This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 5/29/04,
Page A6, Opinion; Copyright 2004 by Beth David

Times are changing in this little patch of paradise

Summer's toys have finally come out to play.

The dirt-bike kid is loose on West Island. And the whine of the little engine makes me smile.

Motorcycles, convertibles, and lawn mowers have replaced snowblowers and plows. Rakes and clippers have replaced shovels and ice breakers.

For 10 years, I've watched these summer rites: boats carefully lowered into the water; lobster pots piled high on pickup trucks; quahog diggers wading into cold water.

And, just as reliably, the lone remaining farmer breaks out his aging tractor and fits it with one gadget to turn dirt and another to haul manure. Eventually it will be fitted with contraptions to plant, weed, harvest and cut.

Nothing slows you down better than watching a cornfield grow. We've got at least three.

But this year I noticed something else.

The toys have changed.

It started with some of the old bungalows getting torn down and replaced by trophies. Well, compared to my little house, they're trophies. And they have toys to match.

No more patched-up convertibles. Now there are bright and shiny Corvettes, drop-top BMWs, and late-model Mercedes Benz two-seaters.

The motorcycles sport massive chrome. The riding lawn mowers are veritable Cadillacs.

While the rusting trucks that haul boats, carry traps and transport quahogs dwindle in number, the SUVs and crew-cab pickups that scream "limo in disguise" multiply.

Things are changing in my part of the world.

But instead of embracing that change, I find myself mourning the loss of the simple things that make this a place I love.

I don't mean the rusted cars, or the crooked camps or the dirt from the roads that are now paved. I mean the people who used to ride in those cars, live in those camps and drive on those roads.

We've got a tradition here on West Island.

It's rooted in old-fashioned, common courtesy. We wave to each other.

It's a simple concept.

When you see someone you know, you wave. If you're driving on or near the island, you wave to anyone you make eye contact with. It's easy enough to do. It takes some time for new people to comprehend. But eventually they come around. That's because they're outnumbered. It's hard not to be friendly when everyone around you is smiling at you and stopping in the street to chat about the weather and each other.

But now, we're getting outnumbered by people who don't know how to make eye contact.

There's another tradition that I call "The West Island Crawl." That requires cruising around slowly, to see what the last storm did, who's out in the get the idea.

The most important part of the West Island Crawl is stopping and talking to people who are likewise inclined. People even come out of their houses for a quick word as you drift by. But we're a dying breed. The newbies have different ideas, and we've had two close calls because of it. In one instance, someone wanted to buy some beach access that the town owns. I'm betting he doesn't wave to me when I'm doing the West Island Crawl in my 10-year-old pickup truck.

In another instance, a group of savvy neighbors saved the day by buying one of the small beach-access roads that was for sale. Without these two parcels, our only legal water access would be the boat ramps and the town beach. Imagine living on an island and not being able to get to the beach! Yes, things are changing on my little patch of paradise. I know there's not much I can do about it. All I can do is mourn the loss of the things I miss and try to teach the newbies how to wave.


Beth David is a freelance writer who lives on West Island.