June has brought a nice routine to my life here. My work week starts of Friday morning, 7am sharp. I’m usually early to the restaurant, before the other server. I like the early quiet of Commercial Street. Hector, the sous chef, is busy downstairs in the prep kitchen and I can zone out and set up for service. The next four days proceed mostly the same; work, a chill-out, catch-up-on-communication time on the steps of Joel’s store, then a quick bike ride home. Now that the weather’s nice, I’ve started spending an hour or so at the end of the afternoon on the beach. Just me and the sun and the water. The water is cold, but not bracing. It refreshes and relaxes me. There are usually drinks somewhere — at Meg and Mo’s, or at Tea Dance or at Joel’s. Then usually I grab something to eat or come home and cook. I’m in bed by 10 most work nights and that’s fine with me. 5:45 comes early and 7 hours on my feet are no fun tired or hungover.
My days off have a nice pace as well. Tuesday is laundry day, either here at the condo association laundry room (cellar, actually) or at Joel’s. Errands are easy to do on foot or via the bike. And once a week I’ll drive to the grocery store to stock up. My going-out nights are usually Monday and Wednesday. Showgirls, the bawdy drag review is Monday and Fag Bash, the biggest night for Townies, is Wednesday in the basement of the Governor Bradford. There’s lots of dancing, socializing, kissing, drinking and general merriment. Then the work week begins again and the working population goes back to their jobs, some holding down 2, 3, 4 or even 5 at a time.
Add frequent waves of Atlanta visitors and summer is suddenly very interestingly busy. It’s a nice routine.
However, this weekend the “Season” kicks into high gear with Fourth of July festivities. The first gigantic wave of visitors will feature the young, overly-worked-out party boys knows as Circuit Queens. Then come the big, hirsute, overly-masculine men for Bear Week. Then another onslaught of women. Then Family Week. And so on until Carnival Week and then summer’s last big hurrah at Labor Day. They say if you can get through the Fourth, and its attendant attitude and angry overt sexuality, the rest is easy. I’ve been on that side of the coin and am looking forward to seeing things from a local’s perspective.
In other news, Joel and I catered our first wedding last Monday. We were asked by two friends to help them host the marriage ceremony for their best friends and serve the wedding meal on their new patio. The picture above is the table, set for dinner. Joel crafted the amazing driftwood chandelier and my 4-course meal was a huge success. The mood was set with 3 dozen votives, peonies floated in bowls, beach stones for place markers and a 2-hour playlist of beautiful songs, each chosen to reflect the love and peace of the evening. That dinner struck a nerve, opened my eyes to some opportunity and has my head working towards what might be next summer’s occupation. Stay tuned.
I’m still crying an average of once a day. Today, 3 times.
To Steve Bell, I sure do like my emotions at the surface. Thanks for starting the process some 9 years ago. You are a joy in my life.
One of the very first things about Provincetown that appealed to me was how genuinely friendly people were. The other tourists were nice. Service people in shops smiled. People smiled on their bikes. It just seemed that everyone was so unbelievably happy and kind. And it kept on being like that for the 12 years I continued to visit.
My friend Joel and I used to fantasize about moving here and one thing we’d laugh about was that once we got here, we’d see behind the Wizard’s curtain and our seemingly idyllic little Oz would be exposed for what it really was….a tiny place full of back biters and gossips and petty people.
Well, everyone gossips, but in the best possible way.
I have never lived in a place where people are so genuinely kind and caring. Folks look out for each other. They run errands out of niceness. They check on the old neighbor lady. They ask about your dinner party. They’re interested in your “story” and happy to bring over something wonderful they cooked up. I’ve yet to lock the door. And on a deeper level, they look out for what’s right and important in their community. I overheard a man in the liquor store the other day explaining to the clerk, in the nicest possible way, that they should limit what they sold his friend, who was having a particularly bad streak of luck and a difficult battle with schizophrenia. When’s the last time your friend went to bat for you like that, when you couldn’t help yourself? It rarely happens in our modern lives.
I would theorize the reasons for this. The most apparent and most practical is that it really is a two street town, both streets stretching 4 miles long and 2 blocks deep. Everyone knows everyone. People see each other 2,3,4 times a day on Commercial St. There’s no anonymity to speak of, unless you venture out to the National Seashore or further down Cape. It’s the very best of small town America, albeit with a liberal streak a mile (er, two blocks) wide. The other, more metaphysical reason for this is that I suspect that the shape of the Cape, its swirling wrap that points back on itself, is a sort of karmic boomerang, deflecting and redirecting whatever energy one puts out almost instantly back upon oneself.
As a friend says, “Karma’s a bitch, y’all.” It’s easy here to stay on the right side of that coin!
