(Me on South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard)
I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Martha’s Vineyard (MV), Massachusetts, this summer in July. With preconceived notions, I expected to see fancy cars and rude, rich people everywhere. However, I experienced the exact opposite. The blue-collar workers and business owners presented pleasant encounters with normal people (not rich vagabonds) – kind folks trying to succeed in a place of paradise. I will elaborate on these cordial meetings throughout this blog entry.
Politicians have given MV a stench where even the original residents have grown tired of their visits by reputation. The notoriety of the island’s name created a pop culture trend for celebrity tourists that caused prices and living costs to rise. Locals are irritated by the fame and attention of a select few individuals who broadcast that they live at MV. On the other hand, the generational residents and seasonal workers warmly welcome sincere personalities and unpretentious visitors.
I often wondered why Martha’s Vineyard is called Martha’s Vineyard. MV is historically associated with the English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold. Gosnold named the island in honor of his daughter, whose name was either Martha or Mary. The term “Vineyard" is thought to have been used because of the abundant wild grapes on the island. Gosnold was an early English explorer who visited the island in 1602. He established one of the first English settlements in North America on MV, although this dwelling was short-lived.
Before European settlers arrived, MV was inhabited by the Wampanoag people, a Native American tribe. The Wampanoag relied on fishing, hunting, farming, and gathering as their primary sustenance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, MV became a prominent center for the whaling industry. The island's location was an ideal base for whaling vessels. The profits from whaling contributed to the island's growth, reputation, and prosperity.
On the day of my adventure, I drove from Boston to Falmouth, where the ferry then took me to MV. We landed in the small town of Oaks Bluff. It is a beautiful coastal town with the whispers of ocean air, tasteful cuisine, local coffee shops, several green spaces, and New England colonial homes. I arrived on the island at about 10:00 a.m. ET. The original ferry ride from Falmouth to Oaks Bluff lasted about 35-40 minutes. This ferry ride only included people and bikes, no motorized vehicles. I met an older couple named Barry and Bernice who also planned to visit the island for the day. They were from New Hampshire. They brought a two-person bike to ride together. For the long boat trip, they were wonderful company! They provided valuable information about the Vineyard and tips on what sites to see. We mostly talked about our families. They showed me pictures of the grandkids on their cell phones. I showed them pictures of Lisa, Annabelle, and Jace on my phone. I actually saw them throughout the day on different parts of the island, sometimes passing each other on our bikes.
I rented an electric bike from All-Star Martha’s Vineyard Bike Rentals. Robert, the owner and manager of this business, outlined my entire day of where to go and what to see with the local island sites. Before my self-tour began, I walked across the street from All-Star Bike Rentals to discover Vineyard's Best Ice Cream and Coffee Company. While not advertised, this business served freshly made bagels. For five dollars (a reasonable price for MV vendors), I bought three bagels to fuel my day. Those bagels sustained me throughout the day under a brutal July summer sun. I had not originally planned to bike the 37 miles I covered in this one day.
I started riding down Seaview Avenue alongside Alley-Waban Park and Inkwell Beach. Alley-Waban Park was a large open field park with several sidewalks with people walking dogs and enjoying the sunshine-filled day. The previously described colonial homes surrounded the park. Many of these residences had balconies with ocean views on the second or third floor.
From Oaks Bluff, Robert directed me toward Edgartown. This road hugged the seashore with breathtaking coastal vistas. The ride along these beaches and waves felt refreshing. I am about to begin my fourth and final year of a Ph.D. program in Communication. While very enjoyable, the workload in a doctoral program can sometimes be intensive and all-consuming. The gust of ocean air melted these workload worries away. There was an enchanting essence to this island. It became evident within my first few miles of riding why so many people from all over the world ventured to visit this paradise. The bike ride on this coastal road from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown was six miles to begin a long day’s journey.
MV is extremely accessible by bike. In fact, by mid-afternoon, the traffic is bad enough that bikes move faster than cars sitting in traffic, depending on where you are on the island. About halfway to Edgartown on Seaview Avenue, I rode across a short bridge titled the American Legion Memorial Bridge. Locally, this bridge is also known as the Jaws Bridge. Many scenes in the first movie of this series were filmed at MV.
