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Day in the Life on an Island

During some days it may feel like we are “going through the motions” – and so I felt it was a good challenge to compose A Day in The Life at the end of Saturday, January 27.

8:31 a.m.

Up and at ‘em for the day. Breakfast of choice is a lemon muffin from a 4-pack purchased yesterday at Cronig’s Market.

9:35 a.m.

It’s time for my daily walk around “The Loop” – which I’m now accustomed to seeing in a fairly quiet mode. Since it’s Saturday, the Club manager’s car isn’t there outside the Club, where he’s the sole employee at this time of year. There’s a slight variation to the walking routine when I step onto a friend’s property to pick up something he had purchased for me, and then continue along the Loop with that item in hand.

10:40 a.m.

Buzz into downtown Vineyard Haven and find a parking space in the market (central) parking lot, where there’s no guarantee of space as the day goes on, Notice the ferry of the hour about to leave for the mainland, and briefly reflect (as I do periodically these days) about how it’s different to be oriented towards island residency rather than just visiting. End up in a particularly indecisive state about what I want and need to do at the town post office, eventually walking back and forth from the car to the PO five times, but getting the mailing done that I had debated about.

11:30 a.m.

Decide to visit the island’s “Secret Starbucks” for what’s become a weekly visit and dose of a venti vanilla latte. The cashier is someone i have not seen there before. Add a cookie to my order for the first time in a couple of weeks. End up staying at the cafe for another hour or so, wearing down the computer battery, which I’ve taken to showing the percentage of ever since I had to have the battery completely replaced last month.

1:05 p.m.

Arrive for weekly visit with my great-aunt, which isn’t on a formal schedule, but when she asks me if I’ve been away I get the sense I might have waited slightly too long to come back. But she turns out to be in a chattier mood than other recent visits, while I continue to appreciate her even-keeled wise elder presence.

2:10 p.m.

Decide that today is also time for my weekly visit to the Main Street sandwich shop, where, on a previous visit last week, I’d graduated to a “known customer” role coming in at the end of the day and the cashier giving me two slices for the price of one “because you come in here all the time.” This time the meal of choice is a fish sandwich, which I’ve determined to be among the island’s most underrated. I’m particularly pleased to pay with exact change.

2:35 p.m.

It’s on across the street to the gym, where I’ve suddenly vaulted back into a level of higher physical endurance that I did not feel I could come right back into when I resumed the membership two weeks ago. I do a couple of things differently on this particular visit, including focusing more acutely (vs. on the iphone) during the recumbent bike portion, and later completing a longer time at a higher treadmill speed, which leads to a 1.8 mile and 260 calorie endurance total.

4:20 p.m.

Against my better judgment, it’s time for a visit to the coffee shop, where their prices include tax and the payment is cash-only, so it fits my preference for exact change, especially when the total is $6 like today. As I’m drinking it, I feel I shouldn’t have bothered to have the small mocha.

5:05 p.m.

It’s time to begin the day at the theatre with preparations for tonight’s performance, one of two for this weekend of a returning popular community event. I am the first one there and for once that doesn’t seem to bother me as I feel comfortable with what needs to be set up and the amount of time it will take.

6:05 p.m.

Work up a sweat while vacuuming certain public areas of the lobby. The modes on the (not new) vacuum are particularly challenging to adjust, but I manage it, though my fingers feel the effort.

6:40 p.m.

Start a running handwritten tally of how many people are attending the free performance. Some people notice my annotating and some do not.

7:05 p.m.

It’s time to start the show! But as house manager, I stay downstairs for the first half an hour, just in case anyone straggles in. (ultimately we have no latecomers.)

7:30 p.m.

Time to go upstairs and observe the second half. It’s the first time I’ve seen this storied adaptive group in action.

8:40 p.m.

Time to wrap things up as people mingle in the lobby. We manage to leave by 9pm.

9:20 p.m.

Celebrate a full day with my first swig of Lagunitas Undercover Shut-Down Ale since April or May of 2017.

