January 18, 2020

A Year on the Island Part 1

I've now lived and worked on Martha's Vineyard for a year, and here are some thoughts on island living.

I began my job as executive director of Sail Martha's Vineyard in January 2019. Finding a place to spend my first six months on the island was a hurdle due to higher prices than nonprofit salaries support, and lack of available rental housing. Due to its summer popularity there are tons of homes on island that are unoccupied most of the year, but most people don't rent for the "off season."

With the help of Sail MV's board of directors, I found a wonderful rental in Vineyard Haven that was right on the harbor and within walking distance of the office. I feel privileged to have been able to live there, despite the lack of insulation in the historic home and subsequently enormous propane bills.

The cost of heating was my first introduction to what I call the "island tax." Everything sold on an island must cross the water by ferry or plane, and that adds something to the bill. Unfortunately, some on the island add a further percentage due to the pervasive expectation that everything will be more expensive than just a few miles away on Cape Cod. Therefore some purchases are maybe only 10% more, while others are 50% more.

This leads to the favorite island technique of ordering needed stuff via Amazon and others that offer free delivery, even to the island! You would think that would be a total win until you end up waiting in a 30-minute line at the post office with all the other people collecting their stuff. Many addresses on the island do not have postal delivery, and many others are so obscure that expecting UPS or Fedex to get there is overly optimistic. Everyone, has both a PO Box and an alternate shipping location it seems. You often see boxes stacked up alongside a metal mailbox on a rural road. The mailbox is for some house off in the woods down a dirt road.

My particular street address is not even recognized by the power company. Instead, they have assigned me an unused address on another nearby road. My cellphone provider also refuses to recognize the address, despite it being the legal, town-recognized address for the building. It isn't recognized by UPS or Fedex either. Needless to say, it is hopeless having anything sent to the address--who knows where it would end up? So, my mail and any shipments go either to my PO Box in another town, or to my work address where UPS is able to find us! However, no mail can be delivered to the work address, so I often walk to the post office at lunch time. This is all "island normal." Luckily, the local RMV (the Massachusetts equivalent of the DMV) understands all this and is accommodating.

Another interesting thing about island life--no crime! Well almost nothing. When something does happen it becomes front page news on the two excellent island newspapers. However, the police forces are designed for the summer influx of tourists, so they are overstaffed with not much to do most of the year. Be careful not to speed on any of the deserted back roads or park your car someplace it shouldn't be or you may encounter one of the local police patiently waiting for something to do. However, they do it in a very friendly manner!

Those two excellent island newspapers mentioned above are treasures that most of the USA has lost. I subscribe to both, paper and digital, because they are really critical to knowing what is happening. Reporters are at every town meeting, and know everyone on the island. They both have experienced reporters that have been here long enough to know the territory well. It is a pleasure to read their daily email and online stories and to sit down with the weekly papers.

More to come!

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