Getting There from Here. Trials of a Vineyard Traveler

I may have been smart enough to move to Martha’s Vineyard, but now that I live here, I can’t figure out how to leave. Working out travel plans to or from the Island reminds me of one of those brain twisters: “If two men are driving towards each other at forty miles an hour and one has to be at the Black Dog Tavern by 2:00 p.m., and the other has to fly out of Logan by 3:00 p.m., which one will miss the ferry first?”

Not long ago, I decided to spend the weekend in New York. I thought it would be simple – I wanted to leave on Saturday and come back on Monday, using transportation that was reasonably priced and relatively fast. I looked into flying first. With two days’ notice, I knew the fare wouldn’t be cheap, but when I called a carrier about direct flights and found out I could put a down payment on a small house in Chilmark for the same price, I decided to consider other possibilities.

The other way to get off this Island is by boat. And for most of us “boat” means ferry. The Steamship Authority is as reliable as a rock, but for some reason the forty-five minutes added on to a trip seems to turn even the shortest jaunt into a trek worthy of Lewis and Clark – it takes planning, patience, and the faith that you will eventually fulfill your destiny (and travel arrangements) on the other side.

Consider this. If I lived in Woods Hole, driving the 250 miles to New York would take me between four and five hours – which means I’d be traveling at an average speed of fifty or sixty miles an hour. But the ferry ride adds at least forty-five minutes to an hour, and now the trip takes five to six hours. That cuts my average travel speed to about forty to fifty miles an hour.

If I didn’t want to take my own car, I could “leave the driving to them” and get on the New York– bound bus in Woods Hole. That’s a six-hour bus ride plus one hour on the ferry for a total of seven hours divided into 250 – that would have cut down my average speed to about thirty-five miles an hour. You don’t even want to think about taking the bus to the Boston or Providence train. By the time you’re through with connections, any slower and you could jog to New York. After pondering all these headache-inducing options, I started to think I’d have someone else give my regards to Broadway.

So, in exchange for living on our small Island paradise, I had to give up my desire for instant and inexpensive mobility. Which is, I suppose, as it should be. After all, that’s one of the reasons we came here, right? Whether we’re summer regulars or weekenders or year-round residents, we come at least in part to escape the relentless driven-ness of the mainland – to escape Fed Ex-ism and Fax-ism: if we absolutely, positively have to be somewhere else in the next fifteen minutes, we probably shouldn’t be living on Martha’s Vineyard. Our Island doesn’t have fast food or fast traffic. We still slow down for tractors and turkeys. Cell phones and pagers don’t work very well. The ferry separates us from the mainland by more than space; it also creates an unexpected time warp that protects us from the unrelenting pace of the twenty-first century, and I think most of us are grateful for that. It’s just that, well,  sometimes. . . . 

In the end I decided to take a direct flight to New York. I was willing to pay the price for what I thought was the convenience. But between the unexpected storm and rent-a-car trainee it was still six hours before I stepped onto Manhattan bedrock.

Martha’s Vineyard once belonged to New York, but was ceded to Massachusetts in the late 1600s – probably because New Yorkers found they had so much trouble getting here. This was before bridges crossed the Hudson and East rivers. New Yorkers back then had to leave their island by boat too – so for island to Island transport it would have been the boat to the horse-drawn carriage to the inn to the horse to the boat, for a four-day trip and an average speed of – oh, never mind.