Essay: Heading to America? Think about it.

Essay: Heading to America? Think about it.

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Living year-round on Martha’s Vineyard can blunt the common instincts that in the greater world aid in day-to-day survival. Occasional journeys to the continent may be bruising, but they can also smarten us up. A trip off-Island last week did just that.

My wife and I drove off the noon ferry Island Home Thursday in Woods Hole just as the first wind-whipped flurries fell, signaling the approach of a major winter storm barreling toward Martha’s Vineyard. Our original plan was to leave the Vineyard Friday morning, but we moved up our reservation because we expected the ferries might not run. We did not want to miss our first off-Island trip in months just for the purpose of fun, as opposed to trips for car repairs or complex dental work, both equally painful and expensive.

I exited the ferry, turned left and drove up Railroad Avenue, well known by Islanders as the side street with convenient metered parking spots from which to make a quick dash into the Pie in the Sky Bakery or the adjacent Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank branch office. Woods Hole is only slightly less desolate in January than the Vineyard, and I had my choice of parking spots.

I left Norma in the car with the motor running while I ran into the bank to stock up on cash for the weekend. The whole transaction, including pleasant conversation with the teller, took about five minutes. I left the bank and was surprised to see a Falmouth police car parked behind our car. The cruiser’s window was down and the officer, a man who looked to be in his forties, was holding a pen and a ticket book while staring at the license plate of our aging Honda CRV.

One of the risks of not going off-Island very often is that brain neurons follow familiar patterns. So it took me a moment to grasp what the officer was doing as I crossed the street.

“Are you writing me a parking ticket?” I asked him in a tone that mixed surprise with incredulity.

The police officer looked up at me. Did you put money in the parking meter, he asked, obviously certain of the answer. “Think about it,” he added.

“Think about it?”

I thought to myself that the snow is falling, it is January, and you drove up and parked behind me to write a ticket because I did not put a quarter in the parking meter. I did not share those thoughts.

I explained that I had just run into the bank for five minutes. I pointed out that my wife was sitting in the car and the motor was running.

The police officer asked me if I saw a sign that allowed for live parking. “Think about it,” he said.

I thought to myself that this police officer must be very frustrated or very bored if all he could find to do on a bleak Thursday afternoon was lurk in Woods Hole and ease up behind a car to write a parking ticket while a passenger sat inside.

It was not the money. It was not the meter. Had we parked and left, I would know it was a gamble. It was the concept.

Most of my interactions with police on Martha’s Vineyard are pleasant. I have had Island police let me know that it was time to get an inspection sticker, one of those details it is easy to overlook. Daily, I listen to the police scanner in The Times office. I would guess that the majority of calls involve police assisting people — lock outs, medical runs, checking on alarms. In a similar situation on the Island, should we have parking meters, I would half expect the officer, should he or she even be concerned, to ask if I needed the quarter.

I repeated that my wife was sitting in the car. But she was not sitting in the driver’s seat, the officer said, was she? “Think about it,” he said again for emphasis.

I thought to myself that the man with the shaved head speaking to me was probably capable of growing a full head of hair but favored a style popular with international private security contractors, but I was not about to share those thoughts. I said nothing. I did not have to, my attitude said it.

At that point the officer had a choice. He could stop writing or he could complete the ticket and admit without saying a word to me or himself what we both knew.

I did not receive a ticket. When I joined my wife in the car, she told me that while I was in the bank the same officer drove up next to an occupied car that had stopped in a metered spot. The officer looked at the meter, backed up behind the car, then got out and handed the driver a ticket.

When you’re not on Martha’s Vineyard any more, and especially before you park in Woods Hole — even for a few minutes — take the cop’s advice and think about it.

Nelson Sigelman is managing editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times and an infrequent traveler to the mainland.


  1. Responsible people don’t do their errands leaving their car engines idling– no matter who they leave sitting in the car. Next time turn off the car and put the quarter in the meter like a big boy.

    1. Last month i pulled into one of those spots for a minute to set a destination in my GPS and get directions (I pondered about punching it in while driving up Woods Hole Rd and decided that might not be safe). Under the scenario Nelson describes, a cop could have pulled up and given me a ticket. Doesn’t seem the proper human thing to do even if technically correct And do you realize that the officer in question himself could park in that spot in his cruiser and run a similar
      Personal errand and not have to put anything in the meter per the Falmouth Traffic rules Section 5-7.11?

      1. Half expecting to be asked if he needed a quarter for a meter is an overblown sense of entitlement, sorry. Most people don’t have such thoughts.Just because certain people on the island get certain privileges on the island, it doesn’t translate that the rest of the world will think they are as special and deserving as they think they are. A cop would not give you a ticket if you are sitting in the driver’s seat, not even in Wood’s Hole!

