SSA rite of passage

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Martha’s Vineyard has its rites of passage. These include navigating Five Corners and securing a Steamship Authority (SSA) vehicle reservation in August.

We hold out little hope that navigating the Island’s most notorious traffic labyrinth will become easier anytime soon. But year-round Islanders can take some comfort in the fact that the preferred-reservation system, while not perfect, does work, and it works pretty well thanks to the efforts of the reservation clerks.

For those new to the intricacies of year-round life on Martha’s Vineyard, each day the SSA sets aside a specific number of reservations on each trip and reserves those spaces for qualified Island residents who have registered their addresses and vehicles with the boatline.

Currently, the boatline sets aside 120 vehicle spaces per day during the summer and 80 spaces per day during the off-season. Of those reserved in the summer, 91 are designated for the seven-day advance reservation program. The remainder are designated for one-day advance sale.

Seven-day in advance preferred space reservations remain available for booking up to two days in advance of the day of sailing before they are released to the general public.

Preferred spaces go on sale daily at exactly 7:30 am. Islanders have three choices: Call the main reservation office number; go to the SSA website (steamshipauthority.com); or go to the SSA terminal at the airport or Vineyard Haven and make a reservation in person.

Securing a coveted weekend reservation in August can be a daunting prospect. Those not content to dial or put their fate in a computer rise early and head to the Vineyard Haven terminal. So what keeps the terminal lobby from becoming the scene of a reservation scrum? Judging from the scene last Saturday in the Vineyard Haven terminal, Islanders do.

The first person had arrived about 6:30 am, anxious to get a reservation the following Saturday so that he and his wife could leave on a camping trip. As other reservation seekers arrived, he or she acknowledged who they followed. Several of those waiting knew each other, reinforcing the sense of community we value as the Island experience.

As the 7:30 reservation kickoff approached, Debby Mahoney, one of the reservation clerks on duty, stepped out from behind the counter and asked everyone waiting for a preferred reservation to have all their information ready — profile numbers, times, and dates — so that when the computers opened she and the other clerks could do their best to get everyone a reservation and keep the line moving.

At 7:20 am, the Islanders formed a line, self-adjusting it based on order of arrival that morning. At 7:25 am, it was all hands on deck. Terminal manager Kathleen Parsons joined Debby, Joey Nascimento and Derrick Rogers on the computer bank. At precisely 7:30 am they began processing preferred reservations as quickly as possible.

Islanders helping Islanders: That’s how we get through a busy summer.

Welcome back, President Obama

Mid-August is about that time of the year when Islanders begin to grouse. We grouse about crowds, about traffic and about drivers — we always assume they are off-island drivers, but that is not always the case — seemingly oblivious to the basic rules of the road. Is the Vineyard busier than ever? It is hard to say.

President Obama and his family arrive Saturday for a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. By most accounts, the arrival of the presidential entourage will be the icing on the cake of what is shaping up to be a very busy summer.

Invariably, visiting members of the national media will speculate on what the arrival of the president means for Martha’s Vineyard. Probably not much, we think.

There are only so many rooms at Island inns and hotels, tables in restaurants, and spaces on ferries. The capacity is finite. At some point, the Island is full, and that point will come over the next two weeks, irrespective of the arrival of President Obama.

If the president follows past practice, he will stay out of the limelight and stick to the types of activities that attract so many families to Martha’s Vineyard — dining out with friends, small social gatherings, swimming, bike riding, and golfing, lots of golfing.

Welcome to the Obamas and all our August visitors. And for those who look forward to a respite from the crowds, September is just three weeks away.