Posts Tagged travel

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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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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Hitting Your Marks

With the holidays winding down, it might be a good time to address the different things in our lives in order to insure that we are where we need to be, when we need to be there.

From the time on a clock, to the steps for constructing some new object that we might have received as a gift there are methods to the madness that permeates all of our lives. As I elucidate below, see if you recognize any in your daily routine.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard, anytime I need to leave the island (I never really WANT to leave the island) the issue of transportation looms large in the plans. I have never taken a plane to or from the island, nor do I ever plan to. That leaves transportation via the water and which of the few passenger vessels would be most appropriate. If I plan on taking my car, I have only ONE “choice”. The Steamship Authority can be difficult to deal with from the perspective that you should always TRY to make a reservation for travel in order to prevent either being stuck in stand-by for endless hours or finding out that there is NO stand-by on the day you wish to travel. That being said, you will need to decide which boat you can have your act together in order to be AT the boat on time. Miss that mark, and all hell could break loose. Trust me, even if you THINK you are ready, think again. I refer you to a December 23rd reservation that was prey to the ravages of the wind, canceling ALL boats, including mine.

When I was training for marathons, I had to maintain a certain cadence to insure that I was “on pace” to make the most of my training. If my heart rate was not high enough, I was not working hard enough, which would tend to negate the purpose of training altogether. If it was too high, I would burn out too soon and not have the stamina to finish the training session, if not the race. So keeping my heart rate in the “zone” allowed me to hit the marks, or splits, during the run. These days my running has diminished to what I refer to as “junk miles” that entail maintaining a pace that allows me to finish the workout before I have to start walking or hitch a ride.

Whether for business or for personal, we all have appointments and commitments that require use to meet with people at a given time, at a certain place. On island you might have to deal with a drawbridge that randomly goes up, even when there are no boats waiting to pass through. Or perhaps a couple of moped riders feel the need to ride side by side from the Aquinnah Lighthouse all the way to the Steamship Authority Lot as you are rushing to make your reservation. Then again, there is always the excuse my clients tend to have most often when they arrive late, there was no parking available. I have always found that it always best to be early than late, but sometimes fate deals you a cruel blow and it just cannot be helped. If you cannot be prompt, be gracious when you arrive. Everyone will appreciate it, trust me.

Dealing with a seasonal economy requires everyone involved to obtain a certain amount of seasonal wealth to carry then through the off season. The most important aspect is to understand that this fact exists before the season has passed; otherwise your options for independence dwindle rapidly. Consider working every day, for long hours, until the business slows to a crawl or until you can no longer function at the given, whether you like it or not. That will be the new “normal” unless you just come to the island to work seasonally, as a parasitic worker, in which case you can be on your merry way whenever the urge strikes you. For those of us with a mortgage, taxes, and a business to maintain, we continue to toil away for fear that it will all end too soon, leaving us short of what we need to pay the bills until the next season arrives. This has been an ever more difficult mark to hit, given that every season seems to be shorter than the last.

As the year comes to a close, I look back and see that I have hit almost all of my marks. Perhaps I could have set the bar a little higher, but given all that I encountered over the past year, I have to be happy that I made it this far. How about you? Here’s to next year!

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The Brooklyn Chronicles, Part 5 (A Weekend in Connecticut)

(Originally posted 10/30/2007)

While I may be writing this series chronicling my transitional move and daily strife, I mean life, inBrooklyn, there must also be the contrast of my time away from the city, as that time has become that much sweeter. Although I had to again endure many hours on trains, both MTA and Amtrak, I knew that a much anticipated respite awaited me inConnecticut. Nearly two full days without having to deal with clients, scheduling, or business in general was something I had not had since sometime in May, over six months ago. Still, I had plenty to do and I could at least spend some of that time with my parents, who I had also not seen since May.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The fall foliage and the crisp air stirs memories of returning to classes at school, the end of the hot summer days and, because I grew up in a farming community, harvest-time from the local orchards and farms. Just driving around the towns that have always been so familiar to me was comforting, but to see all of the fall colors framing the countryside was exhilarating. To try and explain what it means for me to buy apple cider from Clyde’s or apples from Holmberg’s would be like explaining buying bagels in Brooklyn to a New Yorker. Each person has a special ritual or memory that they revive when they have the opportunity. The fall harvest of apples in Connecticut is mine.

