Arkansas Travelers

updated 09/06/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WHAT WAS PULITZER-PRIZEWINNING BIOGRAPHER David McCullough doing peering through the bushes at the West Tisbury (Mass.) Agricultural Fair? The same thing almost everyone else on the island of Martha's Vineyard was doing last week: watching for Bill. "We get a big kick out of all this," admitted the Truman biographer. 60, keeping an eye on the fairgrounds where, it had been widely rumored, there might be a sighting of the vacationing President. (An hour later he did show up, with daughter Chelsea.) "It's the biggest thing on the island since the filming of Jaws"

Never mind that Martha's Vineyard, a rustically charming resort five miles off Cape Cod, prides itself on taking high-profile summer folk in stride. Jackie O, Mike Wallace, Spike Lee, Beverly Sills, James Taylor and Walter Cronkite go virtually ignored. But with the arrival of the First Family (Socks-less) on Aug. 19, even celebrity residents seemed touched by Oval Office magic. "Everyone's acting annoyed—but they're really excited," said Vineyard dweller Carly Simon, who sang for the President at the first of two suppers in his honor hosted by Washington Post Co. chairwoman Katharine Graham, another Vineyarder. "Everyone hopes the Clintons will show up at their cookout."

But at first the Clintons seemed content to be porch potatoes, enjoying the solitude and salt air at Sandpiper Point, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's 15-acre scrub oak-and bayberry-sheltered compound with sweeping views of the Atlantic. They relaxed, they played games, they read at least some of the books they bought on a family outing to the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (and put on Hillary's. Visa card).

After dark they attended a series of very private, celebrity-studded soirees. The first was a 47th-birthday party thrown for the President at the evening of his arrival by former transition chief Vernon Jordan. Guests—including Jackie O, who later in the week treated the First Family to a cruise on Vineyard Sound—watched Chelsea toast "a wonderful father," then clustered around the piano for a sing-along.

Out in public the President, like any bird of brilliant plumage, was easily spotted. His holiday wardrobe included salmon chinos, a combo of raspberry shirt and green wind-breaker and—during one of several leisurely rounds he played with Jordan and others at the Farm Neck Golf Club—an all-purple golfing ensemble. The crowds sitting in lawn chairs waiting to catch a glimpse of him at the roadside 13th and 14th holes were rewarded with several dufferish drives and one exhortation—to the ball—of "Whoa, mama, stay up!" The ball paid no heed.

Daytime excursions became increasingly common, a headache no doubt to residents like CBS newsman Wallace, who couldn't get a cab out of the airport because Clinton's motorcade was blocking the only access road. Without the goal of a McDonald's to entice him (Martha's Vineyard is both quarter-pounder-and traffic-light-free), the First Jogger even cut back on his road work. As Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers told the more than 60 reporters who spent much of their time chafing under a tent in a field miles away from the McNamara gates, "I think they'll wake up every morning and decide, based on the weather and how they feel, what they want to do—just like a normal vacation."

THOMAS DUFFY on Martha's Vineyard and S. AVERY BROWN and TOM MORONEY in Boston

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