I have a term for the system of services one relies upon in their day-to day, domestic lives (the dry cleaner, the barber/stylist, the bank, the grocery store, the dentist, the house cleaner….), the seemingly insignificant, mostly mundane parts of our lives that remain in the background until they’re missing or they go awry. “Personal Infrastructure.” It’s the things that we consciously choose to keep our lives functioning properly and relatively hassle-free.
Well, leaving my home of 20 years has meant saying goodbye to a really top-notch, highly reliable Personal Infrastructure.
The first piece of the new puzzle to figure out here was, of course, the grocery store. It’s a Stop and Shop. It has a not-so-pleasant history as a Grand Union and an A&P and who-knows-what-else. Stuck out at the end of the Cape, this space was mostly neglected by whomever its parent company happened to be. At some point, the good citizens of the Lower Cape raised enough ruckus that the powers that be at the Stop and Shop chain took notice and ramped up the service and selection of this, the only store that serves the 3 outermost communities of Cape Cod. I think I’ve about mastered its odd assortment of goods and indecipherable layout. This makes me very happy. Quickly finding the Horseradish is critical!
The second piece of the puzzle was a decent bike shop. Since Gary (Fisher, the mountain bike), is my primary means of transportation, his health and well-being are crucial. I’d been a rental patron of a West Side bike shop ever since my first visit, but even after 15 years of multiple rentals the owner never really warmed up. Then, as Provincetown Fate would have it, a couple of summers ago, I met the owner of the downtown bike shop over a lunch beer at the Lobster Pot and he’s remembered my name ever since. Done. Gary now is in his tender care.
Third was banking. Since there’s only one bank with real, live people in town, I choose Seamen’s Bank. Locally owned, locally operated, fiscally sound, it’s a nice place to drop my tip money off each week. I’ve banked “remote” for 25 years so it’s nice to actually walk into the bank and speak to a real live person. This greatly outweighs the fact that the bank’s technology is very 1998.
Lastly, and probably most important in this Infrastructure Rebuilding process, has been the haircut. Getting my hair cut ranks up there with the Best Of Days. Nothing makes me feel quite as happy as a good cut. It’s a wonderful renewal, a nice relaxation time and a good ego boost. Holly’s been cutting my hair for 8 years, and before her, David for 12. I love my stylists, they’re close friends and important people in my life. So this change I met with particular anxiety. And today I went. To someone new. Of course, this being Ptown, I know him 12-ways to Sunday: he cuts 3 or 4 friends’ hair, he went to school with Holly’s cousin, he’s a fellow Southerner, etc, etc, etc. And once again, the Cape provides. I got a great haircut, had a really nice time, relaxed in the chair and was charmed by the newest member of my Personal Infrastructure.
Life is good!
I’ve been here a month. And in that month, I’ve:
* Settled comfortably and happily into 350 square feet of living space
* Spent 20 hours in my car with a good deal of my belongings, including a blond boufant wig and a Gary Fisher mountain bike
* “Customized” the bike for appropriate town riding (plastic rain bonnet and rubber ducky horn)
* Eaten at the Lobster Pot no fewer than 6 times
* Met close friends of ex-Presidents
* Thought seriously about sleeping with two women…at once
* Watched the fog roll in and roll out…almost daily
* Seen some really good drag
* Worn some really bad drag
* Eaten less
* Worked out less
* Drank more
* Been happy being quiet
* Made new friends
* Become close with acquaintances
* Become closer with close friends
* Put more miles on my bike than my car (like, far more)
* Learned to properly mark a table for dinner service
* Missed a wedding I truly wish I hadn’t
* Learned of new weddings among friends
* Become a wedding planner
* Planted an appropriate potager
* Become a Words With Friends fiend
* Cried almost daily
* Not looked back
For the past several years, I’ve been pre-occupied with the thought that owning my own restaurant would be something I’d like to do. It might have been the act of dreaming-up, designing and renovating the awful kitchen at 394 Fifth St that cemented my passion for food, entertaining, hosting and preparing a meal. About the same time that kitchen was transformed, things began their slow deterioration at work and my therapy was found behind the green slate island, cooking, listening to music, drinking, planning meals and hosting my friends. It suited me and most certainly still does.
I don’t know, but maybe in a move to legitimize my move up here, or to maybe actually pursue something different, I’ve thought that the next logical step would be to open my own place in Provincetown. Doing that here, much more that other places, is chock-full-of-challenges: Zoning rules. Sewage (outflow) capacity issues. Real estate costs. Quality staff. Seasonal vs. Year-Round. The list goes on and on and on. But what the hell, I’ve never been completely rational about my choices.
And so I came here, on a hunch that a newly-opened place needed a manager. I’ve managed a wildly successful breakfast and lunch spot in Atlanta and felt somewhat confident that I could parlay that to the next level, managing a dinner spot under the guidance of a hands-on owner. I thought I had found that place and was completely honest when I pitched the owner on my motives, my goals and where I was in my life. It worked and I was basically offered the position (I was on the schedule before I walked through the door that first trial night).
