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Pops Goes Barr

Column: 
Boston Pops at Jetties, by George Rietof

I am tired of the Pops.

I am tired of the advertising.  I am tired of the questions. I am tired of the cars.  I am tired of the crowds. 

In my Bostonian youth, I visited the Esplanade often and heard the Pops perform for free.  Indeed, as I was young and green in the Arthur Fiedler era, the Pops were on the TV, on the radio, and my mother bought a copy of “Saturday Night Fiedler.”  On the Fourth of July, we abandoned our town’s parade and left for the Esplanade at eight in the morning so that we could get “good” seats for the concert.  We guarded our plot of tarp all day, listened to the concert, watched the fireworks, and then trudged to the subways in a heaving Pleistocene crowd.  Jetties Beach has nothing on the Red Line. 

Of course, when I was standing on a wrinkly reflective tarp, I was doing so for free.  If the cost had been thirty dollars a ticket for the privilege of sitting at the Esplanade with cheese, crackers, and Ernst and Julio in a box, my mother would have had to pay $150.  Needless to say, we would have seen more parades and fewer fireworks.

I don’t know why Massachusetts General Hospital (Nantucket Division) needs to raise $2.8 million off the Pops.  I am sure they have their reasons; somewhere on the corporate spreadsheet, the rationale is clear.  I am even more sure that my family or I have made use of the fruits of those donations.  I should feel more appreciative.

Most summer purchases on Nantucket have become freighted with moral weight.  You can’t drop your money down for a movie, or a bag of groceries, or a beer without making an implied donation to a cause.  Money can no longer be money, it has to be graced with the pious pixie-dust. Should I buy ears of corn at almost a dollar an ear, I am making an implied donation to the farm cause.  The argument silently whispers “It has to be expensive, otherwise the business would go under.”  So, in paying $3.75 for a brownie, you are not only buying a tasty mash of chocolate, butter, and sugar, but you are also making a donation in keeping the cause of bakeries afloat on Nantucket. 

It’s pernicious.  If I am a baker, I can’t make the altogether reasonable argument that I am charging $3.75 for a brownie because it is what the market will bear.  Instead, I need to rationalize and justify my prices with the preservation of Olde Nantucket.  The hostess who buys a tray of cupcakes for her golf group can feel secure in the knowledge that, though she might be paying an inflated price, she is doing good.  She is, in fact, an Angel bestowing a Boon.  Complicit in the transaction, the baker needs to be especially thankful and appreciative that his quaint way of life has been preserved for another year.  We have asked for a handout and now we need to be grateful.

As a result of these many gentle donations to the Island Non-Profit, the Angels feel a bit entitled.  As they should.  They have done their part at the farm, the museum, and the brewery, never mind at the inn or the real estate office.  I can sympathize with the woman who secured the underwriting opportunity of a “Conductor’s Circle Table” at Pops who gets stuck in traffic at the Stop and Shop and bangs on her horn.  We don’t know what she has done for us. 

If I am tired of the Pops, I am a bit tired of Nantucket in August.  Cars are always swirling for donuts and sandwiches.  Most of the beaches are cheek to jowl with cigars, iPhones, and skim boards.  The line for ice cream stretches all the way to morning. 

Many of my winter friends find other places to be these days.  Swimming on the inside of Esther’s Island is one particular highlight.  Others leave the island behind and head for the quiet of a Maine lake or a Canadian coast.  To live on Nantucket, year round, is to prize almost everything that the Pops weekend isn’t.  If you like quiet walks on the beach, meeting friends over coffee, and eating donuts, the middle of a Nantucket August isn’t quite for you.

Yet, August remains August.  It remains a month of sandbars and sunsets, bluefish and body-surfing.  If you close your wallet and avoid cash registers, the island gives itself to you.  You can walk for hours on the moors without making a donation to anyone.  You can settle yourself into the Neptune’s Circle Benefactor’s Row at Madaquecham Beach for the price of getting out there.  In the evening, the sun settles into the clouds and fog in a procession of reds and purple before ceding the stage to an astronomer’s greatest hope.  Should a thunderstorm drift over from the mainland, Stravinsky mans the kettle drums and the world listens. 

To stand in the orange Nantucket evening, with sand dropping from your hair, and a cool southwestern breeze cooling your sunburn is to live in a moment enjoyed by very, very few.  Throughout the state, millions would happily suffer the privations of traffic and price to stand ankle deep in the cool sand of Madaket Beach and watch another symphonic sunset.  You can’t buy the best of Nantucket, it has to be given to you. 

So, on Pops Night, you could make no donation, pay no price, and avoid the crowd.  Instead, you could stand at the end of South Wharf, just before the “Yachtsmen” sign, and listen to the performance over the water.  Then, in the final moments of twilight, the fireworks will launch to the enjoyment of everyone. 


Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published last summer.  His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here.

[Photo Credit:  Geoge Riethof, Nantucket Aerial]