Cronig’s car confusion & cell phones

Too many Subarus in the same parking lot.

Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Dear Nicole:
The other day I walked out of Cronig’s, admittedly in a bit of a daze, with four bags stuffed full of groceries. I opened the door to the back seat of a Subaru. It looked like my Subaru. I picked up a stack of papers and tossed them onto another seat,  and put the groceries in the car. It wasn’t until I was actually sitting in the driver’s seat that I realized I was in the wrong Subaru. I took out my groceries, but didn’t know what to do with the stack of papers I had moved. Any thoughts?
Confidentially Yours,
Subaru driver

Dear Driver:
You have two choices.
First, you could try to put all the papers back as they had been, but unless you have a  photographic memory (in which case you probably wouldn’t find yourself in this predicament) you won’t succeed in making the paper pile look exactly as it did before – and so the Subaru’s real owner will suspect that somebody was rifling through their stuff, which is a terrible feeling to be stuck with.

Second, you could organize the papers into impeccably neat piles, clean out all the trash from the car, shake out the mudguards in the seat-wells, and generally make it clear that, yes, this car’s interior was fussed with, but only because it was singled out for special treatment by pixies with a cleaning agenda.

This is Martha’s Vineyard – meaning people are about as likely to break into each other’s cars as they are to be visited by pixies. So go for the choice that’s going to make the other Subaru owner feel better. Go for the pixie option. You’ll feel better too.

(Disclaimer: this advice applies only to Subarus. Results not guaranteed for all car brands, especially BMWs, Mercedes, and big-ass pick-up trucks.)
That’s my take.


Dear Nicole:
When you are walking along a lovely Land Bank trail with someone and their phone rings, is it okay to request that they don’t answer?
Confidentially Yours,
Cell Stop

Dear Stop:
In an ideal world, there would be weather-proof coin lockers at each Land Bank parking lot, and smart-phone addicts would get bonus minutes if they deposited their phone in one of these while walking. Since there aren’t any such lockers, and since cell phone coverage has been amped up so effectively in the middle of the wilderness in the past few years, I guess I have to answer your question.

The default ethos for walking in the woods should be walking in the woods. If somebody needs to have their phone with them to deal with a particular issue, it should be stated and agreed to ahead of time by everyone who is going on the walk together, and some ground rules should be established. For instance, if a family member is in a crisis (or is a teenager, or has dementia), you can answer when they call; if you’re doing an insider trading deal on a coveted ferry reservation –  obviously, take the call. But working through a domestic spat, catching up with an old friend, checking eBay bids – that’s pretty tacky. Also, it is never cool to log onto Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites, to check how many of your friends have “liked” the photo you just posted at the start of your walk, letting everyone you know that you’re going for a walk in the woods. In fact, the moment you took-and-posted that photo, the pixies snuck into your car and messed up all your papers.
That’s my take.