The train into New London would meet my parents’ ferry from Fisher’sIsland, but I had a good half hour to stare at a glorious full moon on a rather mild evening for late October. I enjoyed the quiet time and took solace in the absence of sirens, which seem to be ever present in the city. When the ferry finally did arrive, it was well past 8 PM and it was a short drive home. The odd fact that both my parents and I spend the majority of our time on islands is simple irony. We might be a family of people seeking solitude perhaps, but we are a family none the less.

Of the many tasks on my to-do list over the two days, the one shopping for furniture was the most bittersweet. It was not that I had to spend the money that I do not have that was irksome, but rather the reason I was buying it. I had lost everything in a house fire and either had to replace everything by the second anniversary or lose the depreciation money from the insurance company. While I may be furnishing my home with some wonderful things, I would much rather have back what I had lost. Even after I had selected so many pieces, the task of measuring the spaces in my home would prevent me from completing any part of this tedious task.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother would be attending a graveside memorial service for someone I had known. In a town as small as ours, it is not whether you know someone, but instead how well you knew them. In this case, we knew the family better than the person. A short service on a yet another glorious fall day made the service easier in every way. A fall funeral somehow seems more appropriate than those at other times. Perhaps that is just my opinion.

Over the years, my family has gone through times where we would eat meals together on a regular basis, but in more recent years it happens mainly on holidays. On this rare occasion, there were more of us there than not. We could eat our fill, give each other a hard time then finish by recounting our most recent travails. I had the experiences on the subway system to tell, including the gestures and expressions that had accompanied the subjects of the tale. Finally, we would plan our week ahead and see where our paths and plans would cross or mingle. An evening that could hardly be surpassed by one riding the 4/5 Train back to Brooklyn during the rush hour.

The next day began with a trip to one of the local banks to closeout yet another of my dwindling accounts. Long dormant and rather paltry in size, it still took longer than it should have to close it out. No matter, as the money was already spent, as all of the money I will be making for many years to come has already been appropriated for accounts I owe. If only those people that owe me money would settle-up, I would not be in such financial despair.

Speaking of settling-up, it was time to pay the mechanic for the work done on the infamous Honda. Totaling over $1100.00, the work solved the problems that had weighed heavily on my mind during the long drive fromConnecticutto theCape. While it did not make the car any more presentable, the repairs would get me where I needed to go. As I drove away from the shop, all I could do was to try and convince myself that the car would now last much longer than I would have a use for it. Either that or that it would last until I could afford to buy another car, one with air conditioning.

I decided to drive over to my house, the one I rent to tenants. The tenants fall into the category of those individuals owing me money. Rather than seeing if they were home, I simply spent a few minutes walking around the house, taking note of the trim that I would need to paint in the spring. I had lived in the house for several years, working on it and rehabilitating the long-neglected home until I had decided to return to college for yet another degree. The income from the house paid for more than just books. Now it was barely holding its own. Although there may be different tenants and it may be different times, it is still the same house.

Ending the day by driving to the train station is not really any sort of comfort. I remember a similar ritual during my college days, when I would drive home on weekends. That drive was more enjoyable, as I looked forward to my time in college classes. The current travel has become more travail, as I hardly know what the next day will bring. As I waited for the train at the station in Old Saybrook, I thought back over the past few days and took solace in the fact that I do have my family to back me up in my current situation, as best they can, however they are able. That knowledge gives me hope that I will make it through the next few months with my sanity intact.

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The Brooklyn Chronicles, Part 12 (Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself)

(This blog was originally posted 02/17/2008)

So, as January became February, there emerged a trend among my clients that was more than slightly troubling. They were leaving New York City for Florida, London, and other locales, leaving me destitute. While there had been plenty of “interest” among a small group of new referrals, very little work had materialized from it. While the commute was still quite time consuming, my mind was plenty busy with the alternatives and options available to me at this point. In addition to that focus, there was a great deal of “mental static” distracting me. Some of it was actually constructive and useful.

Of all the commuting that I have done, it seems that it inevitably grows in distance with the amount of money waiting at the other end. I guess if that were not the case, I would be unwilling to travel that distance? It also has become apparent that no matter how far the commute ends up being, I am able to develop a mindset that facilitates the time to become tolerable, for the most part. This is not to say that I would much prefer not to commute at all, but we all do what we need to do to make a buck and make ends meet.

