On to Cape Cod and P-town
Up the coast from NYC, a different world awaits.
Leaving New York City wasn’t as easy as it might have been, for reasons less emotional than logistical. First the inevitable quarrel with the cab driver despite clear instructions beforehand; then the scrum for a hire car; then swapping out the hire car for one you could actually fit a family in.
Already facing a trip length Google Maps ominously described as “typically 4h 30m to 7h”, we set off for Cape Cod in the afternoon sun and watched it sink slowly over the car as we whizzed through several states — New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
As the sun set we succumbed to hunger and pulled off the road into Mystic, which upped the chintz its name suggests with a riverside diner pumping out a pleasing medley of Ye Olde Hits: Beach Boys, Beatles, rock and roll, it was as if the 1970s never happened. We ate our hot dogs and fries, and then ice cream, in a contented reverie that was only somewhat spoiled by discovering the joint’s only “restroom” was a festival portaloo in which someone had obviously had a very distressing time and walked out like John Wayne.
Onwards we went to Cape Cod, arriving at around midnight after several times becoming quite sure we’d misread the map, missed the destination or simply gone through a loophole in the time-space continuum.
Cape Cod is lovely and precisely as advertised: clapboard houses, sand dunes, lighthouses, repeat. I didn’t take many pictures, not because I didn’t like it but because it’s all fairly attractive — pretty pretty — without too much to focus upon. That was, until we got to Provincetown.
We spent our first day on a lovely beach only slightly spoilt by the horseshoe crabs which didn’t make it back to the water after spawning in June; their prehistoric-looking corpses provoked somewhat squeamish reactions, but we went in the water anyway. After an overenthusiastic spree at a roadside inflatable emporium which may or may not have been called Shakey’s Shite Shack, we splashed about in the motel pool (crab count zero) before setting off for the evening in Provincetown.
If you’re not familiar with the layout of Cape Cod, imagine the Grinch flexing his left bicep, except his arm is 60 miles long. We stayed in South Yarmouth, down on the south coast about halfway along the outside of the upper arm; Provincetown is right up in the clenched palm. We took the scenic route, which is more rewarding until the sun goes down, and by the time we crawled into Provincetown we wondered why the hell we’d bothered and whether anything would be open.
Open it was. We’d landed at the end of carnival week, and Provincetown was done up to the nines, welcoming allcomers with open arms. Provincetown has been a popular destination for LGBTQ communities since before LGBTQ was an increasinly unweidly abbreviation: an artists’ colony at the start of the last century, drag queens performing by the 1940s, a focused gay tourism board by 1978. In a recent census, Provincetown had the country’s highest number of same-sex couples, at 16.3%.
Provincetown today is unutterably lovely, almost laughable in its picture-postcard gorgeousness and relaxed attitude to sexuality. Imagine Portmeirion, but fabulous. We walked around entranced, dipping into shops and popping into pizza parlours, watching the world go by arm in arm. Our daughters were so agog they dropped their studied teenage cool, at least for a while. Their parents loved it so much that the following day, three hours away on the rather better-known destination of Martha’s Vineyard, we decided to cut it short, hop back on the ferry and drive two hours back round the Grinch’s arm for another evening in P-town. It’s not often in life that you hit somewhere so affecting you know you will return one day. It might be with a daughter or two, or it might be as a retired couple, but we’ll be back.