The Nantucket Municipal Airport is straight out of TV’s “Wings,” all faded paint and gray clapboard. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spotted Thomas Haden Church behind the Cape Air counter.
The place is unhurried, even as Labor Day Weekend stragglers head back to Hyannis, Boston, and New York. Long-faced travellers in ACK t-shirts, island-logo’d golf shirts, Nantucket red pants and whaleprint belts sit idly on wooden benches, staring blankly towards a runway dotted with eight-seater Cessnas, ignoring their Blackberrys for just a few hours more.
Hutch’s Restaurant serves a mean turkey burger. Saddle up to the bar and order the Mega, otherwise, it’s coming with chips, not fries. Pickles are $.30 extra, but they’re worth it; you get a solid dozen wedges.
The scarcely audible tinkle of Muzak is pierced by periodic, well-accented boarding calls.
“Cape Air Boston flight 536 to Boston now boarding gate one.”
Thing is, there’s just one gate. If one doesn’t present one’s self immediately, one is called by name.
“Passengers Wagner and Keller please report to gate one immediately.”
Once through security (at which, predictably, one is screened more thuroughly than most far busier airports in the country), one mills about a fenced in courtyard awaiting a runway escort. The group walks slowly towards a short row of planes like soldiers towards a firing squad. It’s not fear of flight, it’s the sadness of leaving.
Standing just outside the blue and white Cessna 420, the pilot eyeballs the passengers, seating them based on weight. Moments later, the plane — the length of a Chevy Suburban, at best — lumbers down the runway like a muffler-free Volkswagen. The runway falls away just the sparkling sea grows closer, and soon we are above the waves, banking north over Surfiside Beach. Passengers crane their necks to see their corner of the island: there’s Madaket Road, there Hither Creek, there’s Smith’s Point…
We are lost in clouds.