  2. Oh, I wish I had a quarter for the meter for every time I’ve returned to work to find someone parked in my spot. They are always “not parking here, just running in for a minute.” How difficult would it have been to throw a quarter in the meter? I’m sure there was one hanging around in your console. Really, not worth the time you spent writing this.

  3. @ goodlurch… Thanks for your (perfectly courteous) reply. Didn’t seem to me that either of our deleteds were particularly out of line. But… The “immoderator” seems to have thought differently.

  4. The law is a fence and it is not a wall. It sets boundaries in the name of civility and order. Cops have flexibility in the implementation of the law and mostly they use it. Using discretion and good judgment is a character trait and facetiousness by an officer of the law is not a good sign of maturity.

    1. Moot point. The cop used discretion, maturity and restraint by not issuing the parking ticket. The “only 5 minutes” illegal parker was in the wrong, got a free pass, but still publishes a snarky essay about how annoyed he felt!

      1. So you want a cop to pull you over doing 68 in a 65mph zone give you a talking to and then let you go on your way. I understand. The law is the law and we are all to be literalists.

    2. I really don’t see how leaving the car running gives you some sort of immunity from putting a quarter in the parking meter.

  5. I see people all the time on the island park in a “No Parking” area and complain when they get a ticket that they were only there a few minutes.

  6. On the mainland Vineyarders who are expecting preferential treatment may be sorely disappointed when they’re unrecognized as a visiting V.I.P. The old “Do you know who I AM?” stare simply doesn’t work over here. Perhaps it’s worth dropping a quarter to avoid such an equalizing experience in the future. Just a thought.

  7. I think you guys need to read the story for what it is. Thats all. First paragraph says it all. I liked it.

    1. Read the rest of it to see how he smartened up. I thought to myself that the writer must be very frustrated or very bored if all he could come up with for this bleak Thursday’s paper was a story about the time he didn’t get a ticket.

  8. Just put a quarter in the meter when you park in a metered spot, for god’s sake… – don’t make us islanders looks like hicks!!

    1. the cop should have given him a $100 ticket for idling..
      here is the law—-chapter 90, section 16 a
      No person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit the unnecessary operation of the engine of a motor vehicle while said vehicle is stopped for a foreseeable period of time in excess of five minutes. This section shall not apply to (a) vehicles being serviced, provided that operation of the engine is essential to the proper repair thereof, or (b) vehicles engaged in the delivery or acceptance of goods, wares, or merchandise for which engine assisted power is necessary and substitute alternate means cannot be made available, or (c) vehicles engaged in an operation for which the engine power is necessary for an associate power need other than movement and substitute alternate power means cannot be made available provided that such operation does not cause or contribute to a condition of air pollution. Whoever violates any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars for the first offense, nor more than five hundred dollars for each succeeding offense.

  9. forget the parking meter.. You were in violation of mgl chapter 90 section 16 a– that cop should have given you an additional $100 ticket for polluting the air. Shame on you for clearly breaking the law, and whining about getting busted for it. — And actually, you didn’t get busted for the real crime you were committing, namely, air pollution.
    lucky you..

  10. There is a handicapped parking area in front of my business. The local police have their morning coffee clatch across the street every morning. We have customers (especially on rainy days) that park in the handicapped spot to “run in and grab something”. EVERY TIME the police will walk across the street with their coffee in hand and write them a ticket. As they should. The town of Falmouth took the time to vote on, purchase, place and regulate that parking meter. The town I work in did the same thing by designating those spots to people who need them. I’m impressed that he told you to think about your actions. Imagine the cost of convenience for 5 minutes of “running into the bank” is only a simple quarter. Perhaps he thought a person of such maturity and intellect would show the character to do such a simple thing, like popping a quarter into a meter and calling it a day. I certainly hope this was a lesson learned. America can do that to people.

  11. It is funny how hypocritical islanders are when it comes to manners and politeness. Islanders are some of the most petty, unwelcoming people to anyone outside their own sphere, but somehow feel entitled once they step foot on “America”.

  12. you admitted to the cop that you had left your car “running for 5 minutes”?
    he should have given you another ticket for violating chapter 90 section 16 a .
    Do you think just because you leave your car running, you are somehow exempt from parking laws ?
    I certainly hope the island police ticket you when you park illegally, even if you commit the more serious crime of leaving your car running.

    1. The law states it has to be in excess of five minutes. Also, depending on the outside temperature the claim could be made that it was necessary to run the engine to keep the heater going.
      However, I don’t understand the thinking that it’s okay to park in a metered parking spot without paying because someone is sitting in the car.

  13. Nelson, you are being ridiculous. When you park at a meter in Woods Hole pay the 25 cents. Now the police in Woods Hole are going to think less of islanders, both for the infraction, which you were able to avoid a ticket for, and for the article. He was super nice to you. I mean, really. Think about it.