We started going to Martha's Vineyard in the early 1980s, first just Ella and me with a couple of friends who introduced us to it, and then the whole family. Our entry point was a cottage in Oak Bluffs rented from a professor at Syracuse. Later we purchased our own place in Vineyard Haven which we still own -- my brothers Ed (Nashville) and Dave (southern Illinois) and their wives. For a time, when Ella was working in New York City, we went there about twice a month in the summer, usually flying in from Newark or LaGuardia and running about the island in a dilapidated Chrysler convertible -- our beach car -- that we would drive up in the spring from Pennsylvania and drive back in late fall. We close things down in the winter. Usually, my brothers and I will do road trips for opening and closing, arguing the political gamut from refined socialism (Ed) to 60s liberalism (me) to Rush Limbaughism (Dave). We decided after many seasons that road beers are no longer cool and, besides, cause too many pit stops.
Ella and I return less often these days, but there are still many things we love about the place, the first being, in true Vineyarder fashion, that it's not Nantucket.
Let me count the ways:
1. The ferry trip from Woods Hole. A 45-minute ride that caps off a seven-hour drive and gets us slowly re-accomodated to Vineyard culture.
2. Island radio. We turn on WMVY as soon as we get in the door and open up the windows to air out the house. Island radio is not pre-programmed, an indie, so we never know what we're going to hear. But when they play either James (Taylor) or Carly (Simon), we know it's summer again, and we're on the Vineyard.
3. Mid-day drinks at the Harborview in Edgartown. I love this place, even after they remodeled the bar this year. My order is always a Manhattan up, unless I decide to have duck fries (sinful frites cooked in 5% duck fat, 95% oil with melted cheese like/if not Manchego and truffle oil), in which case I'll have a Stella.
4. Browsing the bookstores. The Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven (VH) burned last year but should be back in operation from temp headquarters, but I like even better Edgartown Books, which has a spartan simplicity I love; when I leave there with a new purchase, I feel like a college kid again and want to say, "Gee, that was neat!"
5. Dinners at the BYOBs. There is a contrarian streak at the Vineyard which often slows "progress," which ain't always a bad thing. For some reason, VH, West Tisbury, and Chilmark never repealed Prohibition, so you can drink but not buy there. Favorite BYOBs are Outermost Inn (overlooking Gay Head) and run by James' brother, Hugh, and his wife; Lambert's Cove; Beach Plum Inn (overlooking Menemsha), and Le Grenier in VH.
6. Le Grenier. Jean Dupon steadfastly keeps a menu that might have been served in his native France in the 1970s - rich sauces, lots of organ meat, snails to die for, drenched garlic bread, and, Ella's favorite, creamed spinach. It's a hangout for the VH literati, and it was once common to see Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald and William Styron holding forth. Now, there's only Mike, whom I hope to see some time this year.
7. Letting celebrities go unnoticed. Vineyarders pride themselves on leaving celebrities -- literary or otherwise -- alone. Carly can go shopping without being bugged. Ted Kennedy and his retinue came in once as we were just being seated at the Beach Plum and went through the whole dinner unfawned, except for an exiting diner (not us) who quickly said, "Thanks for all your work," as she walked by. (The only time that I saw people lose their cool was when Bill Clinton was playing golf on a hole fronting the highway at Farm Neck. Several cars stopped, and people started taking pictures.)
8. Shopping Saturday morning at the Farmers' Market in West Tisbury. The farmers look like tie-dyed 60s hippies with their goods displayed on tables, pickup truck beds and Volvo trunks. Cool. The produce is good, it's organic -- and my car smells like fresh basil for a week.
9. Browsing the art galleries. Mainly along Water Street in Edgartown and Main Street in Vineyard Haven plus the Red Barn in West Tisbury.
10. Picking up hitchhikers. The Vineyard is the only place I know where people still "thumb" - something I did during my teen years in West Virginia - and most of the people I pick up are kids, late for their jobs as wait staff at restaurants in another town.
11. Watching sunsets from West Chop. Great view out over the Elizabeth Islands.
12. Lingering over breakfast at the Artcliff. Always bustling, friendly, small. The most-diverse breakfast menu and a good place to become introduced to linguica.
13. The beaches. The great thing about the Vineyard is that it has inlet beaches with baby waves and ocean beaches with granddaddy waves. And, if you're so inclined, there are even nude beaches out around Gay Head. I prefer walking along them in winter to sunbathing, but then I don't have a John Boehner tan.
14. Perusing the Vineyard Gazette. It's a throwback to old-style community newspapers and a bit like an island house - great ambience but needs a paint job.
15. Driving along Middle Road. The essence of the rural nature of the island.
16. The Vineyard airport. It's the cutest small airport, and you can have a good, cheap (for the island) breakfast there -- whether or not you're flying.
17. Ice cream at Mad Martha's. An island institution. Bet you can't eat a cone without it dripping all over you.
18. Walking through Cottage City. Cottage City is a group of Victorian-era, brightly painted small houses at the edge of Oak Bluffs that were part of the summer camp meetings that once flourished here. Great photo stuff.
19. Friday-night lobster rolls. Buy them at the Episcopal Church in VH. Full of great juicy lobster meat.
20. Exploring Chappaquidick. Forget your car - there's a long line in summer to get on the small ferry - and explore the small island off Edgartown by foot or bike instead.
21. Buying fresh fish at Menemsha. This little port is picturesque, but, better yet, you can buy seafood from the island fleet's previous night's catch -- or specially cooked for you.
22. Lying in bed late at night and listening to the fog horns warning ships when the weather gets thick.
23. Returning each year to favorite stores and seeing the new stock. What's up at Midnight Farm and Rainy Day?
24. Island light. It's difficult to describe, but everything seems to glow with a pastel tinge.
25. The just-say-no attitude. Islanders don't do anything they don't want to, no matter how much political pressure there is. No traffic lights, no over-development, no bridge to the mainland. They may need our cash, but we come on their terms.
(PHOTOS by ELLA MORRIS)
Until the next time...