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2001-06-26 (flashback) - 5:30 p.m.

Northeast Odyssey: Nantucket History Day

JUNE 26, 2001, NANTUCKET

The Oranges – Bloomfield – New York – Westchester – New Haven – Waterbury – New London – Providence – Fall River – Cape Cod – Hyannis. The Sopranos – REM – Dave Matthews – Indigo Girls – Shaggy – Toad the Wet Sprocket.

I sit here atop 23A Union Street Nantucket at 5:30 p.m. on a warm summer evening. The voices of children come from the yards below as cars pass on the one-way street. The harbor lies a couple hundred yards away, sailboats moored in the protected waters. I sit upon what’s commonly called a Widow’s Walk – a small parapet atop the roof next to the chimney. The story goes that women used to stand here in whaling days and watch the waters for the return of their husbands’ boats – often in vain. Not true – these were less lookouts and more thermostats – from here one could extinguish fires by pouring water or sand down the chimney.

Birds chirp in the trees below as the sun begins to set behind me. What was earlier a dry hot day is growing cooler, and the breeze enhances the effect. On the hill behind me, the wide deck of what is either a hotel or rather large and expensive home is actually higher than my perch. But no matter – I have a wonderful view. I look out over treetops and rooftops and cars and American flags and power lines and see, to the southeast, the small planes as they descend into the horizon on approach to ACK – Nantucket Airport.

A long day it’s been. Jess and I left home at 12:35 a.m., odometer 20,465, and drove through the night, listening to “State Trooper” by Bruce on the lonely Garden State Parkway at 1 a.m.

In the wee wee hours you mind gets hazy
Radio relay towers lead me to my baby
Radio’s jammed up with talk show stations
It’s just talk talk talk talk till you lose your patience
Mister state trooper, please don’t stop me

Through New York without a hitch and onto Connecticut where I handed the keys to Jess. I hardly slept during her stint – from maybe tracks four through 10 of Everyday – and realized the front seats of a Pontiac Grand Am are not conducive to sleep.

I tried to sleep more but gave up in Rhode Island, where the daybreak began, the lightening blue sky on the horizon at 4 a.m. Somewhere between the Massachusetts line and Fall River, Jess pulled off for gas and I took over, driving the rest of the way. Dawn broke over Fall River, the orange sky growing to the northeast as we crossed the bridge into the city.

Finding Bourne Bridge and Route 6, we cruised into the ferry terminal at 5:50 a.m., 40 minutes before our departure to Nantucket.

On the HyLine high-speed catamaran we found two seats near the starboard door to the outdoor seats on the upper deck. I stood outside as we backed from the berth and made our way slowly through Hyannis Harbor. When the wake warnings were lifted, the captain of the Grey Lady II opened the throttle and we were speeding southbound.

Blown by the wind, I had no desire to remain outside, and I took my seat next to my sister. After dozing off for half an hour, I awoke to see the houses along Jetties Beach and the buildings of Nantucket town before me. Pulling into the dock, Jess and I stood outside looking at the town. A man whistled from the dock on the port side behind us as we gazed eastward over the starboard stern. I realized we’d be disembarking on that port side and I turned that way. Looking down at all the people waiting for arrivals – and the line of folks ready to leave the island – I saw Jaime, Dave, Dad and Mom waving and realized it was Dad who whistled.

The four of us walked through town to Union Street and to our house at 23A and I get Springsteen in my head, as I will each time I walk down the street in the next two days:

I hear the guitars ringin’ out
Ringin’ out down Union Street

(From “Where the Bands Are”). Bill stood in the kitchen making breakfast as we walk in and her mom, Pat, offered us drinks. We ate and then climbed the ladder from the second floor hallway to the attic and then another ladder through to the roof to the lookout.

And there – at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning – we had margaritas on the roof.

We looked down on Union Street and the old red Volvo station wagon parked there for what looked like years but might only have been months. Down from the roof, Jess and I napped before we all – Jaime, Dave, Jess, Brett and I – began Nantucket History Day with the lecture and tour of the Whaling Museum down by the wharf across from the Sunken Ship, the gift store featured somewhat in One Crazy Summer as that military man’s surplus store. After lunch in the shade along the sidewalk and takeout from Taco Tacos, we walked among the shops on tree-lined cobblestone Main Street and sidestreets. I took note of the various island cab companies – Smitty’s, Judy’s, Val’s, Betty’s, Richie’s, Ernie’s, All Points, ACK – and Jaime asked the UPS driver if he comes over on the ferry every morning (he doesn’t). Milling among some of the 30,000 seasonal “residents” and visitors of Nantucket, I notice Cars 2 and 4 of the Nantucket Police Department parked outside headquarters; later in the day I see that they’ve expanded to a fifth cruiser, as well as an SUV and a motorcycle, adding to cars one through four we used to take account of on previous visits.

Returning home with some new purchases (mine a red sweatshirt with “NANTUCKET” spelled out over a shield with ACK and 1795 above and below a set of crossed oars), we relaxed before Jaime, Dave and I took the bikes out to the Old Mill, the last of four remaining on what was once Mill Hill. Our $12 admission to the Whaling Museum also got us into seven or eight other historical sites on the island over the course of a week, but since I’m only here for two days, we got some more in this afternoon. Our interpreter – a college junior from Gainesville, Fla. – explained the workings of America’s oldest working mill, now inactive while they replace the main shaft of the sails. He’s the senior miller, promoted to the position now that his 88-year-old mentor left the job to move to New York with his new wife to become a real estate broker. Apparently, after eight years, he’d had enough of milling. He’d spent 40 years in the Navy too.

From the mill, we visited the Old Gaol (closed) and the Coffin House, also the Oldest House on the island. Linda (originally from New Jersey) explained how each room was used when the place was first built in 1686.

While others shower, I climbed up here to write and enjoy the view. I’m soon joined by Brett and his friends, Greg and Charlie – margaritas in hand – and later Jess, Jaime and Dave. After my own shower, we walk downtown for dinner, first trying the Lobster Shack but choosing again when they tell us 9 p.m. – 80 minutes away – would be our first opportunity for a table. So we continue to the wharf area, selecting The Tavern, just off the ferry dock, where all seven of us are seated outside immediately.

As dinner ends, Dave and I decide beer is needed for the house, so we head off to the liquor store and take a 12-pack of Sam Adams and a 12-pack of Molson Canadian back to the house. We meet back up with the others at The Tavern’s gazebo bar with its limited selection – Bud and Sam on tap, six others in bottles, and three choices of chips. But what more do you need? It’s a bar in a gazebo!

There, as Jaime and I discuss an acquaintance of a former friend, I ask if one of the children wasn’t the same age as another friend’s brother. “Now he might be,” Jaime says. And as I reply, “Well then he was back then, too,” she realizes it as well.

Back at the house we crack open the beers and play a little drinking Jenga, and it is Jaime who eventually topples the tower. In a short game of Mad Gab (Low Sand Jealous = Los Angeles) I prove superior in just one round before we decide we don’t like it. Jaime redeems herself by winning at contract rummy before we head to bed.

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