businesses that have opened, old ones that have closed, houses that have sold, etc. For many years Mike would leave my office at the end of my work day and he would say that he had a Sopranos episode to watch with “Bill and Artie”.

Often Mike would walk into the office without an appointment scheduled, asking “would Jason happen to have any time for me today?” I could hear his unmistakable voice in the office every time. I grew up watching “60 Minutes” and he was an American institution. Still, I never had the impression that he had an air of entitlement when dealing with him. It was interesting to watch the reactions of other clients that happened to be in the office when Mike was; they were almost always speechless and star-struck. The rapport Mike and I had was professional, but certainly more familiar than formal.

Of all the “notable” clients I have had over the years, Mike endeared himself to me on more levels than many, if not all, of the other such clients. He had that ability with most people he met, I believe, judging by what I witnessed over the years. I feel that it was his ability to be genuine and frank; no pretense, no hidden agenda. While many clients that I have worked with over the years can barely remember my first name, Mike knew my full name.

One time I was chatting with someone on the sidewalk in front of my office in Vineyard Haven when Mike approached me. He explained that he had left he wallet at the house and needed to pick-up lunch; would I be able to front him some money that he could repay when he came in later that day? Certainly, “how much”, I asked. I ended up fronting him a fin, which he promptly returned later that day, when he came in for a session. The person with whom I had been speaking was left speechless. Priceless.

For the two winters I worked in New York City, commuting back and forth every week, Mike was a client there as well. A chance meeting with his wife Mary on the Upper West Side one day made the city seem more like the Vineyard, if only for a moment. Still, it was always summers on Martha’s Vineyard where the Wallace clan would be able to escape and just relax in true Vineyard style.

Now there seems to be a chapter ending for our little island. The “Possible Dreams Auction” has lost the celebrities that were institutions at the annual summer event. Many of the clients I looked forward to catching up with each season will no longer be returning to Martha’s Vineyard. There have been thousands of clients passing through my office over seasons past; hundreds became regulars for a period of time. A few dozen have remained seasonal clients, returning for ever shorter periods of time as the years pass. In all sincerity, I can say without hesitation, that there will only be one Mike Wallace, and he shall be missed.

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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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