It’s just about midsummer, and Islanders should be at their maximum stress point, where demands on services, business, and on each other put us at the brink. Remarkably, the intersection — of seasonal and year-round interests — seems to be holding reasonably well, even considering the heat and humidity enveloping us all.
Informal measures of the season — lines outside most restaurants, traffic at the Triangle, landscaping crews keeping up with demand, SSA performance, finger-in-the-breeze financial estimates — all seem positive. Lots of new retail shops and restaurants have opened across the Island, and are holding on: So far, so good. No matter how many cultural events appear, they all seem to sell out, and in this penultimate political season, presidential candidates have figured out Vineyard style: one affordable do at the PAC followed by a big-ticket catered affair at the home of an early adopter.
The season is the economic driver of Island life, whether we like it or not. We have almost certainly passed that particular point of no return, and no amount of nostalgia is likely to bring back the simpler, stress-free days of 50 and more years ago.
These days the quality of Vineyard life in midsummer is measured and tested by the way year-round and seasonal Islanders interact over and around scarce resources. What seems notable to us is that after many years of intense angst while facing our new Island partners across the aisles at farm stands and concerts and on hold waiting for a plumber or electrician, Vineyarders from here and not seem more at peace with seasonal demands and more comfortable in their own skins than we’ve seen before.
This isn’t because year-round and seasonal populations have merged in social terms. The emerging gaps that Milton Mazer first began to write about 40-plus years ago in “People and Predicaments” have only grown, if measured by personal finances, as the seasonal population concentrates very great wealth here on the rock. But the servant/served gap has become more businesslike, we think, and Island cultural sophistication has changed across the board in those 40 years.
All in all, it looks like we’ve managed the change pretty well. Some of this is attributable to the virtues of slow rather than rapid change, so that folks starting from different places find themselves moving inexorably if fitfully closer together. We think that it’s also owing to the reflexive norms of community and respectfulness that generally characterize most Island dwellers and most Vineyarders. We may fuss mightily about taxes or zoning or land use, or any of dozens of other particulars of daily life. But when it matters, when it counts, we know how to share, how to support, and how to listen.
Perhaps this facility for accommodation derives from our seafaring and agricultural history, as if it’s in the timbers and frames of a strong community that longtime Island families built for us in the 1600s. Perhaps it derives from our Islander mentality: Even at only seven miles offshore, we need each other, are vulnerable in front of each other, and willingly help each other out all the time. And certainly it’s strengthened by how quickly newcomers can be assimilated here; they pick up on and share the Island’s unifying ethos, even if they thought they were attracted by our beaches and fishing and farm stands and fancy restaurants, and really didn’t know what they were buying into.
In the end, building and maintaining a strong Island community depends on supporting individuals with the hard- and soft-wired connections that Vineyard organizations foster. That’s why the best of our nonprofits strongly support families, healthcare access, education, and shared experiences and passions. Here’s where we need to make our investments as a community, and here’s where seasonal residents put us well over the goal line.
And we should make no mistake: We Islanders can’t support the array of services we’ve come to depend on without seasonal residents. Between the taxes they pay for services they barely receive and the financial and social support they provide because they’ve come to value our community and “want to give back,” we are beneficiaries of a near-frictionless system. These are true Vineyarders, not just seasonal residents.