I have, unwittingly, become instantly identifiable by my red knit cap. I have been wearing the cap each winter for more than a decade, and on days when I wear something else, I am invisible. Invisibility is hard to come by on a small island. Even though we are well into spring, the wind is unrelenting. Red stands out on foggy mornings.
“I saw you on the way to work,” a woman at the coffee shop says, her eyes narrowing, “iced coffee on a day as windy as this?”
You can’t get away with anything out here, but I suppose I’ve always lived in fishbowls.
There are other people who have these sort of identifiers — the woman who rides her bike to the post office each day, chaining it to a lamppost. The man who leaves his truck with the dented bumper running outside the grocery store. The people who have this place memorized just so, they barely look up from their book or newspaper to navigate the cobblestones or splitting sidewalks.
You’re never more than twenty minutes away from everywhere else, and with cell phones, you’re always reachable. A lot of my friends are looking for ways to disconnect from the cloud these days, and find their way back to the real world. Their every digital move is monitored. They talk of social media cleanses, “dumb” phones that resemble the kind of plastic brick you might have kept in the glove compartment for roadside emergencies fifteen years ago, and erasing digital footprints.
There’s another way to escape all that. Nantucket is full of dead zones, places where the cell signal evaporates, pockets of space where no one can reach you. Most people see this as an impediment. One website, yes, we can’t stay away from the internet entirely, says that Nantucket’s cell service is better than Cuttyhunk Island and Monomy in Chatham (thankfully, seals do not make telephone calls), but worse than every other city and town in the state. (I was in a Boston harbor tunnel a few weeks ago and the signal was clearer than anyplace on the island.)
I can’t fix them, so I might as well look forward to the dead zones on my walks around the island. I’ve started to pay more attention along these stretches of beach and bike path, slowing down to see if there is something here I should be noticing. Why this zone among all the others? Funny, how much of the world is moved by things unseen.
As we head into yet another overwhelming summer, I urge my fellow islanders to embrace the dead zones. Go to that beach where your social media pages won’t load. Take a walk on that path where news alerts can’t find you. Be invisible, just for a moment. It’ll all be waiting for you when you get back into service or put on your red cap.