Chris Perry Column: Without Them, Where Would We Be?

Chris Perry •


I still haven’t recovered.

Not because I tried to chase Beau Garufi in Nantucket’s Triathlon but because I just went 10 rounds with Joel Gonzalez.

As some of you may have seen in the Current’s Instagram story on Wednesday, Joel is a man on a FedEx mission.

On Wednesday, Joel beat me to work showing up at 5:30 AM at FedEx’s Nancy Lane depot run smartly by operations manager, Matthew Peel. Roughly 290 packages and 175 stops later, Joel and I made it back to the shop around 5 pm only to have Joel tell me this was “an easy summer day. Tomorrow, I have over 300 packages and 200 stops…”

Joel Gonzalez

That was enough to make a grown man cry. Figuring our day was done, I headed for my car.

Not Joel….

“I’m not finished. I gotta sweep out ‘my’ truck and get ready for the morning.”

I asked him rhetorically, “You do this every day…?”

With great satisfaction and enjoyment, Joel responded, “Every day, baby.”

Joel represents the heartbeat of downtown Nantucket at a pace well past a healthy average of 72 beats per minute. With a style unlike anything else seen around Main Street, his store-to-store arrival is prefaced by the sounds of a pop/rock combo that is never offensive. Hearing the beat, every store owner, merchant, clerk, and bottle washer knows that dozens of boxes and Joel’s effervescent smile are just around the corner.

He’s got more girlfriends than Elvis.

More patience than Jobe.

And more love and respect for Nantucket than all of us put together.

I think it is safe to say that we all have a “Joel story.” My family and I have been fortunate enough to know Joel since 2003 when he first arrived one summer day and took a job at Straight Wharf Fish Store & Stars Ice Cream. Between scooping ice cream, helping me keep tabs on my youngest daughter, Hannah, and completing an occasional painting job for me during the winter, my favorite “Joel” story actually took place in the spring of 2019.

On May 5th, 2019, I was fortunate enough to attend Joel’s swearing-in ceremony as a U.S. citizen at Faneuil Hall in Boston. After running into Joel on the fast boat that morning and having never attended such a unique occasion before, I asked if I could accompany him to the ceremony. Smartly dressed in a coat and tie as if he was going to the White House, he agreed.

Truth be told, I think I was as eager as he was.

Joel’s excitement that day hasn’t changed one iota. He attacks his daily delivery mission like a stealth pilot and his customers around Main Street and downtown Nantucket are more like friends. If you don’t believe me, just ask Sam at Southern Tide, Dew at TownPool, Colby at Olivela, Suzanne at BookWorks, Paola at Gypsy, or Philip at Craftmasters.

As the day moved along, I started to see an interesting trend. Regardless of whether we were stuck in traffic and slowly inching past another vehicle or entering a store in town, the reaction and mood completely changed when Joel came around the corner. Truck windows immediately went down and landscapers like Carla and Rochy promptly started up a spirited conversation.

Romito, an Uber driver, stopped to share a funny story. Ana from Montenegro. Ana and Fani from Croatia. Henderson from the Dominican Republic. Cheryl from Tampa. Ava from LA and Katie from N.Y. quickly smiled and jumped to help. Paula and Courteney from Pippa and everyone on Straight Wharf stopped to take a breath and chuckle over a quick story before Joel ran off in another direction and they headed back to work.

Then, it hit me: Their change in demeanor wasn’t solely because they knew Joel. Their change in demeanor was because they could relate to Joel.

To the retail help, bar backs, landscapers, shelve stockers, delivery guys, cleaners, and everyone else who hustles around the island during the summer, Joel is just like them. Service staff, stone masons, cooks on Broad Street, sandwich makers, and grunt workers like Joel make this island go. Sometimes under less-than-ideal working conditions, generally under tremendous pressure and rarely receiving a compliment from those who they service, Joel and so many others bust their ass throughout the summer simply trying to earn enough to survive and to make the “Nantucket Summer” go smoothly for others.

On Nantucket, that’s how it works. It’s an environment that few workers are truly prepped to understand - rarely can they relate to it - but ironically, they seize the opportunity in advance, often from afar. Joel briefly passing through their lives sometimes on a daily basis represents a momentary breath of fresh air before reality sets back in and they need to fetch another size four in the back or prune one lone dead leaf off the rose bush in the garden.

It sounds like an Elin Hilderbrand novel - some ride on a Hinckley and some polish the brass. Thankfully, there are many on Nantucket who like to polish with a smile and we owe them a lot more because, without them, the boat doesn’t leave the dock.

Ivo Valchev who owns VIVO Inc. and is the independent service provider for FedEx Ground, employs Joel and several others and he talked about Joel’s “upbeat personality, outstanding work ethic, very engaging and how fortunate he is to have him…”

That’s how we should all feel about Nantucket’s workforce. Like Joel and from pool cleaners to boat hands to deli workers to board hangers, they play a vital role; and in their own unique way, they have amazing personalities with energy too.

Without them, where would we be?

For me, I’d be back on the streets barely able to handle 75 packages and 50 stops - that’s not a pretty sight.

August is just around the corner and we all know what that means. Before next Tuesday rolls around, let’s stop for a moment, take a breath, find one’s “Joel” - and simply say:

Thank you…

It goes a long way, especially during a chaotic Nantucket Summer.

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