Many young adults and even parents with kids were jumping off this bridge into a canal that linked marsh and open ocean waters. The jump into the water below was probably about 12-13 feet high, and several individuals leaped without hesitation, sometimes several times. I admired the youthful energy of these daredevils. However, I decided ultimately to stay dry. I prefer to avoid testing the strong ocean currents. In local newspapers, concerning Jaws Bridge, I read that one person died in 2023 after jumping off the bridge. Two others experienced the same fate in 2022. I doubt these eager divers researched these facts before their stunts. On the bridge, a warning sign cautions people not to jump off the bridge since the activity is considered illegal. I heeded this advice closely. I took some photos of these valiant jumpers and continued my bike journey.
After the six-mile stretch on Seaview Avenue, I arrived in Edgartown. First, I visited the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. As mentioned in previous blog entries, I am fascinated by lighthouses. Lighthouses offer photogenic portraits amidst beautiful beaches and landscapes. The lighthouse was shorter than some of the other lighthouses I visited in the past. The building includes a museum and the opportunity to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. The views at the top were lovely. It was a nice place to reflect on life, with a small beach on a peninsula surrounded by water. After appreciating the moment and reciting some short prayers, I descended the lighthouse and admired the marvelous features of the Harbor View Hotel. The hotel had a wraparound porch with scenic views in all directions, including the lighthouse across the street. The building resembles a house that might be considered a mansion. The hotel reminds me of a place you might read about in a romance novel. Like an interesting person, the hotel knows viewers admire its beauty, almost like the hotel possesses a personality within itself.
Compared to my first ferry ride, I encountered a second ferry that connected Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island (CI). This ferry was much smaller than my previous ride as a passenger from Falmouth. The boat could hold three cars and ten people with two to three bicycles. The small ferry ride intrigued me. So, I paid a small fee and walked my bike onto the ferry. I was unfamiliar with MV, CI, or any of the surrounding islands in the Cape Cod area. For the day in MV, I was on vacation to enjoy the scenery without a defined schedule. I was exploring for the sole sake of exploring.
After reaching CI, I rode my bike from the ferry another four miles to East Beach. Then, I had to ride another four miles to ride the ferry back into Edgartown. It was evident that CI was the quieter side of this paradise. One small convenience store and deli existed on CI with some souvenirs and light groceries. I stopped at this local business to buy some cold refreshments. I also encountered a Japanese Garden that was small but quaint.
After getting off the ferry, I stepped into Old Sculpin Gallery, an upscale store of splendid artwork. Many pieces of art were available for purchase, including paintings, sculptures, and photography. Honestly, I sought relief from the sun in an air-conditioned building. I was soaked in sweat like I had just worked out at the gym. Of course, I had just biked another eight miles across CI. However, two nicely dressed women greeted me cordially, asking me where I was from and if I was enjoying the Vineyard. I commented on the fantastic works of photography in the gallery. One of the two girls inquired about my poetry and photography books. She asked me to write down the titles of my books and published photos. This demeanor is generally what I encountered in the Vineyard throughout the day. People were exceptionally polite and genuinely wanted island visitors to enjoy their experiences there.
In addition to discussing my poetry books, I conversed with the art gallery sales clerk about local bookstores with regional authors, including some that might have lived at MV during the entire annual year or at least during the warm season. For weather reasons, many local residents live at the Vineyard during the warmer months of the year. Then they retreat to southern regions of the United States during the harshest months of the winter. The winter conditions at MV can be quite severe.
The sales clerk recommended Edgartown Books, a locally owned business and independent bookstore. A coffee shop restaurant named Behind the Bookstore literally sat in the back of Edgartown Books. You could walk through the bookstore into a courtyard garden between the two businesses. Several people sat at tables in the courtyard, eating food and drinking their lattes from the coffee shop. It was a charming setup! I bought two books by authors from MV who wrote about experiences at the Vineyard. I still felt somewhat overheated from the sun and the long-distance bike ride. I sat inside the coffee shop for a good hour, drinking several glasses of water, a cold brew coffee, and eating a peach muffin. I glimpsed through my two purchased local reads. Again, like the art gallery, the coffee shop was air-conditioned! I really enjoyed the local beach town feel of the bookstore and coffee shop. I quickly observed that both tourists and permanent residents of the island enjoyed these two businesses.
