Starry-eyed Suckers: Surviving Your First Nantucket Summer

My girlfriend of six years had been enjoying her first Nantucket summer for an entire week when she called to dump me. This being my first exposure to the island, I immediately, and quite understandably I think, decided Nantucket was a vile and loathsome place. So each spring, as the balmy air wafts northward, I can’t help but recall this potent hatred and the shameful about-face I made when one year later in 2005, I not only took back said girlfriend, but agreed to accompany her for a summer on Nantucket Island. Put simply, I was a sucker.

Yet, with that glorious tool of hindsight, I now credit this decision to the omniscient hand of destiny. Four years later, my girlfriend is long gone and I’ve made two unsuccessful attempts to leave. As it’s done to so many who’ve ambled along its’ shores, this magical isle has captured my heart. On Nantucket, I am home.

It’s precisely this enchanting quality that lures large numbers of young people to the island each spring in anticipation of a fabled Nantucket summer. I can’t help but recognize my former self in their starry-eyed smiles as they cascade from the ferries eager to begin living as Nantucketers. However, like any tight-knit community, finding a niche in the established society is no walk in the park. Thus, in the interest of this year’s suckers, fresh off the boat, I’ve prepared a simple roadmap to help smooth out the bumps on the path to becoming a bona fide Nantucketer.

First, I firmly, firmly suggest taking the ferry over, but when that old salt Poseidon gets riled up, you will have no choice but to fly in from Hyannis. You’re not being neurotic, these nine-seaters are flying death tubes and there is a real chance that you, as they say, will crash and burn. Concentrate on the magnificent contours of the coastline below and ignore the fact that the disgruntled gentleman grasping the yoke earns significantly less per hour than I do painting houses.

If you safely touch down at ACK airport, you are now “on-island” and every dry inch of earth that is not located on this fifty-square mile rock can now be consolidated and neatly referred to as “off-island.” Be aware that this term should only be used among fellow Islanders as Mainlanders will, as I once did, misconstrue this as extreme arrogance. On that note, begin to develop an unwarranted loathing or, at the very least, a pompous superiority regarding Martha’s Vineyard and its’ inhabitants. There is no discernible reason for this, but it does serve to unite the island in the face of one common enemy.

With any luck, your girlfriend has already found you a room to rent, but I assure you, the luck ends there. Your new home will be a squalid garage apartment with accordioned cigarette butts peppered across the floor’s mucous-like coating and suspicious chestnut-colored splotches will adorn your assigned mattress. Take a good look around because you will spend the entire summer avoiding this place. It will get so bad that eventually, you’ll start taking your morning bowl of Apple Jacks down in the driveway to escape the horror. Hang in there.

As you probably know, Nantucket is a haven for bicycles and a Nantucket summer is not complete unless yours gets stolen. Preferably, make it the expensive Schwinn your parents so kindly bought for your birthday. This way, you can spend the next three years hoping they don’t ask about it so you don’t have to lie to their faces. Once your bike gets nabbed, and this should take no more than a month or two, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon and buy a truck.

Inevitably, you will drive this truck the wrong way down a one-way street. Do not fret, this is a character building moment, and survival is simple. Dismiss the gesticulating drivers and disgusted pedestrians with a spirited hand wave and feign involvement in some vital task that trumps the rules of the road. This should be easy in your new truck. Also, get a large dog, most likely a Labrador, which you’ll undoubtably name “Cisco” after the renowned beach. Throw him in the back while you cruise around and your respectability will skyrocket!

Now, with reputable transportation and a loyal friend, it’s time to go to work, which you almost surely will not have. This is due to credit default swaps, asset-liability mismatches, risky derivative markets, and other such financial jabberwockies no one can understand. If you’re lucky enough to land a job, my advice is simple: don’t blow it.

By now, the restaurants, beaches, and barrooms will be swarming with summer people and tourists, but try to avoid partaking in the incessant banter about how dreadful they are. These people are the only reason you’re able to live in this paradise so have the prudence not to bite the fanny-packing hand that feeds you.

Although you can hardly afford Advantix for Cisco (and you better not skimp because Nantucket is bathed in Lyme disease), you’re a thirsty guy who loves a good watering hole. Fair enough. While your girlfriend spends her nights snaking through the drunken hordes to mingle, you should be trying to land a barstool. If this Holy Grail is attained, I don’t care if a pregnant and exhausted Mary of Nazareth asks for that seat, do NOT give it up. Face time with the local barkeep is crucial because if yours isn’t familiar, you’re just another visitor and prompt Heinekens will be a perk of your mainland past.

And concerning those crusty fellows sipping Bud in the shadows: you are not being paranoid, they are glaring at you. These men are staunch nativists with ancestral roots that stretch back to the white settlement of the island. In fact, they’re still livid about those scullions from New Bedford who encroached on their great great great-grandfather’s whaling profits during the James K. Polk administration. Now just imagine what they think of Johnny-come-latelies like yourself. Give these men a wide berth.

At some point during this whirlwind season you’ll realize that you’re staying for the winter, after all, where else are you gonna go? Find a cozy winter cottage with your girlfriend and witness the island’s transformation. The crowds will gradually dissipate, the days will darken, and the illicit drug use will soar to mortifying levels. If you survive this difficult stretch, come spring, you’ll almost be a true Nantucketer!

However, there is one final speed bump on your quest to bona fide Islander status and, quite naturally, it will be the most emotionally wrenching obstacle of all: you’ll have your heart broken. This will not be a sudden bombshell, but a protracted, nine-month nightmare until one rainy day, red-eyed and defeated, you’ll move into a dank basement on Essex Road. You’ll mope through the next year in a state of perpetual glum and suffer the torture of sharing custody of poor Cisco, who will be noticeably baffled by the split.

Yet, one fine evening in April, many years later, you will stand on a deserted stretch of sand, cold Heineken in hand, and watch the brilliant mango sun slide into the purple velvet of the Atlantic. You’ll hop in your truck, roll down the passenger window for Cisco, and cruise off to the harbor where your new girlfriend is arriving on the 7 o’clock Hy-line. Your heart will lift as you spot her on the gangway amid this year’s cascade of eager new arrivals and suddenly, with a surge of euphoria, you’ll realize that you belong here on Nantucket Island.

One day, many years from now, you will experience this very euphoria and recall the day when you, too, were nothing more than a starry-eyed sucker, fresh off the boat.


~ by Bryan Bourgault on April 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “Starry-eyed Suckers: Surviving Your First Nantucket Summer”

  1. Interesting reading even for a fella too old to be a starry eyed sucker!

  2. Great stuff Bryan. Hi I’m Heather Wysocki, I saw your new blog on the times page. I write for them as well! Check out my blog Clubbin on the Cape. Would love to hang out sometime. let me know.

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