Amongst the thoughts that rattled around in my head, there were thoughts of how much longer I would be willing to travel ever greater distances without feeling as though I were spinning my wheels. I saw it either as a time-frame in either years or fiscal necessity. But the formula contained too many variables in either case to come to a definitive answer. The fact remained that without some change in the economy that would enable my practice on the vineyard to return to its’ former profitable glory, I was destined to travel in the off season to make-up the diminished revenue.

Throughout the many passing years I have kept myself busy enough professionally to overlook any sort of social life. Not that I would prefer to be bar hopping or clubbing even if I did not have such a financial need to work, as I have always been more of the solitary type. Still, the small social void had been filled with my canine companion that I lost in the house fire. The fact that I am travelling so much and cannot raise another dog while travelling is offset by my reluctance to commit to having another companion. My joke is that it will be either a girlfriend or another dog and that a dog is not only easier to train, but has a much lower maintenance level. Well, it’s funny to me.

The so far mild winter has given the illusion that we will be getting off easy here in the Northeast. I don’t buy it, quite frankly. While I would prefer it, I will not believe it until June, when spring comes to the island. Yes, it is usually in the mid to lower 50’s throughout May, so June is the benchmark for decent weather. After my last bill for propane topped out at nearly $900, I could do without any more cold weather. As for the warmer weather, when it does arrive, it brings the promise of another tourist-filled season, when I can try to pay-down my acquired debt.

Well, I guess it all comes down to money at this point. Filling my thoughts, day and night, my financial woes are those of so many individuals these days. No matter how many ways I figure it, I have many more miles to go before I see the light at the end of the tunnel, to mix metaphors.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Of the changes one must adapt to while living on an island like Martha’s Vineyard, the isolation ranks right up there at the top. While I do enjoy the isolation for the most part, it is the accessibility that tends to irk me every so often. Once you decide to go off island, it is a commitment that sometimes lasts longer than you initially planned on. Such was the case recently, when a classic Nor’easter descended on the East Coast.

This past Saturday was the Eastern Athletic Conference League meet for Cross County at Borderland Park in Massachusetts. As one of the coaches, I usually accompany the thirty team members to their off island meets, and this was no exception. While the forecast had predicted nasty weather for later in the day, it was pretty calm in the morning and it remained so until the early afternoon. By the end of the first race, the rain had begun to fall. By the end of the final race, it was getting pretty windy to boot.

The bus started back to the ferry under a steady rain and increasing winds. As every islander knows, it’s the wind that will stop the ferries from running. With this in mind, I kept checking the Steamship Authority website and my twitter feed for updates on the status of the boats. At just after 3:30 there were grumblings of trouble. Possible cancellations of boats due to the weather echoed from a few sources. Just before 4 PM there was word the 5 PM boat had been cancelled. That was the boat we had been shooting for.

As the bus pulled into the lot just after 4 o’clock, the lot attendants in the shack said the 5 o’clock boat was on time. Further confirmation inside the ticket office proved that information to be bogus; the 5 o’clock had definitely been cancelled. Now as soon as I heard of the cancellation, we had started to explore the options open to us, should the remaining boats also be canceled. The high school athletics director had been calling around to the motels and hotels in Falmouth, but there were limited accommodations available. Seems the Cape Cod Marathon was scheduled for the next morning. Go figure.

Shortly after 4:30, it was decided that the remaining boat crossings for the day would be cancelled. So there we were, with thirty soggy, hungry teenagers, looking for lodging for the night. Long story short, we get seven rooms at a local inn; three for the boys, three for the girls, one for the two coaches. Dinner consisted of thirteen pizzas. Luckily the kids were too tired to get into any mischief and the night went without incident. Well, almost.

Being an insomniac provides one with opportunities missed by most, like seeing rain turn to snow at 2:30 AM, then back to rain at 3:30. By the time 5 AM rolled around, it was time to start calling the Steamship office and getting updates from the internet about conditions and forecasts. Since the “ghetto” inn gave us a bum television, our BlackBerry devices were working overtime the entire time. While the kids slept we called several office numbers, tweeted a few contacts on island, and hoped for the best.

It was not until a few minutes before 8 AM that we confirmed the first boats would leave the docks at 8:15. Rushing to catch the 9:30 AM boat, we rousted the kids, arranged for the bus to pick us up, and packed up our still wet gear. The boat was packed with those who had suffered the same fate as us and they looked just as weary.

The boat ride back was rather calm, the skies had cleared, and we were all going home. The minor inconvenience is always diminished by the beauty of the island as you round the chop and enter the harbor. Yes, some might simply call it Martha’s Vineyard, but it is the island I definitely call my home.

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