But, because of a string of bad circumstances, the owner wanted more from me than I was willing to give. 50 stated hours a week, all evenings, would be my schedule. A previous manager’s poor performance meant extra effort up front so in reality I would have been looking at 60+ hours a week, living and breathing someone else’s dream. Part of this motivation for this move was to figure out what it was I wanted to do and this job most likely would not allow that. It was a tough call, but I declined the offer. We parted professional ways but since have developed a really nice friendship which, most likely, would not have been so had I been managing that place.
So the job with the red-hot Boston restauranteur was passed on. I was completely honest with the owner and myself. My conscious was clear but the silence in my head was numbing. Had I really just been so dumb, so stupid as to pass up this career-making chance?
Then, that afternoon, on the street, a friend ran up to me and said “Devon needs help! Go speak to him, I told him you’d stop by.” I love Devon’s, a standby on the East End that serves an excellent breakfast and a fine dinner. So I caught him painting his front porch, introduced myself and mentioned that I’d like to help out, wait tables, host, whatever.
And here I am, working mornings at his place, consistently charmed by its small size, amazed at the chef’s tenderness and nurturing nature, so interested in watching the team develop. I immediately see each and every person’s importance to the operation of the whole and am impressed by Devon’s attention to everything and his genuine goodness. It’s gets a bit crazy in a way that only breakfast service can get, but I’m happy at where I’ve landed. And mostly, I like my quiet bike ride to work, glancing over to the left at the ever-changing harbor, not really minding the early hour.
When I left Atlanta, Spring’s climax was gone and the mercury had begun to creep. The mornings in Mercersburg and Cranbury were chilly but there were leaves on the trees and things were generally green. What a difference as I travelled north into New Jersey and New York. The day was gray and cold as the familiar skyline rose to greet me. I took Susan’s advice, coupled with Joel’s and found my way to the Merritt Parkway. I clipped along the tree-lined route at a nice 75 mph. Traffic was light and I imagined I was on some sort of American Autobahn. I made good time into Connecticut and Rhode Island. Crossing into Massachusetts it began to rain and landscape went dead. It rained most of the way out the Cape but I was happy to be ending the long 20 hours in the car. The sun made an appropriate appearance as I descended the hill at Truro, Provincetown in sight. Town was bleak and empty, still groggy under its winter pall. It felt like sneaking in before the big show.
The drive from central Pennsylvania to Philadelphia is beautiful. I’d never seen that part of the world until that Monday morning. It reminded me very much of East Tennessee. I was on the PA Turnpike and had a brief scare when I got so low on gas that the “refuel now” light came on. With limited access to the highway, the next service plaza was still several miles down the road. I made it, but just barely. I could see it all flash before my eyes…a car laden down with all my belongings, including a blond boufant wig and a bike, broke down and janky at the side of the road. Pretty.
The trip was short and I got off find Susan’s and drive through Princeton. I’m normally good with directions but not this time. The Jersey Turnpike confused me and I ended up seeing much more of Princeton than I had wanted. The trusty iPhone and its GPS function got me to Cranbury without further delay. I got to her place, got a ride in and showered before she arrived. We cooked dinner and caught up on the porch over several bottles of wine.
Susan is one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since I was a junior in High School. She was Eleanor’s coach and she, her star pupil. Teeter kept a close, protective eye on Eleanor but apparently I passed the test as we became fast friends on a houseboat with beer in the middle of Ft. Loudon Lake. She serenaded me with “Soldier Boy” as I prepared to go off to Auburn on my ROTC scholarship. As fate would have it, she followed me there after taking the assistant swim coach job. As my freshman year unfolded, she roped me into managing the team, ironed my shirts, took me to football games and became a good friend and drinking buddy. Our friendship has been an easy one to pick up on over the years as we both have lived our lives. Susan has done extremely well as the head women’s coach at Princeton, becoming one of the winningest coaches in college swimming. I am so proud of her but love to bust her chops when her head gets a bit big and the cockiness begins to show. I love it all, nonetheless.
Her friendship is a constant that tells me that I’ve done something right with my life. It reminds me of what I’m capable of. Through whatever — Navy, Coming Out, changing careers — she’s always been interested, supportive, objective and encouraging. Our visit this time was no different. It was rich and full and close. When she left for a class in the City on Wednesday, she grabbed both hands and looked me in the eye and told me she wished me luck and that she loved me. That’s the kind of person she is, a straight shooter who’s never been afraid to look at herself or others squarely in the eye. The way it should be.
The drive North was fantastic. I got away from Matt and Stephen’s at exactly eight. Traffic was light and the sky bright blue. I took note of the skyline with the thought of comparing changes at some future date. Miles fell away quickly. The music was good. I answered the phone occasionally to chat with well-wishing friends. Connie made a care package and her delicious scones became my mid-morning snack each day.
