Rotary and beyond

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 8:00am
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Fountain Square, “my” Rebecca Rotary, is not the Bermuda-of-the-North Triangle that can be Bridge Gate, the often wild-in-summer four-way intersection of Corn Neck Road, Ocean Avenue, Old Town Road and Dodge Street.

Bermuda-of-the-North, I realize only after writing the words, may no longer be as familiar a phrase as it was when it was the advertising tagline used by the Chamber of Commerce. Block Island was known primarily by sport fishermen; local businesses, all of them, were seeking to reach a wider diversity of visitors. We were a name, but little more, to anyone who listened to a coastal weather forecast from northern Maine to southern New Jersey. We had the distinction of inclusion in both “Eastport to Block Island” (the one we heard every day on Providence radio, the same broadcast up the coast) and “Block Island to Cape May” (which I learned of only upon going to college in New Jersey, usually with “we never knew where that was!” or, worse “it's a real place?!”). 

One presumes “Bermuda of the North” was chosen for the relative fame of that other island. As the slogan was falling out of favor, and as our popularity grew, we would say “It is the Block Island of the South!” 

Too many summer days I remember too late it is summer and there will be summer traffic on the Neck Road, and there will be that bottleneck at Bridge Gate. Decades past, when Rhode Island still allocated funds for Block Island, probably with that hope of increased tourism — and, ultimately, more revenues for the state —  that helped give us an airport, a beach house, and major road reconstruction, a more controversial “improvement” was suggested.

There was a plan afoot to install a traffic light at the four-way intersection, with funding proposed in the General Assembly in Providence.

Word filtered back to Block Island with results predictable for a place still wary of the most basic street signs. The most often quoted reaction was an assertion that the State would run out of lights before “I run out of shotgun shells” variations of which I have heard attributed to several persons. 

No, I am not advocating a stop light at Bridge Gate; I think it would only make the wait longer, the tempers higher, the horns louder, the temptations to disobey every rule of law and general civility greater.

It is early August and traffic is always crazy in early August, but the Neck Road this morning, before the real beach crowds started arriving, begged a play-by-play. A single vehicle, heading north, driving the speed limit, a reasonable and rational thing to do, especially in summer, had closely behind it six other vehicles, another trailing... passing-the-End-of-the-Lane-approaching-the-Breakers-the-BIRM-truck-is-gaining-as-it-tries-to-close-the-gap.  

Still, after that mini-caravan of those bound for the dump, or the beach, or perhaps returning to a rental house after a quick morning trip to the market, or the treat of breakfast out in town, the traffic was light. It happened, also, to be one of those rare days I did not remember too late the season and the likelihood of bad traffic.There was none of the angling for a parking place along the Neck Road, between Scotch and Town Beaches, none of the sheer August madness of unloading chairs and umbrellas and coolers and bags, of marshaling a herd of children off the pavement. 

It was a nice day after one which was not truly bad but had threatened uncertainty; today, everyone was ready to go to the beach.  I was happily at the Rotary before the worst began and learned, in early afternoon, that entire stretch of road, that had been more amusing than bothersome earlier, was packed, the parking lots overflowing. 

One never knows what a highlight of a day at the Rebecca Rotary will be, what absurdity will take place during the hours I am there. There was no wonderful car with some great inflatable toy attached to its roof, no benign beer can spill and ensuing, entertaining, chase, but I did overhear “a wall!” The exclamation made me stop and look and notice a lovely stone retaining wall I generally pass and fail to appreciate, the same that the visitors quickly decided to sit upon, never mind that it flanks the driveway of a busy business.

There is the realization the trees in the park have grown and the lower floor of the Post Office building is obscured from the corner of Water and High Streets, the spot where handheld phone directions suddenly become unclear, where so many stop and seek a real live person for clarification. The signs hidden,  I no longer have to work around “the building with the sign on it!” in response to “where is the Post Office?”

“Do we go this way or that?” generally becomes a real Who's on First exercise, a problem of my own creating when I reply either “this” or “that” way. I have, finally, conceded defeat and no longer try to say “up” High Street without some “after the bend there is a climb” qualifier.

In the late afternoon I stood on the sidewalk and thought what a perfect summer day it was, sunny and warm, not hot and humid. I admit to being startled by a bearded mannequin perched on a barrel outside a store — across from the folks on the retaining wall — but, all in all, it was about as perfect as a summer day can be.

Reality returned in the blast of yet another fire truck, turning up High Street toward the Medical Center, where the ambulance had headed a bit earlier. I have no idea who was being flown off, and while I know it is not always a vacationer the odds, in busy August, tip in that direction. 

Then it is gone, and weirdly, the street returns to normal, as though some craft throwing no wake has sailed though waters which close flat and calm, betraying no trace of its passing.