Weekend Edition: The pull to poll


As a mostly weekend Island guy, for years I have sat on the Jitney as it collects passengers down Lexington Avenue, motors east and deposits us at Greenport and the ferry. But I’ve often wondered, just how familiar with Shelter Island are the Manhattanites we leave behind? I decided to conduct a poll.

Here was the plan: I would put on my pharmacy Island T-shirt with the words “Shelter Island New York” clearly displayed on the front. (I prefer my 12-year-old Bliss T-shirt with the black splat of Island on the front, but I have found a remarkable number of people mistake the splat for a bucking bronco, particularly in the car magnet version.) In polling, I reckoned, clarity would probably yield better results.

I came up with a set of questions that would try to measure Shelter Island’s grip on the city: Excuse me, have you heard of Shelter Island? If so, what do you know about it? Do you know where it is? Have you ever been to Shelter Island? If you have, did you like it? If so, why did you like it? Are you planning to revisit? Are you a frequent visitor? Would you consider a summer rental? Are you planning to buy? Is the ferry access a pain in the neck or is it a major part of the Island’s allure? If you don’t like it, please tell me why.

Not exactly a professional Chamber of Commerce questionnaire, but a decent stab at gauging the Island’s identity in the city. Or at least in one small part of it.

Right around the corner from us is a subway station at 77th Street and Lexington Avenue. My plan was to station myself, bright-faced, tablet in hand, on 77th and Third Avenue, a block east of Lex, in the midst of the thousands of westward-bound commuters walking surprisingly briskly and with no apparent symptoms of job dread. Setting up my polling operation at the mouth of the subway station would be a mistake as, trust me, you get pulled together like a column of ants and, shoulder to shoulder, solemnly march down the stairs to the platform. At this critical moment of the daily commute, a would-be pollster would be totally ignored, if not elbowed out of the way.

Every so often, a politician takes a position near the stairs. You have to pity these people. Not only do they not know that they stand zero chance of talking to anyone, but they are inevitably challengers to venerable incumbents and have zero chance of unseating them. They are, however, always nicely dressed.

This got me thinking. In 15 years, I’ve never stopped for a street pollster or petition-wielder. If I can discern from a ways off that the (usually) young man or woman is polling or gathering signatures on an issue I agree with, I make eye contact and cheerily say, “I’m with you all the way!” and never break stride. Or “I couldn’t agree more!” Or “I think what they’re doing is an outrage!” This is a cruel tactic because the pollster/petition-wielder sees a sure-fire signature or supportive data point walking away from them into the throng. If I can discern that the polling or petition issue is a violation of everything I hold dear, the standard city practice (and mine) is to act as though the person asking for small bit your time is invisible.

Although I have never personally observed it, I’m sure that many times a day there are tense conversations between pollster and pollee that devolve into shouting matches over hot button issues. What I have observed are rude remarks made by people who feel the need to disparage the pollster and his or her issue as they pass by. These may not be exact quotes, but I seem to recall sentiments such as: “Good luck with that!” “You’re joking, right?” “Not if you put a gun to my head!” I’ve heard other earthier comments that are unsuitable to be published in this newspaper.

I cannot imagine that my Island “issue” could possibly inspire rudeness. But as I pondered my imminent polling operation, I easily could imagine that it would inspire a great number of you-got-to-be kidding looks without breaking stride. From the outset I figured I would be lucky if I got a dozen or 15 people to stop and answer my questions. That would mean thousands giving me the invisible treatment or offering looks of pity. Even the ones that stopped would probably know about Shelter Island and almost certainly like it. What’s not to like? So rather than the polling results delivering some surprise or shades of meaning, they would simply confirm what we already know.

Say I found someone who doesn’t like Shelter Island. Would anyone pay his opinion any mind?

I’m shutting down the polling operation before it starts. I’m going to finish the Sunday crossword. Let the Chamber of Commerce do it.