by Robert P. Barsanti
August arrives like the answer to a prayer. All of the fog that has shrouded the island through July has flown away, while the ocean has brought life back to sand bars and tuna bars. In the warm and dry evenings, the town slips into its al fresco best and settles lobster bisque into the bowls and ice cream into the children. August remains the gift we gave ourselves in the quiet of May. The month brings house rentals, boat charters, and lines at the brewery. Everything considered, it could be a lot worse on our sandy petri dish.
Outdoor dining has been a revelation, if not quite a salvation. The dining room at the Club Car has an old-world ambiance that the picnic tables in the alley can’t really replicate. However, the Nantucket night, the rising moon over the harbor, and cool breezes may make for a better date and a longer life.
The Town and the restaurants have traded parking places for dining tables. The Town has never been terribly comfortable with the summer weight and girth of cars. When they leave the Steamship, they come rattling up the street as if they are still in Scarsdale, become shocked at a crosswalk, and then confused at the lack of traffic lights. What—simply—is one to do?
America has been constructed around one man in his car. He leaves his garage, pulls up for an iced coffee and a cruller, turns up the air conditioning, and then parks in a garage for the day. His way is defined by lines, signs, and lights: there are rules. On-island, the rules defer to consideration. Lights and signs will not guide you so much as eyes, handwaving, and yielding to another.
In order to drive on-island, you must roll your window down. You can’t drive this island for long in an air-conditioned cocoon listening to Joe Rogan before you run aground. Instead, you have to listen, you have to wave, and you have to empathize with the driver of the Bartlett’s truck.
Unfortunately, the people of August keep their windows up. At Hatch’s last week, a Ford 350 from Texas and his boat pulled in for a case of beer. At noon. He sat in the middle of the parking lot waiting for a slot to open up in front of the liquor store. When one didn’t open up immediately, the driver started banging on the wheel. The gas station attendant rapped on his window so as to introduce him to reality. He blew his horn. Then backed up, and accelerated out of the lot while hammering, still, on his wheel. In August, he is everywhere.
The family of August came to an island eatery. While Dad tried to park the truck, his family came to the head of the line to place their order. When the counter reminded them about twelve people queued up, they said that they didn’t wait in line and, if they wanted their business, they would serve them now. It turned out that restaurant did not want their custom.
Downtown, at a bookstore, a woman of August came in without a mask. When directed to wear one, August claimed that she didn’t believe in them. She then selected her Elin Hilderbrand, put it on the counter, and met a shut register and a silent clerk.
Americans, particularly the People of August, are sensitive about their rights. Their rights, however, tend to be the Freedom To. They have the freedom to assemble, the freedom to express themselves, and the freedom to be inconsiderate. Due to their taxes and their tips, they require indulgence from the rest of us. To them, the island has become a “members only” club with a somewhat unruly staff. They put the “serf” in “service.”
The people of August have been coming to the island for a century now. The privilege and presumption are baked into the croissants, stored in the Chanticleer wine cellar, and served like a tennis ball. However, we live in uncertain times. The antics that brought amusement, disgust, and stories at the Angler’s Club are now framed in black and heard in silence. Some of the people of August are arriving infected, hiring baby-sitters and day care without mentioning their little Covid secret, and then going out to eat. They are having cheeseburgers and lemonade by the side of the pool. Their children are burning pallets and singing the old songs at Nobadeer. Since late June, the island has seen more than 22 cases of Covid-19 — many of them from off-island.
Nantucket sings and swings on consideration. You can’t act without thinking of others because the others are thinking of you. You must drive with your eyes up and your windows open, because the guy in the Miles Reis truck has to see you before he turns. Your Freedom To runs smack dab into Freedom From, then gets a load of garbage on the hood. You have to look, you have to wave, you have to wait.
The best of Nantucket lines up every night for ice cream. They wear masks, they stand six feet away, and they wait their turns. The line is egalitarian; everyone will be served in the order they appeared. No velvet rope exerts its privilege. No hostess will recognize you. No assistant will call ahead. If you want a Watermelon Cream, take your place and wait your turn. If you want special treatment, there is another island nearby waiting just for you.
Consideration, the boring jeans and t-shirt of island living, brought us this August. We thought of our children, we thought of our parents, and we thought of the People of August. Now, the people of August need to have consideration for us.