MVY pre AIR FORCE ONE
For years and years I logged flights into the Island, first in a little two-seater as a young mother in the 1970s, our baby battened down in the netting behind us. Coming to the Vineyard was always to visit Granny and Grandfather in Chilmark, in their hillside summer place “Quail Hill,” named for the neighborhood’s melodic birdcalls. It was idyllic (if isolated) looking out over the peaceful Elizabeth Islands. Hal and I watched the airport change from a small open facility set about with aging wartime barracks and free automobile parking, to one of hurricane fences, a fancy terminal building, and high security. In the old days, there wasn’t much in the way of air service to Martha’s Vineyard – a seaplane from New Bedford flown by pilot Gingras was one of the interesting options. Also Provincetown-Boston’s DC-3s… And eventually Air Force One made its inroads, closing the airport whenever it showed up – and irritating every pilot on the island.
Now there are many scheduled airlines to bring in vacationers – the rich and famous mostly come in their own jets – and lovely hangars have burgeoned to keep the higher priced aircraft out of the elements. In the old days the illuminati snuck in to keep a quiet, happy low profile, their escape away from the world of adulation – there used to be bumper stickers that said something like “Slow down, you’re not on the mainland any more.” Well, they’ve dumped those – now MV is practically a suburb of NYC, and traffic jams during the Season are nasty. The days of free car-parking near the tie-down and keeping it there for the winter are gone – we’d fly in, grab bags, step over the low fence to our old car while crossing fingers that the battery had held up – and head to town for a lobster roll, two for us and two for the elders. It was a tradition.
Now the elders are gone, as well as the easy parking. No more old car tires oozing life and gluing themselves to the ground, wheels rusting into place and needing a shove to snap loose. No more country mice wintering in the engine. Well – you can do still that, but not close to your plane. Facilities have grown, those hangars have popped up, and like any other nice thing, it grew to accommodate tourism. And year-round residents. There used to be a small handful of those – but with the advent of electronic connections, people can work anywhere in the world. Including on Martha’s Vineyard. I remember when the coffee shop was a mere lunch counter – now it’s a restaurant with a chef. Sort of.
The Tower controller is still friendly, and still tries to get you in before the fog covers more than half the airport. There have been summers when days and days passed without anyone being able to fly in, and ferry boats were filled to capacity. Getting a car onto the ferry has always been a struggle – reservations a must – so the private plane always seemed a perfect solution.
Perfect – except for the lovely, soft blinding fogs, turning roads and runways into mysteries. The closest I ever came to having to turn around and go back was finding the approach lights blur into sight just at the minimum descent altitude of 200’. Approaches to the runways are flat clear of obstacles; no matter how tempting, do not go below the minimum. You need to see the “runway environment” – the rule. The lights are environment. The safe arrival mark. And that night, all was clear under the deck.
In time, the children grew up, and the elders went up – to the Other Side. We fatigued of the noisome crowds, got too creaky to hike in traffic (old days had quiet country roads) so we left. It seemed to us that the halcyon Vineyard we loved had morphed into a terribly chic place where celebrities, home-grown and international, gathered to share their own light with each other. So, we left, so glad we had known it “Back When.” When it was a tranquil home to Islanders. Real Islanders.
The quail vanished from Quail Hill. Those summer homes built to capture that view? Houses that espoused the landscaping trend from thistle-and-beach-plum natural to suburban-style lawn landscaping – had no doubt pushed them out.
But the Vineyard life-style is super – quaint towns, great restaurants, beautiful gardens, eye-popping roadside organic vegetable markets, artists galleries, concerts – it’s all good. A beautiful Island of live and let live.
RIP, old Quail Hill.