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Home comes to the Big Screen

I’ve been interested in the film Manchester by the Sea, titled after and set within my hometown in Massachusetts, since it was first announced around two years ago. Originally planned to star Matt Damon, the film had an immediate air of prestige coming from acclaimed playwright and somewhat embattled filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, known for works including This is Our Youth and You Can Count on Me. As it turned out, Damon was not able to star in the film, but remained as a producer, and recruited his longtime friend Casey Affleck to take over the lead role. I would have liked to have been back on the North Shore to observe when they shot the film during the winter of 2015, which was exceptionally snowy and cold.

With this anticipation in place I was very excited when the film appeared on this year’s Windsor Film Festival schedule across the border in Canada, and thus made plans to attend a screening yesterday, creating an amusing irony of having to go out of the country in order to go home. This was perhaps doubly ironic as I was in Manchester itself just four weeks ago and enjoyed a more leisurely visit than my past couple of times being back, which had been just quick drive-throughs.

img_8431In general the film lives up to its pre-release and festival generated acclaim as a somber drama that isn’t afraid to go into more depth than other stories it might be similar to. The detailed tone is apparent from the opening scenes, when character beats are held just a second or two too long and/or a character says something they might be thinking but not say in a “conventional” setting. Affleck is on screen in nearly every scene and anchors the film with exceptional pathos; his character motivations are initially shrouded but gradually become clearer as the story goes back and forth in different time frames.

As a native of the area, it’s inevitably both amusing and irritating to see how Manchester itself is represented in the story, with a to be expected range of minor to moderate geographic implausibilities sprinkled in the narrative, along with a few glaring omissions or character choices that made it obvious the writer did not have roots in the area. However, the pleasure of seeing familiar locations and landmarks on screen (especially while watching it in Canada) goes without saying! Since it’s fun for me to examine, I’ll outline some of the film vs. reality impressions here.

  1. There’s not really a PC way to say this, but it’s doubtful (while not impossible) that a “working class” family as depicted in this story would actually live in Manchester, which has the highest household income of the North Shore area and is known for having large houses and estates and corresponding financial security. I continue to feel that the story ought to have been set in the neighboring and better-known town of Gloucester, which has a more diverse range of inhabitants and a closer connection to the art of the sea. Indeed, the film’s opening shot jumped back and forth between Manchester and Gloucester harbors in order to set the mood of the story. A key scene between two characters late in the film is also filmed in Gloucester, though the dialogue implies they are still in Manchester.
  2. When Affleck first arrives back on the North Shore, a scene takes place in the neighboring town of Beverly. He then says he has to “go up” to Manchester, which no one would say about the next town over. However, the statement makes sense when his character mindset is considered, having driven up from a town south of Boston on short notice.
  3. Subsequently, when Affleck first enters Manchester, where he’s meant to have grown up, he drives away from the town center and several well-known gathering places are not seen at all during the film including the town market and train station. A few other scenes in the film feature him driving around to make trips that would be more likely accomplished on foot.
  4. The town’s crown jewel Singing Beach is not seen in the film nor referenced in any of the dialogue.
  5. While the choice to have most of the characters use “Boston” accents fits in to the dynamic of the story, such accents are rarely heard in this part of the North Shore, and Hollywood in general still has not learned that those accents are very tightly concentrated to inner-ring towns around and some sections within Boston itself.

OK, continuing with the film itself. As Affleck’s character Lee experiences the story, he is tasked with looking after his nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. This character offers a very well-drawn depiction of mid-teenage years (he’s meant to be 16) and the delicate dance of making choices that relate to your family vs. your own personal journey and desires. Patrick’s arc also contains unexpected humor that enlivens the story, while the character also brings it back down to earth/the reality of the situation at a few surprise moments that add to the dynamic of the uncle/nephew relationship. The process of honesty and being “real” that is established early in the film is most sharply seen in the scenes with Patrick, and actor Hedges rises to the challenge with a strongly committed and revelatory performance. The film toys with sending Lee and Patrick’s relationship into “buddy/odd couple” comedy mode, and there are indeed several humorous moments, but then it comes back to reality with the empathy for both characters strongly intact. On the whole, the dynamic between both male characters made me notice that the film isn’t shy of going in-depth with masculine feeling and emotion, often glossed over in storytelling and popular culture, and that choice likely contributes to the richness of the drama.

