Friday, August 13, 2010

The Crazy, Hazy Days of Early August

Above, Main Street this morning, blissfully empty at eight a.m. Around the second week of August, Wellfleet gets as crowded as Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe. No place to run. No place to hide. Tourists everywhere. I have concluded the incredible numbers of people - our town goes from 3000 to 21000 in summer - is due to the fact 72% of the homes now belong to non-residents. At least half have children who attend camp in July. The first two weeks of August the kids get to spend here, en famille.

This influx is tolerable because natives know it does not last. The crowds on Main Street or at the beach and the long lines at local restaurants will be gone by September. We try to ignore the craziness and hunker down, waiting for spaces to become available in the town hall parking lot. (The feeling is like diving underwater and holding one’s breath for as long as possible. When I rise to the surface again, perhaps Wellfleet will have become itself again?)

By August, the relationship between business folks in town and summer visitors is characterized by ambivalence, a situation that is not optimal for a tourist town. The business folks are supposed to always wear a smile, to say “Sure!” to any request. Shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and innkeepers need the tourists to survive. This reminds me of "mutualism" in the ocean, where “cleaner shrimp" promote the well-being of a host fish, the zebra moray eel. Tourists are Wellfleet's cleaner shrimp.

I went into town this morning early to buy chocolate milk at Wellfleet Marketplace for the eight-year old from Italy in Liberty Coin Suite. The place was already buzzing with trucks unloading merchandise. I saw harried men with hastily-written lists in hand, women with children, rubbing their eyes, summer-work-force teenagers present to grab breakfast. Some of the shelves were still empty from yesterday.

The cashier told me Newcomb Hollow was crowded at 11 pm and a dozen bonfires were lit. The night beach was absolutely beautiful, she said. Must have been a sight to see. Such things never happen the rest of the year. I guess that's another positive side to the tourist influx. The summer visitors allow natives to discover new things to wonder at in our already beautiful little town ...