Ps and Qs: Summer Traffic Rules

—Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

Yesterday after disembarking the ferry in O.B., we drove past the Flying Horses and headed toward V.H. on Lake Avenue and saw, as always in summer, a small group of people about to use the crosswalk. So we stopped, as is the law. Then, to our dismay, we saw, a few feet beyond them (i.e. opposite Jim’s Package Store), a traffic cop frantically signaling that we were not to stop. He yelled at my husband to proceed, and my husband responded, “I didn’t see you, I was looking at the people about to step out in front of me,” to which the police officer replied, “Yes, I’m the one waving my arms.”

Now, I get it, it is summer, it is hot, there are so many people in small areas, but “when do we break the law, for the law?” And since when is it OK for our officers to yell at us? It’s rude and unnerving, and not a very good welcome to the Island for visitors.



Dear Unsettled,

I believe you sent us this question pre–Fair/Illumination Night/Fireworks, but perhaps having survived that week, you will now appreciate that whatever you’re feeling right now is how that traffic cop has been feeling since at least the Fourth of July. (And my guess is that you were too startled to notice whether or not the officer was also telling the walkers to stop while he waved you on, so we’ll just assume he did indeed stop the walkers from crossing the road and into the path of your moving car.) In terms of emotional calm, this is the toughest stretch of the year for working year-rounders, so I would gently suggest that you cut him some slack regarding his attitude. I know cops on the Island get paid decently, but that doesn’t mean they are inured to seasonal fluctuations. It’s unfortunate when anyone, for any reason, is rude to other people, but given that “good cheer” isn’t in his job description, this really is the time of year when he kind of gets a pass.

If he were yelling at you in February, of course, I’d have a very different response.

As for the effect his grumpiness might have on visitors: It’s possible a grumpy cop might not be that shocking to off-Islanders. They have already survived bridge traffic and at least an hour in Woods Hole. Island cops, even in bad moods, are among the friendliest I’ve ever met (Disclaimer: I have a former cop in my extended family).

But to your actual question: “When do we break the law, for the law?” I encourage you to think of this question from a different perspective, one that will probably drive a lot of appalled commentary to the Times website.

Driving in August can mean taking your life in yours hands, and in matters of life and death, I find religion is often a useful metaphor. (Disclaimer: I have a degree in comparative religion, so I do not speak mockingly of anyone’s faith. I’m serious about the following metaphor.)

Consider the crosswalk a stand-in for the Bible or other religious text — it is a printed artifact of longstanding wisdom, unchanging, timeless, and necessary guidance for a wholesome life. You can rely on its constancy.

The cop is the minister/rabbi/priest — the guide to navigating life’s immediate and contemporary troubles. In extraordinary times, this might include advice that seems to contradict the text they revere. Most religions rely heavily on such a living representative of the faith, who interprets what is set down (be it on pavement or on parchment) in ways that befit the immediate circumstances.

OK, I know that’s a bit of a stretch. But there are Catholic priests who do not condemn birth control, and I know devout astrophysicists and paleontologists who navigate the disconnect between their profession and their faith with the help of their rabbis and ministers.

So listen to your Traffic Minister. He might be gruff, he might be rude, but he knows we are in extraordinary times (August), and he is there to guide you through them. If circumstances did not require special attention, he would not have been stationed there. Everyone knows we really need him at Five Corners.


That’s my take.


Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to