Chris Burrell


Vacation Anxiety Syndrome

It’s a lucky problem to have, of course, but there’s no denying the symptoms are real.

“They called!”

“They called?”

“They’re coming!”

“They’re coming?”

We knew they’d call. We didn’t think they’d come. Our neighbors from New Jersey were vacationing on Cape Cod for a precious three days. We hoped they’d spare a day to visit us on Martha’s Vineyard where we had rented a house for the week, but we knew it was a long shot. Hearing the news, we all cheered. But silently, I couldn’t ignore the gnawing pressure this would cause. They were now investing a third of their trip in ours. Vacation performance anxiety swept in unwittingly.

“What ferry are they taking?” I asked my son who took the call.

“They’ll be here at 9,” he said.

“Great,” my husband chimed in, “we’ll bring them back here, and –”

“Here?!” I interjected. “Who wants to come here?! They’re not giving up a day on Cape Cod to see the inside of our rental!” I weaved through the den snatching abandoned socks and plumping pillows. “They’re coming to see the Island. And all it has to offer!” I silently calculated how much time I’d have to work with. “Don’t worry,” I waved my hand dismissively, “I got this.”

Only no one was worrying. Except me.

My son and I jumped in the car. A mile from the ferry dock, the phone rang.

“They got off the ferry and stopped at a place in Oak Bluffs for breakfast,” my son reported. “They were starving.”

“What?” I said with quiet frustration. That wasn’t what I had in mind. “Did they order yet?”

“Did you order?” He pulled the phone from his ear, “No, but they drank some water.”

“That’s okay.” I said. “Tell them to put down the menus and slow jog toward the door. If anyone asks, they’re ‘late for their ferry.’ Have them go to the Flying Horses Carousel. Tell them it’s the oldest carousel in the country. It was built in 1876 and moved to Oak Bluffs from Coney Island. It’s a national landmark. They should take a ride. And, a selfie! We’ll be right there.”

My son relayed every word. Then added, “Try to grab the brass ring!”

Outside the carousel I pulled into a spot labeled: No Parking. Finding a spot in Oak Bluffs was impossible. It’s easier to catch a three-pound lobster pinching a pearl. While the car idled, I ran out to greet our guests.

“Welcome! How was the carousel?!” We exchanged quick hugs and stowed their bags and boogie boards. Then, off to Edgartown for breakfast. “Oh, hey, sorry about that breakfast confusion. Hope that’s okay. There’s a spot in Edgartown I know you’ll adore!”

Syd said it was no problem. Ted agreed. They were just hungry. After all, they woke hours ago and hadn’t eaten yet. Neither had their kids.

“This place is a can’t-miss for breakfast! It’s like no other. Trust me.”

We chatted excitedly along the way – pointing to the jumping bridge at State Beach, and the gentle water in the Sound where you can float all day without getting swept out to sea. It was a perfect sparkly day. A crisp blue untarnished sky, accessorized only by a brilliant sun.

At the restaurant, there was a twenty minute wait. I was horrified. Not on my watch. I apologized profusely to Syd and Ted and their two starving sons and told them to hang on one sec while I called my husband for a backup plan. “It is breakfast, after all,” I reassured. “An egg’s an egg! Am I right?!”

“Of course there’s a wait,” said my helping husband, “it’s 10:15. What took so long?”

I explained to my sympathetic spouse it was slow-going around the Pagoda Tree.

“What were you doing over there?” he supported some more.

“Honey –” I sighed, “the Pagoda Tree is the oldest of its kind on the continent, brought to Martha’s Vineyard in a pot from China during the War of 1812. Now, do you think I’d let their boys leave without seeing that? Do you?” I plucked a note from my handbag and crossed out Pagoda Tree. “Besides, I wasn’t going to drive by that house with the overgrown grass and the chickens and the sailboat with the lopsided mast sitting on the front lawn – sorry.”

“What’s the matter with chickens? People love chickens. Chickens say country and charming. What’s your problem with the boat? The Vineyard’s an island, for Pete’s sake.”

“I have no problem with boats. In the water. Not on a front lawn. Nothing says tickery-tackery faster than a front lawn boat!”

