Terrorist threat levels must be high. President Barack Obama was on Martha’s Vineyard yesterday afternoon for his annual vacation and the island’s ferry was escorted by speedy little gunships. The giant transport ships are worthy targets. One could imagine something like the 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, when a speedboat packed with explosives jammed the hull, killing 17. So the gunboats, and, in the distance, a larger Coast Guard cutter, made sense.
Martha’s Vineyard may be the last island in America where Obama’s approval rating, at a record low of 40%, remains double the national average. If you enjoy both politics and lovely beach life, get down to the Vineyard this weekend. Here’s what to know, along with what was seen and heard over the last week.
Like the Hamptons or St. Tropez, big things happen here during the summer. Wall Street swindlers, old money WASPs and Brahmins, DC “players,” Hollywood and media folk, rich internationals—they’re all here. It’s frugal Puritan New England though, so people keep it lower key than they would on the East End or Cote d’Azur. Bottle service is verboten and there are no brunch discos. In fact, only new money idiots from southern Connecticut and New York would dare have the balls to drive a Porsche or Benz on the Vineyard.
But what’s most unique about Martha’s Vineyard is its paramount position as the summer home of the African American elite, hence the Obamas being here six years straight. Even the other black president, Bill Clinton, was on the island with his wife for a few parties (including his b-day) and a book signing for Hilary’s Hard Choices. Two presidents and the lady who may be the next one all partied together at a power broker’s birthday, “dancing the night away” to the horror of Fox News.
No one would go on record about the inconveniences of the Commander-in-Chief’s presence. Nearly everyone would wear one of the following: neon tops, straw hats, sweatpants, faded t-shirts advertising a summer town like Wellfleet or Bar Harbor or a school like Duke, Brown or Exeter. New Jeeps and old trucks dominated the few crowded roads. Despite being called a vineyard, there is no wine produced here, just a lot of vines.
All week, Blackhawks and Ospery plane-choppers patrolled over the wooded island and its “ponds,” large saltwater pools that stretch the island’s exterior barrier beaches. Jaws was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The movie that invented the summer blockbuster was filmed here and, recently, Great Whites have been seen in the area. The famed bridge from the film was stocked with kids. The only thing that stopped them from endless jumping was Marine One: Everyone cheered as the President’s chopper creased the sky.
Daily press conferences by Obama or an on-island official gave updates on Iraq, where an air war had begun the day prior to POTUS’ arrival. To retaliate, the enemy Jihadists ISIS made another beheading video. This time it was an American journalist: James Foley, 40, a New Hampshire-born freelancer. Disgusted, Obama’s team admitted a failed covert mission to rescue him in Syria earlier this year. In fact the new war was moving to Syria. Can ISIS be defeated without Syrian attacks? “The answer is no,” according to Joint Chief chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
At the same time: civil unrest in Missouri over the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by police. Gaza was still being bombed by Israel. Ukraine was on the brink of a Russian invasion. Libya was back at war. Ebola plagued West Africa. If you’re the leader of the free world, now did not seem like the time for a vacation.
Meanwhile, Obama was (insert bad “chilling” joke here) in Chilmark, the 80-square-mile island’s most beautiful hamlet, relaxing between golf outings on a $12 million 65-acre estate. Chilmark is a collection of hilly enclaves dotted by ponds where many rich and famous people live. Larry David shacked up at Ted Danson’s pad after his wife gave him the boot. Dan Ackroyd is an island legend. Actually, it was Jim Belushi who talked Ackroyd into getting a place on island. One night Belushi hopped a ferry to see Black Flag play the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The comic, who overdosed at 33, is buried here.
Eating here is more is a rip-off compared to other local beach havens like Cape Cod and Ann or Down East Maine. There are way too many bad $3.75 pizza slice shops.
Surprises did occur, most prominently at the Harbor View Inn. Chef Nathan Gould is running the Wave Restaurant. “The island is ideal for a chef,” Gould said between courses of razor clams, Bluefin tuna crudo, pork belly, smoked bluefish, pig cheek Bolognese and rabbit terrine. “I source everything here.” Eat there.
The hotel was where the Jaws cast stayed. Everyone was talking about the huge food fight Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss started in the dining room before diving into the pool.
At the Harbor View’s bar, a man who handles the “estate of very high net worth individual” sat down next to me. Obama fan? Not so much.
“He closes roads. Flying in private is just not possible. You land off island, have to do the whole TSA tango,” he groused over whiskey. “I could take a damn boat packed with TNT over and no one would care and it would take half as long.”
Actually the Coast Guard is pulling up on every boat, I said.
“Are they? That’s new this year,” he scoffed. “I just want Obama to leave.” Shockingly, other rich white conservative men I spoke to agreed. None would admit how they made their money or what their names were.
“DC can try to tax our money but we will always be one step ahead,” one gray hair boasted.
Another whined, “Being frisked kind of throws of your golf game.”
On Sunday night, Obama and his family ate in Edgartown at Atria. POTUS had a $52 lobster and $17 ahi tuna. The tab was on we the people.
Oddly, Atria sat next door from the county jail in a near identical colonial manse. The jail was actually a nicer building. A cop said half the inmates were in jail for opiates, typical for New England, which leads the nation in addiction rates. With accommodations so expensive, he said people sometimes commit small crimes to get arrested for a cot to sleep on. “Throw a rock through a window, something dumb,” he laughed. “Bond out in the am for less than $100 and you save $300 on a room.”
Later Sunday, the Obamas checked out a jazz show by Rachel Ferrell. The President left the island right after the gig for a few days of damage control in DC. (Images of Americans heads being cut off next to a smiling, golfing Obama were not making positive headlines.)
Rachel Ferrell’s manager Don Smalls wound down post-show in Oak Bluffs, a Cape Cod-ish town that doubles as the black neighborhood. “Yep, we knew he was coming and sat him right in front before the show,” Smalls beamed at a small bar.
Oak Bluffs has the island’s party beach. Midday Tuesday it was jammed with (mostly) black families in bright colors, heads bobbing in the warm Nantucket Sound water. Someone set up a big boom box. When “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke played, the beach partied and sang along. In OB, as its also called, young affluent blacks hang hard. A famous network anchors’ daughters drank at a former Senator’s house, kids from Brooklyn bopped to local sensation Bobby Schmurda’s summer jam “Hot Nigga” at the club. Dr. Cornel West is Oak Bluff’s de facto ringleader.
Anyone looking to head down, contact the author for info on bunking at the Love Shack, a private retrofitted fish shack that is popular with Brooklynites. And go now! Famed travel writer Paul Theroux said it best: “I tend to travel during the winter because I live for the summer — summer in New England is just a magical time.”
Additional reporting by John Liam Policastro and Austin Lemiuex