Of the supporting cast, Michelle Williams is the obvious stand-out in a few strong scenes as Lee’s ex-wife. While her “Boston” accent is likely the most distracting of the cast (at least Affleck’s is authentic), she also carries the reality of the story and the challenge of character choices in context of the narrative.

I would see the film again, and you should too when it comes to general release and likely Academy Awards season acclaim at the end of this year.

Memorial Day a week later

Wrote this last week without a direct internet connection back on Martha’s Vineyard.

Today brings the pleasure of being the second consecutive Memorial Day where I do NOT have to leave Martha’s Vineyard. This is significant as this holiday often serves as a “back to reality” type of day after the long summer teaser weekend, and that was particularly the case for me growing up, so much so that I continue to associate Memorial Day with “leaving the Vineyard” even on years when I have not been here on the island.

So, how has it been to be back at “The Family Homestead” as I fondly call Martha’s Vineyard on social media? Pretty smooth and pretty comfortable, like falling right back into the best type of routine. This was exemplified on my first day back when a short, spontaneous walk along Main Street in Vineyard Haven (one of the island’s main drags) led to random greetings with several familiar friendly faces, culminating in seeing my godmother from a distance and walking towards each other as if in the celebrated finale of a film.

Visits to the island’s other primary towns have also generated senses of comfort and familiarity, although they have also been mixed with thoughts like “I wish this was less of a rich playground” and “I can’t see myself relating to that particular activity.” I guess what those thoughts mean is that I’m increasingly (but not surprisingly) taking the local position on how various activities impact the Vineyard. That’s not a new perspective for me, but it is refreshing to know that it’s still present and active.

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Familiarity breeds Excitement

It was such a “wow” moment when Peter Pan/Bonanza bus first introduced wifi service on their buses around 2010, and it was also quite glitchy. Now in 2015 I’m enjoying it without a second thought, and an expectation that it will be smooth!

The computer distracts me from the extremely familiar sights along this Boston —> Martha’s Vineyard bus ride. I was trying to determine in my head how many times I’ve taken this bus ride in my life, and would go for somewhere between 50 and 100, not as much as I might expect, but if you add in private car trips of that same route, the number might go into the thousands.

I remember feeling disappointed when the character of the final stretch of highway (I-495 and MA 25) changed around ten years ago with a switch from side of the road to overhead signs, making it seem to me less like a rural route and more like a standard American highway or freeway. There was also a time when I was a vocal pre-teen passenger and encouraged my parents to vary the route since this stretch of road seemed too boring and repetitive to me, so we’d go via Providence RI and then loop back to it, or join the road at a slightly northern point of the usual onramp in Raynham.

But in the present day, with my not based in Massachusetts life, traveling along the highway – along the whole Boston to Martha’s Vineyard route, really – is the equivalent of an eager mental checklist, and it continues to get me every time.

Exited Boston? Yep.

Turned onto Route 24? Yep.

Curved turn onto 495? Yep.

Transition to 25? Yep.

still to come: cross the Bourne Bridge, go through two rotaries, a few small towns, and one ferry ride…

Bourne Sign

One of the last highway signs before the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod

Late Night in My Home City

I’ve found a conveniently located hotel in downtown Boston to kick off my Thanksgiving homecoming swing. It still tends to feel odd, when I first arrive, to be experiencing my home city on my own terms of adulthood, not rushing to a particular commitment, get-together with a friend, or traveling around with another family member. But that’s been a continually gradual adjustment since 2007 when I last lived full-time in Massachusetts.

It was a stunning moonrise in Detroit.

It was a stunning moonrise in Detroit.

The long day from Michigan to here brought many memorable little moments, and now that it’s the end of the day, I’m a bit perplexed by an aggressive theme that ran through the day … perhaps some sort of travel anxiety coming to the surface? Some examples of this included going through several yellow lights on the way into Detroit this morning, deliberately taking a small shortcut in a parking garage (and then talking back to the attendant who called me out on it), and, later, having a protracted back and forth with a car rental company – both on the phone and in person, at the same time – when they weren’t listening to the adage that “the customer is always right” and making me dance through several hoops to make a (what would be) seemingly simple change to a reservation.

