take a lot of abuse from colleagues back in Washington who spend their summer vacations at fashionable places on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard or the coast of Maine. They insist that because they have cocktails with an undersecretary and cookouts with an ambassador, they are more "with it" than we are on this never-heard-of-it island at the top of Lake Michigan.
They are wrong, of course. I have known for more than 30 years that Beaver Island is the center of the real world, and this summer has proved it once again. Not since Bud's gas pump split its guts trying to recompute prices during the summer of the oil embargo have we had such dramatic evidence of the impact of outside concerns on this seemingly tranquil backwater.
The first thing that hits your eye, for example, is the gaping hole in the pole-barn right across from that famous gas pump in front of McDonough's store. It is a symbol of the national concern with the problem of drunk driving.
That has not been a serious problem here, not because people don't drink and drive, but because the odds are heavily against a drunk driver's finding anything to hit. That did not stop a well-known islander. He clobbered that pole-barn as if he had taken aim-- which he might have.
His pickup truck got folded like an accordion, but he walked away with three stitches on his forehead and was sent off to the mainland to dry out. As somebody said, he'd got to the point where he was a menace to safety just walking down the sidewalk.
What was puzzling about the damage to the pole-barn was that it looked like the point of impact was about 10 feet off the ground. Someone said he must have been coming down from a tree when he hit, and that seemed to satisfy people.
A spring vacation in Europe kept me off Beaver Island last summer, so this was my first visit in the Reagan era. Naturally, there are changes. The recession has slowed business to the point that Woodrow Wilson at Sears has time to see that the paint you ordered gets on the ferry boat from Charlevoix the same summer you ordered it. In prosperous times, that never happened.
Deregulation--and particularly the change in the Environmental Protection Agency since Anne Gorsuch took over-- has helped the island. For a time, under what Interior Secretary James Watt would rightly call the environmental extremism of the Carter administration, the Beaver Island dump was threatened with closure. There were rumbles we would have to take our tax money and build an incinerator. Let me tell you, an incinerator would be as out of place on Beaver Island as an All-Star on the Chicago Cubs.
But, thanks to Reagan, the dump is still in business, serving its dual function as a disposal point for old paint cans, etc., and as a place where neighbors can meet late in the day to exchange news and views (the equivalent of those snobby Vineyard cocktail parties).
There are nice new signs saying, "Please Don't Dump Here," and "Please Dump Here." It used to be, frankly, that any place within a quarter-mile was considered a good-faith effort. People are complying, voluntarily, and the seagulls don't have to roam as far in search of tidbits. James Watt and the Wilderness Society can both rejoice.
Speaking of Reagan voluntarism, we had a splendid example at the dinner dance marking the 25th anniversary of the Beaver Island Historical Society. Dinner dances are sort of new here, but in keeping with the more elegant social tone of the new administration, this one was a formal affair. Formal, in this context, means that both T-shirts and shoes must be worn. Simultaneously.
The music was to be supplied by Eddie Palmer and the Beaver Island Boys, an up-to-date group with plug-in guitars and everything. But it became apparent as they fussed with the amplifiers on the stage of the parish hall that there was a problem. Word circulated that they couldn't get a steady flow of current to the amplifiers.
Well, as luck would have it, our local energy czar, Jewell Gillespie, who runs the electric co-op, is also the piano player for Eddie and the Boys. (Very strong left hand, reminiscent of Tatum.) He disappeared in his pickup, came back in a few minutes, and gave the signal to begin. The music burst forth in all its electronic glory.
In a few moments, the mystery was solved. Skip McDonough, who lives down on Big Sand Bay, where we have our cabin, five miles south of town, came up. "You might as well keep dancing," Skip said. "He's cut off all the power south of the Four Corners."
So, while two-thirds of the island sat in darkness, us swingers had our ball: self-reliant, not looking to government for any kind of handout, content as can be with our island, our energy policy, our dump, our Sears paint and our elegant dinner dance.
Eat your heart out, Cape Codders..