Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Please Don't Check Your Manners at the Bridge

Most of us who have chosen to live in popular vacation and resort areas like Martha’s Vineyard or my own Hilton Head Island or a host of others around the country probably began as tourists. My husband and I bought our first condo here in 1984, primarily as an investment, but also to have a get-away place when the northern Ohio winters became unbearable—which was pretty much an annual occurrence. And I have to admit that during those flying trips to recharge our batteries and soak up some sunshine, I never gave much thought to those who called the island home during the other 51 weeks of the year. We wanted to squeeze as much out of our precious few days as we could, and I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes we probably weren’t as understanding of the locals as we might have been. Okay, scratch probably.

Which brings me to last Saturday. But let me back up a little. On Friday, I sent off the manuscript for the next book in the Bay Tanner mystery series, Covenant Hall. I did my usual happy dance and looked forward to taking a month or so off before I begin the next project. I also had a list as long as my arm of things I’d been putting off while I reworked and massaged the ms. So Saturday morning we did some painting in the living room. When we finished, my husband suggested we grab a quick sandwich before embarking on the next item on my list. A fast change of clothes and five minutes later we walked into Wendy’s at Wexford.

Yes, that Wendy’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for their chicken sandwiches.

Surprisingly, the place was jammed. Saturday is usually a quiet day on Hilton Head because it’s turnaround day—last week’s visitors are heading home and their replacements have yet to arrive. But apparently a lot of them had decided to linger on past lunchtime. Anyway, we finally made it to the counter after waiting interminably behind a whole crowd, a couple of families traveling together, whose kids couldn’t make up their minds what they wanted. Their bill came to over $60 which should tell you how much food we’re talking about here. But they finally finished, and just as I opened my mouth to place our order, one of the mothers popped back up beside me complaining about something missing from their five heaping trays. The poor little girl behind the cash register didn’t know what to do, but Mrs. Tourist Mom wasn’t about to be put off, so again we waited until she was pacified and finally moved off. No “Excuse me.” No “Sorry.” Nada.

Now I know how petty this sounds, okay? But it’s symptomatic of what happens during the summer around here. Tourists are the lifeblood of our local economy, and we welcome them with open arms. But it should be a two-way street. While everyone else is relaxing and enjoying their vacations, the rest of us have to get on with our lives. We have to go the post office and the grocery store and the dry cleaner. We have to drive to the dentist and get to church on Sunday mornings. During the summer months, we try to order our lives to take into account that we’ll have more than a million visitors before Labor Day. It goes with the territory of living in a resort area. Some of our friends actually abandon the island from June to September and flee back up North, but we stay because we love it here—the weather, the beaches, the natural beauty that drew us in the first place. And we want our visitors to love it, too. Honest.

But if you’re planning to be on the road this summer despite the bloated gas prices, please give a thought to the people who live in the town you’ve decided to visit. Try to remember that the same traffic laws you’re used to back home generally apply in a resort area. Making left turns from the far right lane because you’ve finally spotted the restaurant you’ve been hunting for isn’t a good idea. Even if you’re laden with folding chairs, blankets, coolers, and several excited, prancing children, ignoring the crosswalk to take a shortcut to the beach might not be a good plan. Keep in mind that not everyone you encounter has all the time in the world. Some of them have jobs to get back to and kids to get to a soccer game and errands that must be run. Pack your manners with your sun screen, and spare some sympathy for the people you encounter who aren’t on vacation.

Because sometimes, damn it, we just want a chicken sandwich.

Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 8th Bay Tanner mystery, The Mercy Oak, was released in May by St. Martin’s Press.

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