Labor Day Holiday Marks Turn In the Rhythms of Vineyard Life

By MANDY LOCKE

There's something different in the Vineyard air these days.

The goldenrods stand sturdy along the side of the road. Cars now manage to work their way along Upper Main street faster than pedestrians. Morning delivers an autumn chill before it builds to afternoon heat. Red and white "help wanted" signs hang pleadingly on store windows. Children's dreams of days on the beach fade to thoughts of the first day of school.

Labor Day - the finish line for the summer season - sits just on the far side of this weekend, and a few signs of the season's slowdown have been teasing Vineyarders for the last couple of weeks.

The parking field at South Beach sits nearly vacant this week, even though the strong sun and temperatures that reached the low 80s invited crowds for a perfect day on the beach. Just a few weeks ago, a blanket of people, umbrellas and towels covered the shore, hiding but a few feet of unoccupied sand. But on Wednesday, stretches of available sunbathing acreage spread across South Beach. The great migration of summer workers back to college in the past few weeks left only young families to take advantage of the beach.

"I've noticed a huge slowdown this week," lifeguard Karen Convei said, without taking her eyes off the water. "Especially at the right fork," she added, noting its popularity among the young college students.

Ms. Convei's skin will soak up the last of the season's rays on Wednesday, as the lifeguards will stop manning the stands on Labor Day. But her days of watching over kids is far from over. The approach of a new school year calls this summer lifeguard back to the classroom to teach her students.

Despite the waning crowds, Mel's Diner showed no sign of a slowdown. On the deck of this Mom and Pop joint at Katama Airfield, mothers pleaded with their little ones to finish their grilled cheese sandwiches before scurrying to the fence to watch one of the biplanes take off.

For Mel and Roy Nutting, this was the home stretch, the season's last days of serving the summer crowd. Mel's Diner will close just after Labor Day, as the couple heads to Florida for the off-season.

From the bench on the front porch of Alley's General Store, people watched traffic creep slowly but surely. A sightseeing bus slowed to a snail's page as the driver pointed out the famed general store. All of the heads on the less-than-full bus turned to look, and a few offered a wave to the folks standing in the shade of the porch.

West Tisbury officer and chaplain Ken Campbell stood by and watched. He lends a hand to pedestrians trying to cross to the bus across the street. Officer Campbell took the post this week after three of the department's young summer officers headed back to school. This friendly Vineyarder seemed to enjoy his new post, waving and chatting with passers-by.

Officer Campbell, unlike most, does not wish away the hectic pace of summer, even though autumn promises a bit of respite.

"Personally, I just love the Vineyard. All of the seasons are great," he said with a smile.

He partially attributes his lack of burnout to the slower pace of West Tisbury.

"We're a little rural town, so there's not a lot of ‘Oh, my goodness, the summer needs to end,' " he said.

Seth's Pond - a safe swimming hub for families with young tots - sat nearly empty Wednesday afternoon. Only two families shared the small shore. The cars at Lambert's Cove Beach didn't spill out into the road - in fact, there were a few empty spots in the parking area.

The traffic eased onto Main street in Vineyard Haven, and the crowds found parking without trouble. But the vacancies did not cause the police to relax their enforcement of the time limit. Tickets were tucked under the windshield wipers of several cars.

Lines of Ford Expeditions and Volvo station wagons waited for the next ferry bound for Woods Hole. Kids and dogs leaned from windows for some air. With kayaks strapped on top and bikes hung on the back, the vehicles carried families home for their children to begin a new school year.

Tisbury seasonal officer Josephine Tucker patrolled the sheltered waiting area by the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven. Even in the August heat, Officer Tucker didn't miss a joke - or a violation. She kept a watch out, ready to instruct someone to move a car elsewhere. She confessed she'd like to hand out tickets to parents being overly harsh to their children.

"People can be so nasty down here. I've never heard so much bad language in all my life," said Officer Tucker, who has lived on the Island since she was a child.

She's ready for the slowdown, she said, although she doesn't think that Labor Day will bring the relief it once did.

"Nobody goes home on Labor Day anymore. The season just lasts and lasts," she said, remembering how shops used to shut down for the off-season at the beginning of September. "I guess it's good for the economy, though."