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The Gray Lady MAG
The low bellow of the horn on the Hyannis ferry makes me jump from the damp wood bench I am sitting on. One by one, wealthy families with old money begin to mingle around the dock, waiting for their loved ones. Flamboyant Ralph Lauren shirts and Nantucket red shorts are common attire among those who “summer” on the island. Behind the affluent visitors are the locals, and behind the locals are the working class of the island. Most who come here for jobs are from Russia, Mexico, and Jamaica.
The contrast of social groups is astounding – the immense wealth of those who summer on the island compared with the working class. Yet the locals are the true Nantucketers. The various social classes carry on conversations that cover all topics as they wait on the overcrowded wharf.
I can now see the stupendous pearl-white ferry approaching at a leisurely pace, piercing the slate-gray fog that engulfs the island in a circadian rhythm. The rich passengers disembark and begin the trek to their automobiles; Mercedes-Benz, Land Rovers, Lexus, and scores of Jeep Wranglers are common around town.
Damp cobblestone roads weave in a serpentine pattern through downtown. Cars shake and rattle as they climb historic Main Street, the center point of the island, from which they will branch off to remote parts like Hummock Pond and Siasconset. As the cars creep by, families, couples, and others traverse the sidewalks, going from shop to shop.
The Chocolate Factory bustles with activity. An employee stands outside offering free samples of the award-winning chocolate-covered cranberries. On the wall nearby is a large mural of a compass with a sperm whale in the center. Protruding from the compass are arrows with popular cities written on them. New York City: 284 miles. I stare at the mural, searching for Phoenix, Arizona, but the town I call home isn't there.
Across from me is a dock for boats much smaller than the impressive ferry. The men on these boats toil with large ropes that keep the fishing boats in place. As the anglers start up their engines and prepare for their voyages, the smell of gasoline fills the air. It is fresh, raw, and unforgettable. The Albacore departs, leaving a white foamy wake. As quickly as one boat leaves, another arrives. Purple Water docks with a hefty catch. Fish after fish is hauled up to the filet station. Swiftly, the angler cuts open the fish that lie before him. Thick maroon globs of blood spew from the striped sea bass and bluefish that are being cleaned for an islander's meal later that night. The pungent pheromones are a scent that only a true fisherman could love.
As the stench reaches me, I recall my experiences on fishing charters like these. My favorite was when my father and I caught 26 black sea bass. My mouth waters as I imagine the taste of that meal … soft and tender, seasoned with lemon and salt.
High in the sky, the sun hangs in the east. My body welcomes its warmth. Downtown Nantucket embraces the sun as well, and soon the streets are flooded with people going about their island business. Children run up and down the sidewalks in bright summer dresses and snazzy plaid shirts. They play innocent games or hold dripping ice cream cones constructed like artwork. The smell of sugary-sweet waffle cones wafts by my bench. I can see into the infamous Nantucket Ice Cream Shop. A burly man presses batter into a machine and in seconds a hot, fragile waffle is ready to be wrapped around a silver metal cone to give it shape.
Above the shop window is an American flag, not the only one on Main Street. There is one above every store. As the crisp ocean breeze blows, the flags ripple gently.
To my right stands a huge red brick building. At the highest point is a whale weathervane. The weathered quarterboard above the door reads: Nantucket Historical Association Whaling Museum. Memories deep in my mind are aroused, and I imagine the last time I was here. In the museum hangs an immense skeleton of a sperm whale. The lights make the skeleton cast dark shadows below.
I come out of my reverie as a diesel engine roars by. As the truck creeps along, tourists casually stroll into the gift and clothing shops, seeking a special souvenir. ACK, the white sticker with those three simple letters, is all the rage among islanders and vacationers alike. ACK are the call letters of the Nantucket Memorial Airport, but it's more than that. It is something that will never leave your heart, a reminder of the place that you love, a place you could call home. ACK is that little island, only 15 miles long, that can provide me with infinite serenity. I could fish, swim, surf, eat, laugh, run and live my whole life on this small piece of land in the Northern Atlantic. She is the Gray Lady.