Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Why I Don't Flack for the Chamber of Commerce

August 18, 2005

Earlier today, someone posted to my copyediting e-list, "I don't like the word 'locals' in travel brochures ('. . . the markets, where you can get to know the locals . . . '). It seems to imply picturesqueness, quaintness, in us humans -- sounds rude."

Before I could froth at the mouth and yell "Zap it! Zap it!" another subscriber, from tourist-afflicted Dunedin, New Zealand, had responded, "Hey, it's better than 'natives.' But yes, it's patronising. So is the idea that you can 'get to know' people two minutes at the market (where these cheerful characters no doubt sell their colourful and inexpensive wares). 'Meet local merchants' or 'residents' might be less offensive."

It does my summer-shriveled heart such good to be understood even before I start my own exasperated explanation.

The summer of '96, I worked at Webb's Camping Area as a sort of outdoor chambermaid (I'd been the indoor variety for a couple of years in the late 1980s at the Lambert's Cove Inn), straightening up campsites after the campers had left, helping clean the communal bathrooms and outhouses, occasionally lending a hand in the campground's little store. The most fun was zipping up and down the hills in a golf cart. Bounce over a rock or a root and your cleaning bucket would jump three feet in the air.

At the time Tesah Toyota was in her prime, and sporting on a back window a bumper sticker that said "Pray for September" and, in smaller print, "M.V. Year-Rounders Trying to Deal with Summer." One day, a woman who'd been camping (in a RV, not a tent) at Webb's since the flood, or maybe longer, told me that she wanted me to know how offended she was by the sticker; it made her feel unwelcome, and where would Martha's Vineyard be without summer visitors like herself? She was going to mention it to the owners, whom she had known since the flood -- or maybe longer.

I must have extricated myself from the conversation without screaming or being overtly rude, and if the lady ever complained to the owners, they never said anything to me. The "you should be grateful" gambit is old hat, but infuriating nonetheless, whether it's addressed by a white to a black, a man to a woman, an adult to a child, a U.S. soldier to an Iraqi civilian. The only safe answer is "Yes, boss; whatever you say, boss -- and if all four of your tires are flat in the morning, it's nothing to do with me, boss."

That was the next to last season for Webb's. The owners sold to a consortium of well-heeled developers who wanted to build a golf course. After much bulldozing and litigating and community opposition, the place doesn't look like a campground anymore, but at least there's no golf course. The local press rarely mentioned that the owners who sold out to the well-heeled golfers were a lesbian former couple, and that one of them had, later in life, moved here year-round and become a minister. Maybe other people don't expect lesbians, ministers, and year-rounders to have higher standards, but I do.

Anyway, if you want to get to know this local, don't take it too personally if I say that tourism is a bigger threat to Martha's Vineyard than terrorism, and if the U.S. government wants to make my homeland more secure, maybe it could start with a confiscatory income tax that makes it impossible for rich people to buy second, third, and fourth homes for a million and up.


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