The drive on I-77 from North Carolina was exceptional. I guess I’d never really crossed the Blue Ridge mountains except near Charlottesville. But the drive up past Mt. Airy, North Carolina and into Virginia was spectacular. Virginia, always lush and green and welcoming, did not fail. I made it a point to call my sister and share with her the beauty of her beloved native state. I called my Mom on Mother’s Day as I passed Roanoke, where I was born.
The drive up the Shenandoah Valley was equally as gorgeous, if not long and clogged with traffic. I didn’t mind, I was happy. I had to chuckle as the clichés popped into my head….the road was full of promise, my future stretched out before me, I was on a journey and on the road to happiness….etc, etc, etc. Before I left, Matt convinced me to stay at his father and stepmother’s in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.
I was nervous about asking but Matt made the matter a done deal by arranging it himself and convinced me that their house was one where short-notice comings-and-goings were normal and welcome. He did not disappoint. Susan left dinner and the makings for gin and tonic and a nice note. I unpacked, made myself a drink and waited on the porch for her, Ron and Grandma to return from celebrating Mother’s Day. The sun slipped behind the Pennsylvania hills and I relaxed on the porch of this big, lovely, comfortable home.
Matt’s family is just that: family. They were warm and easy and gracious in their hospitality and made me feel immediately welcome. All 3 were interested in my “journey” and we talked for a nice couple of hours. I was up early and, again at Matt’s prompting, had asked Grandma to cook me breakfast. I walked the 3 blocks to her house, arrived at the back door and after a few minutes was greeted by this amazing 89-year old woman. We laughed because, confused, she had gone to the front door. The ice was immediately broken and we talked about her service in World War II, Matt and Stephen’s marriage, Mercersburg Academy, The Cape and a hundred other things. Tough, fair and lovely, Grandma made me miss and love my Nennie that much more. And her steamed eggs taught me a thing or two about simplicity and simple hospitality.
I didn’t linger and met Ron later at the school for a tour of the new “Gym.” Well, Mercersburg Academy does nothing half-way, and this athletic complex, which I had seen under construction last summer at a memorial service, surely is a diamond among prep-school “gyms.” It rivals collegiate facilities. Ron’s pride in guiding its construction was very evident and he appreciated my interest. Ron’s a big man and when I was leaving, gave me a big hug, enveloping me in his big arms. It was truly wonderful and totally unexpected. And with a head full of love, I was on the road to Princeton.
To be honest, the last year at work I did as little as I could. The lack of motivation was a product of deep dissatisfaction with my job, little interest in the daily tasks, a mind that wandered to other things and too much money coming in. I got very proficient at doing the least amount of work without getting caught. So it was somewhat natural that I felt no guilt, when, starting on the Monday I resigned, I began working half days, often leaving for a farewell lunch with some friend or other, capping it off with a couple of beers or glasses of wine. Lunch was followed by a nap and the gym or a ride. Then cocktails. The living was easy. Everyone should live that life, let me tell ya.
But after my last “day,” things got crazy busy. Packing up a home of 15 years is no easy task. 15 years of junk. 15 years of stuff. 15 years of memories. My days began at 7 with coffee and a review of everything that had to be done that day. Each day was dependent on what was accomplished the previous day. The hard, absolute deadlines that approached were the movers, the walk-through with my tenant and my departure. I worked all morning, breaking for another farewell lunch, then worked all afternoon until dinner. The gym and bike fell by the wayside. Dinners were with friends, often going late into the night with much drink and celebration. And the next day I did it all again. The days were full and rewarding on every level. I stuck to my moving budget and never felt panicked or behind schedule. Everything was orchestrated right up until I got in the car Sunday morning and left Matt & Stephen’s for the drive North. One appointment fell through the cracks but that was it. I was firing on all cylinders, hitting every step with confidence and purpose. It was wonderful.
Several things stand out to me about leaving: Matt and Stephen’s overwhelming hospitality, understanding and help. Walt and Philip’s generosity and support. A dinner with Marjorie and Annie when I realized how much worlds collide and how lucky and wonderful connections are. The genuine and warm 20-year friendship easily picked up with Pattie. Su and Jill’s gentle shove and cheerleading from the sidelines. Dale’s tears the last night. Really too much to recount. Lots of love and lots of history passing before my eyes. And an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for these remarkable friendships, gestures and words.
Then I got in an over-loaded Jetta and left at 8 sharp on a gorgeous Sunday morning and headed north. I popped the CDs Stacey made for me into the player and rock-and-rolled my way North. I felt very much like I did the day I got in different Volkswagen 24 years prior and drove North to begin my Navy stint. Only this time, the fear and dread were replaced by joy and love.