Cell phones will be ringing loud and clear on Martha’s Vineyard for the next couple of weeks. The familiar cacophony of tinkling, pinging, and pop music riffs-- normal cell sounds in the city-- are typically silenced by the island’s whimsical cyber networks. This once a year tech power boost comes courtesy of the most powerful leader in the world--POTUS 44. President Barack Obama returned to Martha’s Vineyard this past weekend, a place he calls magical.
Seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard’s extraordinary beauty, and laid back vibe has drawn the President and the First Family back each summer for the past twelve years, except one. In 2012 an intense reelection campaign forced him to skip his summer holiday.
He and the First Family are true vacationers when they are on Martha’s Vineyard --going biking with their daughters, and shopping in local bookstores. He’ll hit the Farm Neck Golf Course to play with old Chicago pals, stars like actor Larry David and basketball Phenom Alonzo Mourning, and sometimes his POTUS predecessor, Bill Clinton. On the Vineyard, First Lady Michelle strolls East Chop with a gaggle of women friends, and the President has himself picked up a takeout order from Nancy’s, the popular restaurant overlooking the Oak Bluffs dock. Flip flop wearing regulars freak out when they spot him, as my friends and I did another summer when he and the First Lady, and their guests came into the restaurant where we were. We got to shake his hand, before the Secret Service swiftly ushered the group into the private room. Imagine our surprise when the door opened about 20 minutes later and the President’s half-sister, Maya, strolled over to our table for a girlfriend’s chat about losing baby weight and fun things to do on the island.
Like President George H.W. Bush’s Crawford Texas, Martha’s Vineyard is President Obama’s summer White House. The nation’s first African-American President is now part of the island’s African-American history from Whaling Captain William A. Martin to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to his contemporaries, the community of black elite who are rich and powerful. Nobody else is the leader of the free world, of course, but I imagine that in this select circle, he can relax and be just plain Barack.
C’est La Vie store owner Roger Schilling, a longtime admirer and one of Martha’s Vineyard’s black entrepreneurs, is marking the President’s last Commander in Chief summer as he has every year --with specially designed paraphernalia. The 2016 baseball hat reads “Summer White House” on the front and on the back, “Farewell, Mr. President.” But, I predict this goodbye is more like “until we meet again.” Post Presidency I expect the Obamas will continue to return to the place that’s become an embracing cultural and spiritual second home. Keep a lookout at Nancy’s.