Until the customer service agent at Logan Airport suddenly said “hey, you can just do it this way!” in a total coming to your senses manner, but with more than a hint of the runaround approach that car rental salespeople often employ. And I took him for his word, so I hope the result will be smooth when I see its effect on Friday.

And now a morning return to “The Family Homestead” awaits… can’t wait!

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The Road Geek Returns

US 101

With a familiar highway in California

This week has seen a sudden return to my “old habits” of geeking out about road related matters, specifically road signs. I’d love to know when and where this attraction originated… but it’s been a fascination as long as I can remember, most notably with a long-running childhood project of drawing exit signs.

In this regard it’s exciting to live in Michigan, with its oh-so-slightly different standards of signage to the rest of the US – if anything, more close to European standards than you find elsewhere in this country. Some examples of this include the angular directional signs that are sometimes seen on highways going in different directions (one good example being here on the way into Ann Arbor) and a general penchant for smaller, angular signs that say what they need to say in a more compact orientation than one might find in another state. Finally, those same signs often don’t indicate the cardinal direction of the route, as I memorably captured in the photo below at an earlier point this year.

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BUT, all of this interest in signs somehow generated itself from growing up in Massachusetts, which has its own infamous system of highways that were designed one way and then went another, courtesy of the freeway revolts of the 1970’s and a (rightly) growing sentiment that the region shouldn’t be decimated by a ring of urban highways tearing apart neighborhoods.

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

So this renewed fascination has taken me onto a few highway forums, most notably this one, from which I learned that Massachusetts plans to belatedly convert all of its highway exits to mile-marker based, as opposed to sequential, over the next year or so.

I feel like there should be more to say about my home state catching up to the rest of the country in this regard. But … it’s all well and good. And I’ll believe it when I see it.

Stormy Day back in The Homeland

Trying to keep up the daily posts, at least until the end of the month, so for today I will keep it brief and say that it felt weird to be watching my home state Massachusetts get hit by a blizzard while I went about my business in sunny and cold Detroit. Maybe it’s because the “expected” weather pattern is generally the reverse geography for the storms… but this winter has had its own plans.

Film Flashback: Insurrection

Continuing my series of posts focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation adventures on the big screen, the 16th anniversary of the crew’s third cinematic foray, Insurrection, is coming up next Thursday.

Once again I was excited to see my favorite space crew on the big screen, and proceeded to see their latest voyage three times during its original cinematic release. First up was an opening day screening at the then – new Showcase Cinemas Lowell, which was just coming up to its first anniversary of opening. I remember it was a winter concert night at my high school (which I was performing in) a few towns away from Lowell, so my dad picked me up and we rushed to the cinema and then hurried right back so I could make it to the evening event. Unfortunately, that rushed state led to me leaving my first point and shoot camera there in the movie theatre, and I was unable to recover it, which disappointed me and my parents as it contained a few photos that could not be replicated. (why did I even take it into the theatre? probably to take a picture of the poster… interesting how those things stand out in the memory…)

A week later, my dad and I caught the film a second time on Opening Night of the new and long – awaited Loews Theatres Liberty Tree Mall. I remember feeling disappointed that Insurrection was shoehorned into one of the complex’s smallest screening rooms, even though it was just in its second week of release. We would get to know the rest of the complex very well over the next several years.

This film serves as half of the answer to a regional trivia question in that it was one of the two final films to screen at the Loews Liberty Tree Mall twin cinema, which closed down after screenings on December 17, 1998, to make way for the new 20-plex.

Finally, I saw the film a third time in St. Johnsbury, VT, near the end of that month, with my mom and several other friends. I highly doubt that St. J’s Star Theater has changed much since that screening!

Insurrection DVDIt’s been awhile since I’ve actually watched Insurrection, and I’m aware that it has a bit of a “meh” reputation among fans. The film’s location photography in the Mammoth Lakes region of California stood out to me on those early viewings, with lush greenery and icy blues serving as fitting evocations of an alien planet. Veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith again delivered an expert tapestry of musical images to drum the story along and serve as a backdrop for the crew’s continuing mission. But I agree with a sentiment that I once saw somewhere indicating that this film shows the Next Generation crew at their most natural. They don’t have to ramp up the violence to show they can kick some ass and bring in box office, they don’t have to compare themselves to other Star Trek crews, and they don’t have to do a victory lap on their way out of the spotlight, they can simply be present in the story, and relate to each other with humanity and consideration. (The last point is something that the actors continue to do well in real life, as seen in writeups of their convention appearances over the last several years, and I saw for myself when I met Marina Sirtis here in Michigan a year and a half ago.)

