The Boston Globe published a disturbing piece this week about the experiences of urbanites going on vacation in rural New England this summer. It was titled “Dirty looks, threats, and anonymous notes. Good riddance to the summer of travel shaming.”
The writer, Christopher Muther, had assembled a stack of anecdotes about the xenophobia and downright nastiness of the small-town residents he labels “vacation vigilantes.”
“Ask around,” writes Muther, “and you’ll hear stories about dirty looks and locals grilling and shaming vacationers who show up with out-of-state plates.” He reports that one New York couple who were visiting Truro woke up one morning to find a note on their car reading: “Why don’t you go back to New York and spread corona in your own state!”
I don’t doubt that that particular case of boorishness actually took place. But it doesn’t take very many of these stories to convince a big-city newspaper columnist who doesn’t live here that he’s got the place all figured out. He’s ready to move on in his next paragraph to the expert source, a clinical psychologist who helpfully explains that the pandemic “has amplified fear and distrust of others” and that, for people in rural areas, “it can be really hard … to accept people they don’t know…. I think that’s human nature.”
I think that’s bad reporting.
Many visitors from the city this spring and summer were worried about the reception they would find here. We were inundated with questions from people who wondered if they should come at all, lest the tires of their New York-licensed cars be slashed by enraged locals.
We heard a few scattered reports of out-of-state visitors getting the evil eye and even being scolded by one of our chronically distempered citizens. But the overwhelming majority of visitors told us a very different story. They were welcomed and treated with notable courtesy and warmth. Again and again, we heard visitors from the city remark on the degree of compliance they found here with mask-wearing and social distancing rules. They interpreted this, correctly, as a sign of Outer Cape folks’ sense of responsibility to care for each other.
The Globe article quotes an anonymous Brewster resident on resentment between year-rounders and second-home owners. “The topic is so contentious,” writes Muther, “that many people interviewed for this story asked that their names not be used.”
That should have been a red flag for the writer, a signal to dig deeper for the truth. Just as it does on social media, the cloak of anonymity provides cover for knuckleheads, liars, and sociopaths. We do have a few of those in our corner of the world. We try not to give them too much press.