Friday, October 09, 2009

The Provincetown Street Scene in Fall

Summer trips to the tip of Cape Cod are out of the question for local innkeepers. Fight traffic, find a parking space, jostle with strangers for sidewalk space? Definitely too much of a struggle. Since we had a rare day off this week, Sven and I drove down to P-town. In August, one of our guests commented, “Provincetown is weird, but fun.” Perfect description. The town could also be called vibrant, Coney-Island-esque, and a must-see for visitors to the region, jaded or not. It may be the off-season, but the streets, shops, restaurants and galleries are still busy.

On Tuesday, the center of P-town was crowded with overweight bodies, jaywalking, slurping ice cream cones, day-trippers for the most part, I surmised, who had arrived by ferry that morning. But we soon realized lots of tourists had also come by car. Rather than wait in line for a parking space on the pier, we drove to the Pilgrim Monument lot, up on a hill, which turned out to be almost empty.

Our first stop was the Portuguese bakery where Sven had Espresso and the lemon custard pastry we enjoyed in Lisbon on a favorite trip fifteen years ago. The waitresses did not smile and had that dreary, end-of-season, “wish-I-were-somewhere-else” look in their eyes. Back outside, I was struck by the sunshine, brighter than in Wellfleet, due to the close proximity of two bodies of water: the ocean and Cape Cod Bay. Commercial Street actually borders the harbor, so the air has a noticeable tang of salt to it. Since our last visit, many of the shops had been spruced up with fresh coats of glossy paint in gaudy colors: purple, pink, blue. We entered one store with household items on sale. The shopkeeper, glued to his computer screen, seemed to have forgotten the mantra, “The client is king.” Neither doormat, nor rag-rug did we buy, although tempted by the 30% discount.

“I know how they must feel by October,” I whispered to Sven on the way out. “But still, a little smile would help business.”

He nodded, having noticed what a difference attitude can make to our own guests, who have been writing raves in our main house guest-book of late. We located Sven’s favorite place, Marine Surplus, a must-see entry on everyone’s Provincetown agenda. Barrels of funky clothes gather dust beside Halloween costumes, surplus china, and nautical gear.

“Where should I meet you, in twenty minutes?” Sven asked.

“Twenty minutes!” I squealed. “No, five. Ten?”

Provincetown Town Hall is still undergoing renovation, and I admired the fresh coat of light green paint and elegant off-white trim. Pedestrians were resting on benches out front, listening to a street musician play the guitar. A few couples passed holding hands since it was Women’s Week, but mostly the sidewalks were full of tourists, gawking at unusual objects in shop windows, like a pint-size I-Visited-Provincetown-With-My-Two-Moms t-shirt. I also saw many Provincetown natives, striding purposely to a specific destination. We backtracked through a narrow alleyway lined with guesthouses and clubs like Grand Central CafĂ© or A-House, one of the oldest pubs in the country. (For ambiance, click here.) On Bradford, a grouping of Barbies and Kens lounged by a makeshift pool. Sven commented that the Barbies were in pairs, as were the Kens, someone’s clin d’oeuil (wink,wink, nudge, nudge) at life in Provincetown.

On our way home, we stopped at Ruthie’s Boutique. We both missed the little old lady with the humungeous personality, gone almost a dozen years now. The thrift shop was neater, but less whimsical than in the old days, when Ruthie sat at the controls, riding shotgun. Its volunteer staffer also seemed weary. This has definitely been a long season. Thank goodness it’s almost over …