Monday, July 8, 2013

LOFT LIFE: Weekend Capers

I remember reading a Mary Higgins Clark mystery which took place in Cape Cod, and thinking, oh what an elaborate, charming vacation spot that would be. Then, of course, I grew up with the Kennedy’s retreating to their Hyannis Port compound, and admiring the jet set who could join them. It seemed so out of reach in my middle class, suburban Philadelphia life.     

We’ve now been to Cape Cod four times. We live two hours away, so it is an easy weekend destination. I have found out a lot about my fantasies of the area, and also learned things I would never have imagined.

Each time we visit we get more acclimated to the area. We are learning things about the islands. 

Not to get too technical, but I thought I might share just a few tidbits, from the viewpoint of a newbie, an outsider, to arm you for your own visit to The Cape,  and these might make it more enjoyable.

         First, Cape Cod is only referred to as an island because of the Cape Cod Canal, cutting through the peninsula to allow all but the stickler geographers to call it an island. This is why you must enter The Cape by auto over either the Bourne or the Sagamore Bridges.

But, beyond its geography, its dunes, its sandy beaches, its lighthouses, and its national landmarks, we have found it’s important to learn the language of this Boston escape.

For one thing, no one except the tourist and uninitiated would ever refer to the area as Cape Cod. It is The Cape. Like many Massachusetts names, it is abbreviated, i.e., Northampton is Hamp, avenues are aves, and even the state is called Mass by its natives. The Massachusetts Turnpike becomes the Mass Pike, and Massachusetts Avenue is Mass Ave. If you don’t normally talk this way, they know you’re a stranger, a visitor, a tourist, or at least from someplace else.

The insider track to The Cape is way more complicated. Upper and Lower Cape for instance, are not intuitive. Upper Cape would be, for the logical, the northern part of the island, but it is not. Perhaps that is because The Cape lays mostly east to west, with Provincetown (P-Town to those who know) stretching north. Still the far eastern and northern towns are in Lower Cape, and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket lie to the south across the Nantucket Sound. But, since we have not ventured to those yet, let’s stick to The Cape for now.    

We’re finding a kind of elitism when we talk to our friends in Mass about The Cape. When we tell them we are going for the weekend, they don’t say, “Oh we love The Cape.” They say, “Oh, where?” So the first time, when we were going to Falmouth in the Upper Cape, they simply smiled and said, “Oh that’s a nice town.”  When we confessed to Mid-Cape Dennis as our second destination, they indicated that maybe we would want to venture further next time. 

So when a Living Social deal came up, and our time shares in Falmouth and Dennis were not available (really the only reason we selected those towns), we thought, “Hmm, maybe Eastham will impress them more. Okay, I guess we might care just a tad that we have moved from, “Oh we are going to Cape Cod,” to “Oh, we’re going to Eastham on The Cape this weekend.” So rather than a few raised eyebrows, there were some definite nods of approval.

After our first Eastham visit, where we discovered the Atlantic Spice Co. in North Truro, some great coffee places in P-Town, and the PB Boulangerie Bistro in Wellfleet, up the road from Eastham, we were beginning to see why the snobbery about town choices. The people of Falmouth were lovely to us, and Dennis was fine. But, we are getting attached to Eastham, Wellfleet, and North Truro for their beaches, their shops, and their community spirit.   

The Town Crier Motel didn’t sound like a solid choice, but it turned out to be lovely, well-run and very homey. It is also next to Arnold’s, which we were to find out is one of the favorite seafood places. We love their beet salad, with arugula, candied walnuts and goat cheese.     

On our second visit to Town Crier, this time in June instead of October, we found Arnold’s much more crowded, so the two seats at the end of a long table, looked attractive. We begged to share the table with two women who gladly welcomed us to bring our beet salads and salmon to join them. Who says New Englanders are cold?    

After a half hour of friendly conversation, worth way more than a Tourist Center stop, we found ourselves nodding when this mother and daughter bragged that they had already been to Arnold’s three times in this summer getaway. The mom was from Eastham, and it was obvious she wished she had never moved away, and was glad to be back as a resident and town official.

Our Living Social included the buffet breakfast, which on Saturday morning was abbreviated from a full cooked breakfast to Continental fare, which we figured out happened because there was an important town meeting at 10:00 a.m. The owner, Judy, and Margaret, her front desk person, had been working hard to get votes for city water. Evidently there had already been lawsuits from contaminated well water problems. The vote failed by a small margin, much to their dismay. Judy even said she would have been willing to pay more than her share if the poorer residents couldn’t handle the levy to improve the water. This passion for their town allowed us to see how much this resort is also a residential community, with year-round living for locals who deeply care about community, safety, health--the things we from less fantastical places care about.

Since we are only weekend Capers, I am sure without this insight from our Arnold’s dinner and our breakfast at Judy’s place (Town Crier) we would have not appreciated this view.

We loved the perks Judy offered her Living Social guests--breakfast, Ben & Jerry’s up the street, bicycle rental, and a covered swimming pool. The rooms are clean and quiet, and the general maintenance is excellent. We lost our key at a visit to Pump House surf shop in Orleans. I had forgotten my bathing suit, and we were happy to find it open till 7 p.m. with a good selection for me to remedy my loss. The sales person, Jami, had delivered our key back to Town Crier by that evening, which told us, again, that this is a close-knit community. They know each other. Judy’s son said, “Well, we would have done the same thing for her.”


We were fortunate that our weekend was sunny--October had been rainy, so we decided to see Coast Guard Beach in Eastham first, and then ventured back to North Truro to see the HIghland Lighthouse.    

All of this makes us feel more attached. We were welcomed warmly, but we know it will take more visits to get to know these people better, and we plan to do just that. The Cape is no longer a fantasy. We are so blessed to make it a regular destination.