NANTUCKET — In the next week, Air Force One will thunder down onto the island of Nantucket. Dozens of Secret Service agents will bunk up in its historic inns, rifling through the trash cans of local pubs and nearly exhausting the island’s limited fleet of rental cars. President Biden, likely wearing his typical vacation uniform of aviator glasses and bomber jacket, will walk the cobblestone main drag, heralding a new chapter in his long relationship with the island that began at the start of his political career.
Days out from the president’s expected arrival for the Thanksgiving holiday, the island seemed unruffled by the news. Department of Public Works employees funneled their energy Wednesday into lining the brick sidewalks with Christmas trees in preparation for the famous Christmas Stroll Weekend the first weekend of December. (No shortage of firs here on Nantucket.)
Discussions about the president’s visit were mostly limited to exchanges in ferry lines (“Took the boat from Hyannis yesterday with a bunch of security guys with buzz cuts. Looked like they were wearing their clothes for the first time”) or talk at the pubs (“I heard the Secret Service was staying at the White Elephant”). Hotel rooms and rental car reservations quietly but steadily piled up.
Those on the island have long suspected what the Globe confirmed earlier this week, that the president would be spending Thanksgiving there, renewing a decades-long tradition in Nantucket that began in 1975 when Biden was just an Amtrak-riding junior senator from Delaware. Since that confirmation, the exact details of his visit have been kept predictably hush-hush.
This week, Nantucket Police Lieutenant Angus MacVicar acknowledged the department was coordinating with the White House about a potential visit from the president and his family, but declined to provide details on the duration of his stay. On Monday, a hulking Air Force cargo plane touched down to unload SUVs and other equipment, and town officials huddled for a joint public safety meeting in preparation for the visit.
Despite being a longtime vacationer there, Biden does not own a home on the island. In the past, including during his eight-year tenure as vice president, he stayed at the estates of Democratic supporters Louis Susman, ambassador to the United Kingdom under former president Barack Obama, and David Rubenstein, founder and chairman of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, among others.
Susman told the Globe on Wednesday that he had not been contacted this year. Rubenstein, whose home sits on a secluded oceanside point east of downtown, did not respond to inquiries about the upcoming visit.
Dozens of Secret Service agents and support staff have weeklong reservations at both the Anchor Inn and Greydon House — two boutique hotels owned by real estate powerhouse Faros Properties — starting on Saturday, though it’s not clear when exactly they’ll arrive. Anchor Inn manager Nate Barrett welcomes the bookings, especially since they come after a few weeks of off-season quiet.
“Now I know exactly where my taxpayer money is going to,” he quipped.
Tom Rafter, who oversees operations at the Nantucket Memorial Airport, said each of his 34 full-time employees will be on hand next week to welcome Air Force One. But the president’s team handles most of the security and transport. Rafter spoke of the visit with the nonchalance of a man accustomed to having an airfield crawling with private jets and an on-site lounge for Blade, a helicopter service that also serves exclusive locales such as Aspen and the Hamptons.
“I mean, we’ve have the Kardashians visit in the past, so the island is used to this type of thing,” said Rafter of the de-facto royal family of reality television.
Last year, Air Force Two, carrying then-Vice President Mike Pence, arrived for a fund-raising event on the island. Biden will arrive for this visit aboard a narrow-bodied Boeing 757 that Rafter says will serve as Air Force One, a marked change from the early days when Biden would pilot a Jeep Wagoneer from Wilmington to Hyannis with his two young sons in tow.
Just who will cook the Bidens’ Thanksgiving feast remains a mystery. Tony Nastus, the longtime chef of the mainstay Le Languedoc Bistro, and Patrick Ridge, Nantucket’s newest culinary star at the helm of Island Kitchen catering, haven’t received any calls.
In years past, the family has tapped Bill Puder, the jolly white-haired proprietor of Faregrounds Restaurant. Adorned with endless Boston sports memorabilia and kitschy signs like “BEER: Because your friends aren’t that interesting,” the inland pub is less posh and polished than many trendier downtown eateries. But it’s from this humble outpost that the Puders have crafted more than a dozen Thanksgiving meals for the Bidens over the last 23 years.
“We feel as though you two are part of our family,” reads a 2012 letter to Bill and his wife, Kim, signed with “love” from Joe and Jill Biden. The correspondence sits framed in the pub’s foyer within a cluster of Biden portraits. Last time Biden was on the island, in 2019, he and Bill tussled over who would carry the turkey to the car.
“I was nudging him to just give it up already. The man [was] vice president for God’s sake,” Kim recalled, shaking her head. Bill did finally acquiesce.
In years past, the Secret Service has refrained from surveilling Bill in the kitchen as he prepared Biden’s turkey and trimmings. But the Puders are aware the stakes are a bit higher this year and would welcome any necessary oversight.
“An extra set of hands in the kitchen? We’ll take it,” said Bill, who has spent the past week fielding inquiries from news outlets and patrons about whether the White House has contacted him.
Each time, he responds: “Not yet.”