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Obama Fever on the Island

They’re serving Obamaritas at Sharky’s Cantina on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, where even the drizzly weather has not dampened the anticipation of the first family’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard. Oak Bluffs is home to the island’s African American enclave that again has come under the national spotlight this summer. This time, it is not because of the travails of our leading resident academic, Harvard’s Dr. Henry Louis Gates, but because of the first family’s impending vacation on the island. The Obama family has visited before as private citizens, but this is the first time since Obama became commander in chief.

The Obamas will not even be staying in Oak Bluffs. It is too difficult to secure the town’s residences that could house the first family and their necessary entourage. Rather, the Obamas will be staying in the Up-Island town of Chilmark. American flags are already sprouting along the route from the airport like the mushrooms and toadstools that dot the island’s lawns after this rainy summer.

Oak Bluffs nevertheless will come under close scrutiny because it traditionally has been the town on the island with the largest African American presence and the longest African American history. Blacks have been on the island virtually from settlement, but in the early 20th century, the town became the summer spot for affluent blacks from the Boston area. They were followed by others from the East Coast and around the country, and the town became one of the country’s few traditional black summer spots like Idlewild, Mich., and Sag Harbor, N.Y. Generations have summered here, and houses are still referred to by the names of former owners and families long gone. Members of the White House inner circle, such as Valerie Jarrett and Eric Holder, are island regulars.

Shopkeepers, after a so-so summer, are anxiously anticipating the president’s arrival and beginning to showcase Obama merchandise designed to connect the president and the island. There are hats inscribed “Summer White House Martha’s Vineyard.” Craftworks in Oak Bluffs has a series of Obama magnets. Good Dog Goods features Bobama gear parodying the island’s iconic Black Dog, substituting a Portuguese Water Dog for the black Lab. T- shirts boasting “Martha’s Vineyard, Home of Presidential Vacations” abound. Another is emblazoned with the presidential visage and “Relax, It’s All About the Vineyard/Summer White House ‘09.” My favorite at C’est La Vie offers a hypothetical presidential to-do list featuring vacation plans for 2009.

Indeed, islanders are debating what items might actually be on the president’s to-do list. Some opine that fishing off Aqinnah with Buddy Vanderhoop, one of the island’s legendary fishermen, might be on the docket, and others suspect that Mrs. Obama may have a visit planned to the biweekly farmers market in Chilmark for some fresh provender. Consensus is that Oak Bluffs will feature on some of the forays away from Blue Heron Farm, where the Obamas will be staying. Certainly the girls should not be deprived of a chance for the brass ring on the Flying Horses, the nation’s oldest carousel. Deon’s, the island’s major black-owned restaurant, might be a stop, and a breakfast at Linda Jean’s is a good guess. Church services at interdenominational Union Chapel would differ from those at the Tabernacle, where Bill Clinton worshipped and which does hold more folks. Date night is another option and island hot spots such as Oak Bluffs’ Sweet Life or Edgartown’s Atria or Etoile offer possibilities, followed by some dancing at Nectar’s, the largest local club, or an Electric Slide or two with the “peeps” at Mediterranean. Then, there’s the uniquely Vineyard option of a private concert with some of the island’s finest, such as Carly Simon or members of the legendary Taylor family. (Kate has a new CD out.)

No one knows for sure or if they do, they aren’t telling, but phones are ringing and folks across the island are checking their post office boxes for a coveted invite. I live across from Oak Bluffs’ basketball court and am hoping that one day I’ll look up from my seat in the rocking chairs on my front porch and see the president, lean and lanky, shooting a few hoops with the guys in peace. After all, it’s his vacation. I’m going to celebrate the first family’s arrival on the Vineyard with an Obamarita and a Barack-o-taco at Sharky’s and let the president and his family enjoy the week that they have allowed themselves in this fantastic summer place I’m privileged to share with them. contributor Jessica B. Harris is the author of “The Martha’s Vineyard Table.



Adapted from a recipe by Sharky’s bartender Rebecca Clark

Makes one drink

1 ½ ounces tequila

¾  ounce Triple Sec

1 ounce sour mix

1 ounce freshly squeezed mandarin orange juice

Splash of pineapple juice


Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with five ice cubes. Shake well and strain into a chilled margarita glass. Garnish with a mandarin orange slice.


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