I don’t think the statute of limitations for many of my adventures this summer has quite yet passed. Thus an autobiographical essay published in a community I’ve come to know over the last three months and to which I plan to one day return naturally has to be somewhat censored. As I write this, I debate the prudence of publishing the story of my arrest after celebrating its removal from my record. I was arrested for trespassing, swimming in a pool after hours. The experience — tight handcuffs, bleary eyed mug shots, a cold holding cell and court fees equivalent to a couple weeks worth of food — rounded out a summer of extremes and permanently stained my inner monologue with the refrain, “Could I get arrested for this?”
This was my first time on the Island and I saw it from varying roles. As a 21-year-old newspaper intern, I fidgeted with a napkin under the table at the Harborview Hotel and fielded questions from fellow dinner guests as I tried to cover the chocolate stain on my chinos. As a server, I smiled and nodded as I filled water glasses at a Chappaquiddick wedding reception. In the back, I huddled happily with the other caterers around a garbage can, feasting on the extra duck, tearing off the fat and sneaking sips of mohito.
I was a loner. I found the serene spots Island artists boast of in their galleries, and tried to forget the articles that still lingered on my to-do list. I lay on my belly in the warm shallows down on Lighthouse beach and watched the sun dip below the Island with my eyes an inch off the water. The birds played in their protected area nearby. I ran on the private up-Island beaches, grinning as if I were actually allowed to be there, and I biked to Menemsha, only to miss the sunset waiting for a BLT.
I went to bars, alone in the beginning, with friends toward the end. There was more adventure to it alone, though. Loners congregate and swap stories at the bars. I met a lot of fishermen. I found my way into trouble. On my first night out somebody told me that because the bars close early on the Island, people head to after parties. Biking home from the Wharf, I heard some folks laughing in a Jacuzzi in their backyard. I looked at the address and with the confidence afforded me by a blood alcohol content I would later regret, I strolled in through the gate and said, “I’m here for the after party.” They were kids my age, and looked up surprised. One guy said “Wait here.” I did, and heard him head upstairs and ask an older voice if they were expecting company. When they replied no, I heard him ask, “You want me to bash his head in?”
Time to go. Didn’t have to think. I was gone — past the kids in the Jacuzzi, through the gate and over to my bike locked outside. There’s a movie cliché, you know when the car won’t start in the action flick while some volcano explodes in the background? My bike lock is kind of like that; even when the numbers match up, it won’t open, especially when I desperately need it to. I yanked it free and sped away before the kid got past the gate. I didn’t go to anymore after parties.
I met people. All kinds of people. I don’t play cards, maybe a little Uno here and there, but I found myself in a high-stakes poker game (Yes, I later realized that a $20 dollar buy-in wasn’t actually high stakes, but I was an intern and that’s food money.) When everyone else dropped out, I went head-to-head with a 44-year-old dog sitter and we eventually agreed to split the $200 pot down the middle.
I discovered the rewards of community journalism in the exponential growth of familiar faces that followed each story. After writing a preview to the Chilmark Road Race and focusing on a group running with red bandannas to honor a young Sept. 11 hero, I was approached by the man’s mother at the race. She untied her red bandanna, drenched from the run, and handed it to me. “Here, it’s a little wet but it’s mostly water. I want you to have this.”
I rode shotgun in Meredith’s car, listening to the Billionaires on the way to the Scottish Bakehouse. Toward the end of the summer, I raced to keep up with her, going out even with eyes red from too little sleep. I casually dropped anecdotes of coffee shops and Bulgarian girls to make her jealous. Mostly though, I felt threatened by anything that moved.
I loved this place, as people warned me I would. I felt high and I felt so down in the dumps I’d walk around Oak Bluffs and Edgartown hating tourists. I felt courageous, foolishly biking in lightning storms. I felt insecure, surrounded by money and accomplishment, offering only poor tips and feature stories. I felt happy, really happy, like nothing could go wrong. And I felt cocky, like there wasn’t an adventure I couldn’t get away with.
And then I got arrested.
Alexander Trowbridge is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He worked as the Gazette editorial intern this summer.