Road Trip USA: Martha’s Vineyard

When many people think of Martha’s Vineyard, they automatically think of it as a celebrity vacation spot.  Yes, lots of rich and famous people spend their summer vacation here, among them the Obamas.  The Vineyard, however, is so much more than the occasional celebrity that passes through.

Edgartown harbor fisheye lens
Edgartown harbor fisheye lens

My children love their summers in the Vineyard.  They are outdoors and active all the time — biking, hiking, swimming, body boarding, kayaking, fishing, playing tennis etc.  On the beach, they love collecting shells, searching for moon jellies, building sand castles, digging tunnels and skipping stones.  The farms provide edutainment such as horseback riding and  berry picking.  Unlike our London house, our Vineyard home has a large yard where they can play with water guns, skipping ropes etc.

collecting shells
collecting shells

Every year, our house is full of friends and family who come to visit.  Living abroad for so long, we spend summers catching up with our American friends.  Renowned American broadcaster, Mike Wallace sums it up for me:

“Even as I talk, I can see it and smell it and feel it.  It’s a special, insular, quiet, healing, glorious place.  And year after year after year, you not only see your kids and your grandchildren grow, but you see everybody else’s kids, the same people, grow.  There is a strange continuity to life in the Vineyard.”

I love the feeling that nothing really changes on the Vineyard.  It’s a comfortable feeling to return here every summer, like slipping into a worn sweatshirt.  Life in the real world is unpredictable — our summers, thankfully, aren’t.

family in a canoe
family in a canoe

Full-time residents work hard to make sure that change is kept to the minimum.  The island has no chain stores, no malls and no traffic lights.  Many people still grumble about a rotary (roundabout) installed last year.  I feel occasionally that I have stepped back into 1950’s America – a kinder, gentler place where people cycle to the shops, roads are not congested, houses and cars are left unlocked and America is sure of its place in the world.  Although my children think I am ‘ancient’, I am not actually old enough to have experienced the 1950’s.   I expect this carefully maintained sense of nostalgia is probably as artificial as a Disney theme park.

Edgartown Main Street
Edgartown Main Street

I know the continuity in lifestyle can be frustrating for the younger Islanders – my babysitter grew up on the Island and finds it beyond boring.  She admits, though, that she will probably bring her children back for the idyllic summers.

The Vineyard is able to maintain itself apart from the mainland because you can only get on the island by air or by ferry.  In the summer, flights and ferries get booked up quickly.  If you want to bring a car onto the island, you need to plan well in advance.

Steamship Authority ferry
Steamship Authority ferry

For an idyllic reality-show version of Vineyard life, check out ABC Family’s reality show, The Vineyard.  The show follows a group of attractive, straight-from- Abercrombie-casting, college students working at the ubiquitous Black Dog stores and food establishments.  The show, itself, is fairly standard, somewhat anodyne, reality-fare (the tangled love lives of the participants).  The scenery, however, is spectacular.

Menemsha Harbour
Menemsha Harbour

Islanders are used to the occasional celebrity sighting.  The rich and famous seem to mingle into the crowd.  We were standing in line behind the Obama girls in this tiny over-crowded ice cream store three years ago.  The Secret Service agents, who were getting restless, asked at the counter if the girls could jump the queue.  We were astounded when they were politely refused.  The servers later told us that they have seen a number of famous people and no one gets special service.

sailboats

The Vineyard is also one of the most racially integrated places in the United States.  Historically, the Island has welcomed African-Americans both as land-owners and vacationers dating back to pre-Revolutionary times.  Check out this New York Times article New York Times for a brief review.   I like that my rainbow family fits right in.

jumping off a boat
jumping off a boat

Like many other families, our family comes to the Vineyard for sunshine, rest and relaxation.  As a child, I remember feeling summer was endless.  Each lazy, hot day of messing around with my friends and cousins merged into another.  I hope my children have the same feeling about their summers.  It’s nice to feel that the more things change, the more the stay the same.

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Shobha

I am an American expat based in London with my travel-loving family. I write at Just Go Places Blog about luxury, cultural and family travel.

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