by Robert P. Barsanti
Lily Pulitzer came in the front door, skipped ahead of both the order and the pick up line, and demanded her sandwiches. She explained. “I have an Uber.”
“And she knows how to use it.” A plumber explained. There was laughter (for most) and confusion (for one).
Regrettably, she had to wait.
Somewhere in this great land, a delicatessen must exist where the Lady of the Manor can demand service, ignore the line, stride up to the counter, receive an order humbly assembled, and then depart in a cloud of nobility and loose change. I have always considered Nantucket a bubble, but for some, the island must be a safari among the unwashed and Uber-less.
Still, I get it. Nobody rents a house for ten thousand a week in order to circle the Stop and Shop lot looking for parking. We advertise the beaches, we don’t advertise the size of the crowds. The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t put the line outside the Juice Bar on any magazines or calendars. Summer has meant mobs, and the more building the island puts up in the winter means the larger the crowd in the summer. Most of the roads, infrastructure, and stores on Nantucket were built for a population one-third of the one that has wet swim trunks hanging off the lawn furniture. And that population wants a sandwich around 12:30 in the afternoon.
If you spend too much time on island, you forget why people wait in lines. The visitors are not stupid. They understand that standing in line, playing Words With Friends on their phone is a waste of time and an annoyance. However, they have a different sense of time than I do. They have a short window of time to hit their favorite spots. I can wait for the week to end, for July to end, and for the summer to end, and they can’t. They have a boat to catch in a day. If you could only have a Watermelon Cream once a year, wouldn’t you wait in line for it?
Our visitors live in a world where the Whole Foods will open up another register when the check-out line gets longer than three carts. They can order a “Grande, Iced, Sugar-Free Vanilla Latte, with Soy Milk” on the app and pick-it up in a special line for Chad and Stacy. They can get Bud Light delivered to the trunk of their car and never turn the engine off. Then they get an “How was your Experience shopping with us” receipt on their phones. In the rest of America, the customer is the most valuable person in the business.
On Nantucket, the most valuable person standing at any store is the oldest person behind the counter. Most Nantucket stores, in July, are manned by the owner. The “name on the checks” is working a ten-hour day, is hoping that the afternoon shift is coming, and does not have time for “why don’t you have any avocado?” Our current political climate has encouraged the comfortably uncomfortable to call for the police or a manager. In the rest of America, this might result in some long phone calls from corporate, some gift certificates, and a pointed memo tacked up over the time clock. However, on Nantucket, that call only goes to the woman behind the counter, and she doesn’t have time for it. And she is holding a knife.
Long term, the young folks should be our future. The kids behind the counter flip the burgers, scoop the ice cream, and spread sprouts on top of your turkey sandwich. They work for an education, a paycheck, and a cocktail party story when they are forty; “Y’know, I used to throw trash for Miles Reis.” At college, they will keep their work shirts as a badge of honor. Nothing shows your membership in the one percent like a Something Natural work shirt.
In the past Nantucket had a great recruiting campaign. You would come here with a crew of friends from high school or college, rent a house for the summer, work two jobs, party on the beach, then leave in August tanned, broke, and happy. All of those bartenders and waitresses went on to the rest of their lives, got married, honeymooned here, then, when their ship came in, bought a property on-island. The beaches of this island were filled with people who knew how to take your cocktail order or trim the hedges.
In that hazy past, before AirBnB and during 30 Acres, I worked at the Muse. We checked I.D.’s, broke up fights, collected empty beer bottles (couldn’t pour beers then), and made thousands of Grape Crush shots. After work, we formed a conga line to throw cases of Bud from storage into the cooler. Almost every person I threw beers to has built a house and/or started a business on the sand. Even the D.J. and house comedian returns in July to his satellite office at Margaritaville North.
Today, the island has grown rich killing off that dream. The same house that the college guys rented for the summer now goes for ten thousand a week with a swimming pool in the back, all white decor, and an en suite tub. The basement apartments the cleaning girls used to live in are now AirBnBs for five hundred a night. Too much Other would do the work, come earlier, leave later, and appear far more sober. Nantucket isn’t becoming more American; we are becoming more Floridian.
Still, July was waiting for his lobsters at Sayle’s the other night. He stood in a crowd around the registers while three of the owners made sure everything was right, the chaos had a smile, and someone brought the clam chowder out to July in the Defender 110 before it left.