By the end of this productive conversation, a table opened for our voracious visitors. “Oh, splendid!” I was relieved indeed. “Order the eggs – they’re from free-range chickens! Ever had free-range eggs, kiddos?” I asked their drooling darlings. “Give a jingle when you’re finished. I’ll swing back around and we’ll go fishing. Sound like fun?” Four heads nodded like bobbers.

My husband and daughter were ready with fishing gear and squid bait when I arrived back at the house. Together we headed to the Edgartown Lighthouse where you can fish right from the beach alongside the sailboat moorings.

“Aren’t Syd and Ted and the kids coming?” My husband asked. “Why are we fishing if they’re not fishing? I hate fishing.”

“Yes, they’re coming.” I said, taking a shortcut to the lighthouse. “But you need to be there before them. In the fishing vignette. We need to set up.”

He turned to me. “You didn’t just say, ‘fishing vignette.’”

I swerved into a spot and jumped out, “I was hoping you’d have a fish in the pail when they arrive. And it’d be great if you had one on the line – you know, reeling it in.”

“You’re not serious?” He slammed the car door. “What’s next? Wait, lemme guess –” He held up his hand. “If I can’t catch anything, I should run to the fish market for a few mackerels?”

My eyebrows shot up. I filed that idea for later, while silently praising my husband.

“Listen,” I said, as we lugged the gear down the path to the beach beside the lighthouse – a small boomerang of a beach, nestled between the swaying dune grass and the clanking sailboats dotting the bay. A setting our friends would be smitten with. “Of course I know you don’t always catch fish when you fish. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.” I plopped the gear on the perfect sunlit patch of sand. “We don’t have time for that. We need to fast-forward to the fish tale. Get it? Where’s the beer?” I looked around for the cooler and back at my husband.

“What beer?” He exhaled deeply. His arms drooped at his side, his shoulders curled forward. “It’s barely 11.”

I threw my hands in the air. “Fine. Whatever. It would’ve been a nice touch.” My cell rang. They finished breakfast. “We gotta go,” I said to my daughter.

We met them on foot, directed the boys to the lighthouse, and took Syd with us to Main Street – the Champs-Elysees of the Vineyard.

Thank goodness it took Syd no time to fall in love with a robin’s-egg-blue enamel bracelet. I glanced at my watch and called my husband. “How’s it going?” I whispered, bracing myself for the worst. “Five fish!?” I exclaimed to waves of turned heads. “Holy mackerel!”

We snapped pics of everything: the carousel, the gingerbread houses, the bucket of fish, the lighthouse, kids buried in the sand, boogie-boarding the surf, the old prop planes flying low over South Beach.

Later, packed into the car like sardines in a can, we headed to Vineyard Haven for lobster rolls at Grace Church – our Friday night MV tradition. We took our overstuffed sandwiches to Owen Park Beach for al fresco dining under a setting sun. No one could believe the lobster rolls had entire claws of meat! If only the day didn’t have to end. But, our friends needed to catch the last ferry to the Cape.

Back in the car, I noticed the gas tank was on E. I announced the tank was empty (which I’ve always believed the E to stand for), which inspired a lively discussion divided along gender lines. The men insisted we didn’t need gas. “You’ve got another sixty miles when you hit E,” they sang in harmony. The women silently visualized the men pushing the gas-less car to the ferry and started to contemplate where everyone would sleep in the tiny rental.

Without a gas station in sight, we had no choice but to cross our fingers and drive straight to the dock. Miraculously, we arrived at the ferry in time and intact. Before we peeled ourselves out of the car, I turned to look at our crew, half of them asleep. This time it was indisputable –  we were completely out of gas.

Comments (3)

Denise DeBrocke
Milford CT
Never been to the Vineyard but the lobster rolls sound like a reason to visit.
August 4, 2021 - 3:19pm
Denise Rago
Cedar Knolls, NJ
I love Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and totally understand Vacation Anxiety Syndrome. I think it's even more difficult when you have visitors coming for only one day. Where to go, what to see, where to eat? A myriad of decisions and of course, you want your guests to have a great time. Loved this essay!
August 24, 2021 - 8:51am
Peggy Natiello
Sedona, AZ
Hilarious! Recognize the 'all must be perfect' effort to entertain friends and also know it makes no sense! This piece had me flying around and still can't feel the ground beneath my feet. Wonderfully written!
August 24, 2021 - 3:13pm