I likely did not realize on first viewing that the “guest stars” for this installment drew heavily from the theatre world, where most of the regular cast members also have roots. It would be interesting to see some alternate universe mashup where Donna Murphy and F. Murray Abraham suddenly launched into dramatic monologue faceoffs with Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner and the rest of the cast.

Bright lights shine on a familiar cinematic story

fairlane cinemaI made a return visit to the garishly Disney World – esque AMC Fairlane Cinema (photo at right) this evening. Though this cinema is a relatively close neighbor to me in my present living situation, this was only my second time there. Their admission price of $7.25 seemed like a throwback to another era, although the average priced concessions made up for the initial cheapness.

The interior of the cinema offers a familiar design seen in many turn-of-the-millenium era Loews Theatres, which I know well from early visits to the Boston Common cinema, and I’m sure can be seen at other venues across the country. However, it doesn’t seem to have aged badly, and this particular complex has been well maintained.

This evening’s feature of choice was Beyond the Lights, a current release focusing on the story of Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a British R&B/urban singer and clear Rhianna/Katy Perry/insert your pop star here composite, who has found fame in her provocateur act and lives the high life in Los Angeles, but yearns to drop it all and go back to her more humane self. She faces conflicting guidance from an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver) and decides that she wants to get to know a noble police officer (Nate Parker) who came to her aid at a particularly challenging moment. Simultaneous to her challenges, her intense stardom tugs at her window and makes her struggle to decide which way she wants to take her life.

beyond the lightsThe film puts a pragmatic and realistic spin on a familiar story, and is really a showcase for a dynamic and revelatory performance by Mbatha-Raw (pictured at left), an actress who proved she was a talent to watch in Belle earlier this year – though I would have enjoyed seeing her Ophelia opposite Jude Law’s Hamlet a few years back on London and New York stages. She carries the film and does all of her own singing with charisma and smoldering heat through most of her scenes, creating a fully rounded character out of what could have just been a caricature. It was good to see Driver back on screen in a primary role; it feels like it has been several years since I’ve seen her in any widely released movie, though I understand she has been busy with television work. Veteran actor Danny Glover, whom I once met briefly in Massachusetts and have a 1 degree connection to in the Bay Area, appears in a supporting role as Parker’s father, and his familiar gravelly voice and committed screen presence were also a welcome sight.

I can’t recommend the film with super-enthusiasm due to its formulaic plot, but think it is worth seeking out at some point for its committed performances and the important fact that it’s made by a female filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who knows how to tell a detailed and relatable story.

The Star Gatekeepers of Martha’s Vineyard are fading into the Menemsha Sunset

The recent death of Mike Nichols, well-chronicled in various newspapers, but most notably to me in a Vineyard Gazette article, reinforces a feeling I’ve had over the last few years.

Martha’s Vineyard’s celebrity gatekeepers – those who come to the island and value their privacy, aren’t intruded upon, but are also willing to stand up for community causes and events when they choose – are disappearing. In his passing on, Nichols joins Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Katherine Graham, Walter Cronkite, Patricia Neal and others of the literati/glitterati set who were known for their visiting/residing and support of the Island.

To me as a lifelong part-time Island resident/visitor, these were all people who appreciated what the Vineyard has to offer. More importantly for the locals, they weren’t shy about using their cache to improve the life and resources of those who are there on the Island full – time, which was and is perhaps best seen in the long-running Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

But who will take their place? Others remain, with Carly Simon perhaps seen as the primary standard bearer.

But there aren’t really many people my age, or a little older than me, who are taking up the mantlepiece as the celebrity statesman. I don’t know if that’s a pro or con for an island that values its own individual community. But I do know that it’s a change that will continue to be subtly felt.