From Edgartown, I rode my bike to Katama and South Beaches. Barry and Bernice advised that these beaches were the most scenic on the island. I took their advice to heart and walked on South Beach to soak in the splendid views. I rode past the Katama Farm, which encompassed many acres of crops and other greenery. Again, I was surprised to observe these fields in the middle of the island….a working farm with barns, silos, animals, and machinery.
It was getting later in the day, and I knew I had about 12-13 miles to return to Oaks Bluff. Rather than taking Seaview Avenue along the ocean beaches, I took roads on the interior of the island through the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. This route permitted me to see other parts of the Vineyard that I had not witnessed earlier in the day. The interior marshes and woods possessed their own natural wonders. While I knew I needed to head back to Boston eventually, I would have enjoyed camping on the beach at MV to truly soak in the moment and spiritual essence of this gorgeous place.
Perhaps I was more tired after baking in the sun and riding several miles across the island to visit all the mentioned landmarks. The last leg of my biking journey was very challenging! I was hungry and ready to rest with a beer in my hand. I eventually returned to All-Star Bikes, where Robert kept calling me "The Professor." Robert inquired about my higher education teaching and research interests. I informed him that I was close to finishing my Ph.D. in Communication. One of his summer seasonal employees majored in Communication and asked me some questions about the discipline. Robert and his staff provided an excellent example of positive customer service experiences. Beyond the day’s adventure, they tried to know more about my life beyond the surface-level small talk. All-Star Bikes employed workers with great attitudes who genuinely wanted to serve visitors of the Vineyard.
I asked for Robert’s recommendation for a restaurant where I could eat some of the best local cuisine. Robert directed me to Lookout Tavern, just around the corner from his shop. He further recommended that I order the lobster tacos. His insights proved to be delicious! This restaurant has ocean views, located next to the water. I also ordered a couple of local beers made by microbreweries on the island. After dinner, I quickly visited some souvenir shops for last-minute purchases and gifts. On the return trip with the ferry, I was blessed to enjoy the company of Barry and Bernice once again. I had hoped to see them again. We conversed more about each other’s families and sat on the upper deck of the ferry. Together we savored the sunset over the island silhouette of the Vineyard in the background.
I arrived back at the docks in Falmouth at about 6:30 p.m. ET. I took the remainder of the day to drive around downtown Falmouth and observe the early evening nightlife. I drove by Aquatic Brewing Company. I decided to turn around and check out the inside of the microbrewery. Rather than drinking full-size pints of beer, I tried a sampler order. These servings allow a patron to try four to five beers with about six ounces in each glass. You take time to enjoy the taste of each beer rather than only drinking beverages for consumption reasons. I was impressed with the tastings. While enjoying the atmosphere, I sat next to a group of young men who appeared to have just gotten off work from a construction site. They wore construction clothes and told me about their many carpentry projects on both residential and commercial properties. It sounded like Falmouth and the surrounding Cape Cod towns were growing faster than residences could be built. I appreciated the friendliness of local conversations. I soon got back into my car and made my way back to Boston, where I was staying at a close friend’s residence.
For several days to come, I knew I would feel the positive vibes of the Vineyard long after my ferry returned to Falmouth. MV was much larger in square mileage than I initially speculated. I am still reminiscing how magnificent the Vineyard’s natural wonders were. While maybe a pop culture fad to visit, Martha's Vineyard greatly exceeded my expectations! It was clear why so many people visited the island every year and paid the absorbent prices to stay there overnight. Like a Taylor Swift Eras concert, the experience of island adventures might be worth the abhorrent prices to marvel at the Vineyard’s vastness and majestic grandeur.
(Despite the warnings, people still jump off Jaw’s Bridge.)