The Costco antidote


The season of Vineyard kvetching is upon us. As it has done every year in mid-July, the enthusiasm for the end of spring and the beginning of summer season highlife combines with low-grade despair and regret. This year, the national — actually, global — economic, five-year slump has started a mudslide of depression, foreboding, whining, and dissatisfaction. Moods may be gloomier than they have been since the early 1970s.

You recognize the melody. Gasoline is too expensive. (Absolutely true, no question.) Traffic is congested. Parking is impossible. (But, no more parking places, it will ruin the aura.) Food is way too dear. The ferry is too expensive. Houses are too expensive. Land is too expensive. Oh, and where are the buyers?

Choices are too few. Jobs are scarce. (Not true, to judge by the Help Wanted section of The Times Classifieds.) Wages are too low. You can’t come and go when you like. There’s never a reservation available when you want it. The restaurants are too expensive. The tourists, the dependability of whose arrival we have worried about for half a decade, came in droves this year — we got what we wished for, and it’s such an imposition.

There aren’t enough bike paths. The cyclists don’t want bike paths. They interfere with auto traffic. All the beaches are private. You can’t get a drink in this town. (Ancient and venerable complaint, now mooted.) But, we have complaints in reserve, to wit, you can after all, get at least a beer, but you’ve got to buy some high-priced food with it. Each diner must memorize a list of rules before being served the first glass of wine or beer. For instance, cashews are not considered a meal, but a Chex Mix may be. The bars close too early. The bars ought to close earlier. There’s no Burger King. You can’t let your dog off the leash in the conservation areas or on the beaches. The taxis cost too much. The band at the wedding can’t play after midnight. The big summer houses are too big. Why don’t we add an extra tax on the summer residents? There are too few tourists. There are too many. You can’t make a living. The rich are getting richer. You can’t find a decent carpenter, plumber, broker, waiter, yadda, yadda, and if you do, he’ll be off fishing for a month beginning in September.

You can’t get through Five Corners. Maybe there ought to be a roundabout like the one at the Blinker that we hated. You can’t figure out where to park at the Steamship terminal in Vineyard Haven. It’s crazy the way they have the luggage cart next to the loading ramps.

If there is a Vineyarder archetype — year-round or seasonal — all of these suppurating and contradictory attitudes would be incorporated in the specimen. This is the peculiar, but common vernacular that tells the story of this precious hood. If I’ve got this wrong, if these laments are unfamiliar to you, let me know.

To be fair, there are one or two characteristic attitudes that run counter to the trend. You find them often in the Letters to the Editor columns of The Times, and, sadly, less frequently in the online Comments. Islanders and visitors bless EMS, the hospital’s nurses, the firefighters, the generous neighbors who rush to help anyone who’s having a rough time, and anyone who cleans up after mess makers. They love the beaches, but not the dogs that love the beaches, and the woods, but not the ticks. (Perfectly understandable, that last.)

Is there no joy in the Vineyard rhythm? Is there no upside to Island living? Last weekend, puzzling over the prevalence of discontent and the shortage of ecstasy, I found myself burnt out. I had to get away. So, I took the bus to Costco.

Costco is an antidote to the Vineyard. It’s not Tahiti or the Four Seasons in Manhattan, mind you, but it is absolutely not here. It’s crowded as hell, but everyone loves it. The lunch crowd shares tables and eats pizza. Good humor abounds, as is common when everyday folk discover bargains that are not everyday to them at all. The deli, produce, prepared meals, and meat sections are packed. Pardon me, your elbow has intruded upon my crispy tofu. Terribly sorry, but I notice that you have inadvertently interfered with my Thai salad with citrus dressing. Choices are myriad. Prices are low, but quantities are great, so the savings may be an illusion. Still, no sanctimonious someone tells you they’ve tacked on a few more pennies to save the trees, heh heh, which we should all pitch in eagerly to do, of course. Shame on us.

There are parking places galore. There is considerable hubbub, not just in season, but year-round. No one complains. The zoning is wall to wall, sell it all. There’s a gas station included, and the gas is cheaper than at home. There’s a tire store across the parking lot. They’ve made a 50-year plan to let things happen and have some fun doing it.

Well, that is certainly not the way we do things here.

Don’t misunderstand me. Costco is not life. I know that. It’s a metaphor, sort of, for the way life is lived elsewhere. It’s a place where everyone is eager and happy, thrilled with life’s opportunities. It is a stimulant, a metaphor for choice, congestion without complaint, competitive pricing, happy customers, strange faces, a small place jammed with people of all sorts who cheerfully make a party out of it.

Someone said once that the way to solve the global terrorist problem — and our national economic problems, for that matter — might be to give our antagonists and the economic slackers abroad prepaid gift cards and short-term visas, fly them to the States and let them shop at Costco’s. It would make converts of them all. The Vineyard in-season might not.