Most Islanders have heard of the Oak Bluffs information booth, and even how it got a paint job last May (if not, get caught up at bit.ly/MVT_OBbooth). But ever wonder what is actually inside? That was uncovered with the help of Leo Gagnon, a three-year veteran of the booth who now runs it.
Operated by the Oak Bluffs Association, the information booth itself is open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm, but Sunday to Wednesday, 9 am to 1 pm, is when you can find Gagnon sitting in it.
Usually, the booth gets 40,000 to 50,000 visitors between the first ferry in May and the last one in October, the period the Oak Bluffs terminal for the Steamship Authority is open. Gagnon, however, has experienced the impact of the past couple years of COVID at the booth. These off years were felt in numbers, as Gagnon reports that visitations were down to around 12,000 in the 2020 season, and 32,000 in last year’s summer season. These numbers are expected to be back up this year, as predicted by the crowds seen early this July.
Gagnon walked The Times through his process to get visitors feeling situated and off to where they want to go. “People will come up and say, ‘I’m lost, I don’t know what to do’ … The first thing I ask anyone is, What time is your boat leaving,” Gagnon said, adding that it gives him a reference point to decide if he wants to send them all over the Island, or just to one town. He also said, “I can’t tell you how many people come and say, ‘I’m only here for two hours, what can I do?’ So I send them to see the gingerbread houses,” a popular Oak Bluffs attraction. For those with more time, Gagnon tries to simplify the process of getting around, using a map of the whole Island to show bus routes and how to get to each town. Gagnon adds that he thinks when you make the Island feel smaller and break it down, it makes it feel more manageable and allows visitors to relax and enjoy it more.
Gagnon shared that most of his visitors inquire about simple things: Where is the bus stop? How much is the bus? Where is the restroom? Where is a good place for breakfast? (Gagnon recommends Biscuits.) How do you get to the gingerbread cottages? All things Gagnon answers with ease. It gets difficult when he is up against the internet, as he said visitors often ask him where they can pick up the trolley. “Somewhere on the internet, I’ve yet to find it, is advertising that we have trolleys on the Island. We don’t have trolleys, we have public transportation.” Gagnon said. The information booth has had to dampen this rumor over time.
There is no internet access at the booth, which sometimes makes it difficult for fresh-off-the-boat visitors to load the QR code for the bus, a convenient way to purchase and download digital travel passes.
The internet isn’t the only thing that gives Gagnon a hard time. “My biggest problem here is getting supplies. Supplies is always my hiccup,” he said. “It’s important to people when they get here that they see what you have.” Gagnon hands out all sorts of pamphlets and flyers throughout his morning shifts, many of which are bus routes and boat schedules, or walking tours for popular things to do. When there is no internet for visitors to fall back on, to immediately orient themselves on a map or search a location from Gagnon, the importance of these printed and ready-to-go supplies becomes essential. His supply typically includes Vineyard Visitor, a Times publication that provides information on things to do on the Island. (They’re on the way, really.)
Despite the hiccups, lack of internet, and never enough supplies, Gagnon shares that he does love this job, saying, “I meet so many nice people from all over the world … Everyone who comes here who has the least bit of an accent, I ask them where they’re from.”
Just this past week, Gagnon says he has had people visit from France, Spain, and Uruguay, being sure to welcome them all to the Island. Even while Gagnon was giving us the inside scoop at the information booth, a family from Lebanon stopped by to ask where they should go for lunch, for which he sent them in the direction of Nancy’s Restaurant, Sand Bar & Grille, and other neighboring seafood restaurants overlooking the harbor. “Where else can you work and get a job like this?”