Everyone knows this place where I live, Martha's Vineyard, is an island. Surrounded by the sea on all sides, the only way on or off is by boat or plane.
Most of us rely on the boat, or ferry. Planes are quicker but they're less reliable and more easily grounded by weather. They go to places like Boston, Hyannis, New Bedford, and Nantucket, with a few other stops like Providence, New York or New Jersey, and DC thrown in during the summer.
They're expensive. And, of course, they're tiny. Some hold as many as 20 passengers, but most carry around 10. I've actually enjoyed the times I've flown on and off-island, but for convenience, you really can't beat the boat.
There are generally two big ferries making the trip to the Vineyard carrying cars and people. In addition there are a couple of freight boats (those that take trucks) that'll squeeze on a few passenger-cars or walk-ons.
Fast-ferries run to the Vineyard from New Bedford and Hyannis, but not all year, and some people don't like them because it's easier to get seasick. I've never been seasick but, as any experienced sailor will tell you, there's always a first time.
The actual boat ride lasts about 40 minutes, but we measure the distance of any and all trips by how long it takes to get to or from the boat. Logan airport? Just under two hours from the boat. Manhattan? Four-and-a-half hours. Hyannis? Forty-five minutes (from the boat).
It's as though the 40 minutes on the ferry to and from Woods Hole doesn't count. In fact, over time, I think most islanders see the ride as a bonus.
During the summer the boat is loaded with tourists, all revved up for some island magic. But most of the year it's a meeting spot for islanders to reconnect and catch up on each other's lives.
Some of us nap in our cars. Others curl up with a book or watch the waves. Island kids may start out running around, looking to see who else is on board, but most quickly fall into a semi-hypnotic state of tranquility.
"Where are you headed?" we ask. Shopping? Doctor's appointment? Vacation?
We stop and chat in the snack bar, pause by each other's seats as we head back to our vehicles, or gather in the parking lot while we wait to board.
Although year-rounders do get a discount, it's not cheap to take your car to the other side, or America, as some call it. There are islanders that pay monthly to park a car in the Falmouth lot to avoid the possibility of not getting passage on a fully booked boat.
Naturally this is very appealing in the summer, when spontaneous trips off-island are pretty much a pipe dream. Then again, who in their right mind wants to leave Martha's Vineyard in the summer if they don't have to?
If someone's sick or there's an emergency, the Steamship Authority is pretty helpful. If you really need to get on or off this island, there's always a way.
Unless of course, the winds kick into overdrive and the sea goes wild. Then it doesn't matter whether you're on-island or off; you're stuck.
My first eight years living here I was never caught on the other side. Then, over nine months, it happened three times. Experienced vineyarders make a speedy run for the local hotels that offer a discount to marooned islanders in need of a room for the night.
Phone calls are made to the neighbors to please feed the pets, and to employers who, along with our island teachers and families, have no choice but to go with the flow.
Broadly speaking, folks who live on an island seem to, by necessity, possess an extraordinary amount of flexibility.
After all, the next time the boat stops running and someone's stuck, it just might be them.
Thanks to everyone for your healing words and wishes as I recuperate from this sinus surgery. I'm still a bit "under the weather," but hope to be back on my usual bloggy rounds before long!