At Large: Leaving home

Friday afternoon, some significant segment of the Vineyard population, the majority of them teachers, parents, and children, all of whose desperation was palpable, left home. There were a few unconnected to the grueling routines associated with rearing children, who were plotting their own escapes with no reasonable excuses except that they wanted to go, desperate in their own way over the possibility that they were going where the family units were going.

It is a late winter Vineyard theme. Let me out of here. I can’t take it any longer. If we must take the kids, so be it, but we’ll try to give them the slip at the airport.

Understandably, you may be asking, not in a whining way, what is left for me? The answer is peace and quiet, albeit in 25-degree temperatures and every other day snow. Still, Vineyard roads will be more peaceful, the vicious debates over whether the Vineyard will still be the Vineyard if we allow certain non-native species to be planted will simmer rather than boil for a week, and the big question — is today a snow day — will be unasked and unanswered. And, you’ll be happier, even smugly so, when you realize that you are experiencing a kind of respite, without the travail and expense besetting the horde of temporary expatriates clamoring Friday for relief from their workaday lives. Congratulations are in order for you.

For the record, our departing brethren are a lively bunch, and they are not alone. Innocent, non-Vineyard strangers can make mischief too. For instance, on the plane Saturday, the woman in the window seat, her husband between us, waited till he had gone to the lavatory and leaned over to me, an utter stranger.

“My husband,” she said, “doesn’t know where we are going. He thinks he’s going to Naples.” She meant Naples, Florida, not the other one, which would have enhanced immeasurably the plot this merry trickster had conceived.

The ferries were full Friday, the planes jammed Saturday. Winter-weary Islanders and their pale, desperate counterparts from the mainland were happy to be going — skiing, surfing, touring, sunbathing, to the mountains, to the desert, to the islands, to Europe, through the woods to grandmother’s house, anywhere as long as it was not snowy home. Anywhere but where they belonged. And they were crazed with anticipation. But, temporarily unhinged as they appeared to be, I suspect most of them knew where they were headed. Most of them hadn’t been hoodwinked by a good-hearted woman.

How on earth did you do it, I asked. I could never pull off anything like it. Truth is, I wouldn’t dare. And why, I wondered, did she tell me about her scheme? I think she was so tickled at how perfectly it was working that she had to tell someone, and I was handy.

“I made all the arrangements,”she said.

Didn’t he look at the tickets or the boarding pass or the flight number, the destination — none of that? Didn’t he see the charge on the credit card statement?

“He asked me where we’d go for vacation, and I said maybe Naples. We have friends there. We’ve been there before, had fun. We had looked for a condo to buy, didn’t find one. He said at first, oh no, not Naples. I said why not. We’d been to San Juan before and had a great time, so I bought the tickets and booked a place to stay. I think he’s going to be happy when he finds out it’s not Naples.”

No repercussions, I asked skeptically.

“No, he’s not that kind,” she said, and she was right. She knew her man. It wasn’t till we approached the terminal and the pilot welcomed his passengers to San Juan that her husband’s head swiveled toward his wife. She smiled at him, winked at me. Then, when the pilot asked the whole planeful to wish him happy birthday, his fifty first if I remember correctly, his bewilderment passed, and her clever generosity was unmistakable.

Not every experience during this off-Island diaspora was as brilliantly staged, or as exciting. There were surprises though. In the hotel Saturday morning, the elevator doors opened  and standing at the rear of the car was a West Tisbury school teacher in workout clothes, going down to exercise before her flight. We leapt a foot when she said our names.

On the plane and later at the gate in San Juan, another teacher and her husband were searching for lunch as they waited for their flight and we searched for our connection. It was like leaving home and being home at the same time. A mad and merry week lay ahead.