Note: I’m on vacation this week at a beach community I started coming to as a child with my grandparents. This post isn’t about business, but is a reflection of what it takes to get things done in groups. Whether it’s business or beach communities, it takes patience and a sense of humor.
The Chief wanted to talk crime. The Security Committee wanted to talk flags. But for the beach association members the real issue was golf carts.
The annual Home Owner’s Spring Information meeting to kick off the summer starts at the reasonable hour of 10 a.m., allowing people time for morning runs, usually to Dunkin’ for the old timers, but the new people are more the Starbucks types. (And yes, it’s the spring meeting, held the first week in summer.)
The metal folding chairs are set up in 12 neat rows, with an aisle down the middle, long rectangular function tables in the front for the 12 or so association board members and in the back with a nice spread of Danish pastry, with the gooey raspberry filling melting fast in the already hot day. The coffee urns sit next to cartons of half-and-half.
Everyone in this Cape Cod beach community drinks coffee with extra cream, being mostly from the inner belt of Boston’s Route 128. Hardcore Bostonians at their beach cottages, most with one bathroom for as many people as you can squeeze into the house. (Providing that at least two wheels of each vehicle touch the property; otherwise you could get a parking citation. The two wheels on lawns rule takes an especially creative twist on holiday weekends with the mini-vans.)
Lately folks have been tearing down the old places and building new, with two stories, big porches and two or three bathrooms. Summer living is going through big changes here at Popponesset Beach.
But back to the Community House for the Association meeting, where the petite chairwoman is calling to get started. “There are seats up front, everyone. Let’s get started, we have a lot to cover.”
“We’ve rearranged the agenda this morning because The Chief is here and has some important information about security. So without further ado, Chief…”
“I won’t take up too much of your time this morning, but want to call your attention to something that happened up the road last week. Not in your area, but not too far away.”
With that the local police chief told a story about a couple of bungling burglars, casing houses and making off with televisions and other household electronics in broad daylight. People listened politely, nodding their heads when the Chief said, “If you see something suspicious, call us. We are here 24/7 for you. That is our job. A suspicious person may be nothing. But you never know.
“Here in your neighborhood we got a call last Friday night about a disturbance.”
Now people were riveted. Burglars might be moving around New Seabury, but we are vigilant. What could have happened?
“A fellow was trying to get into a house in the wee hours, about three a.m. to be exact. Pounding on the door, creating a disturbance. The homeowner called us and we dispatched our officer to the home. We found that the fellow had had a few too many and was trying to get in the wrong house.”
Everyone laughs. This is our Cape Cod.
“We detained the gentleman while we helped him find his house. But the moral of the story,” warns the Chief has he puts his stern face back on, “is that you just never know.”
Three hands go up around the room. Hands like second graders who want to be called on by the teacher because they know the answer.
The Chief points to a hand in the back of the room.
“Chief, what about the golf carts?”
A millisecond hush falls among the 60 people packed into the community house, with its beige, yellow and orange linoleum floor. People swivel in their metal chairs to see who asked that question. Before the Chief responds, chatter erupts. Like opening a door to a school gymnasium. Hushed quiet in the hall, and then the energy and sound explodes.
“Is it legal to drive golf carts on our streets?” the person asks more loudly.
Heads turn to the Chief. The room gets quiet.
“If you have a title, insurance and a valid driver’s license, you can drive a golf cart on the streets,” explains the Chief matter of factly. His shoulders relax, like he was expecting a tough question and got this softball underhanded toss about golf carts.
“What about kids driving these carts, Chief,” asks another. “I saw a golf cart with kids hanging off the back and they almost hit an elderly person walking across the street.”
“Yeah, and a golf cart crashed into my neighbor’s yard one night around 2 a.m. and damaged some property,” someone else yells out.
“Okay, now,” says the Chief. “According to the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles, you must be a licensed driver to operate a golf cart. This means underage kids should not be driving golf carts.”
“But Chief, how about kids with a learner’s permit?”
“Chief, what about a golf cart that goes under 20 miles per hour? I believe that’s exempt from the rules for golf carts, which go faster than 20 miles per hour.”
“Please, everyone,” says the Chief. “The rule is you have to have a title, insurance and license to operate a golf cart. I believe Chapter 90, Section 18 spells this out, but I don’t have the exact information here.”
“Chief, how many people can be in a golf cart?”
A helpful community member and golf cart owner answers, “As many people as there are seat belts can ride in the golf cart.”
Now that people other than the Chief are offering advice, more people speak up.
“Everyone might be interested to know that there’s a universal key for golf carts,” says a stocky guy in his Korean Veterans baseball cap. “You can go to the hardware store and have a key made and it will fit any cart.”
People nod in an appreciative way. We really know useful stuff.
“Chief, what if we’re driving the carts at the country club and don’t have our licenses?”
“No worries, we’re not going to give you a citation crossing the road over to the club. This is about common sense, everyone. We don’t need to get into a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. Ah, excuse me on that. I see that there are some lawyers on the committee.
“Remember, title, insurance and license,” he says, with the three words becoming like a mantra. “If you stick to those three things there should be no problems.”
It’s now 10:50. The sun is blasting through the window shades, reminding us that it’s a really good beach day.
A woman waves her hand and interrupts from the back of the room.
“Excuse me, please. I live across the street and people have parked in front of my driveway so I can’t get out. Every time there are official meetings in the Community House, people park illegally, blocking our driveways.”
People squirm. The chairwoman thanks the neighbor, who obviously doesn’t have a golf cart, but does have a car. Which she can’t use.
Humbled by the obvious disregard for other rules, the meeting moves off the carts and on to the beach flags, the second most important beach community issue.
I sit on the beach later in the day with my flag safety-pinned to my beach bag and wonder about the seaweed. There’s a lot of it. Should I bring it up at the next meeting?