A pilgrim’s progress
September 27, 2013
I just returned from an interesting vacation in the mysterious East. We flew to Boston, then biked down Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. It’s always good to see someplace different, though the language barrier was more difficult than I had imagined. We took a ferry from Boston to Provincetown, on the tip of the Cape. Provincetown is a typical little New England fishing village, very old and quaint, done over as a gay-sex theme park. There was a banner across the main street announcing a performance called "Five Lesbians Eat a Quiche," sponsored by the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. A shop advertised that they had "more toys than sinners to use them." The T-shirts were made of leather. The Pilgrims first landed at Provincetown. I suspect they took one look at the half-naked natives and pulled up anchor. They kept going until they reached Plymouth, on the other side of the bay.
We stayed a couple of nights at an incredible resort down the shore, and biked along the Atlantic side of the Cape. A friend, who had grown up in the general area, complained that there are too many trees in the East. I first thought this was sacrilege, but after biking hours where the only thing you could see on either side was woods so thick you couldn’t drive a Lyme tick through them, I began to wish I had brought my chain saw along. It was always nice to find a little town where we could break out into the open and actually see that there was an ocean out there.
I’ve heard about Nantucket all my life, and not just in ribald limericks, so it was fun to visit. I had done some reading in advance, and according to The Boston Globe’s travel writer, one of the top-ten things to do on Nantucket is to wear red pants. I didn’t understand. It turns out that Nantucket is an island made from a huge pile of old money. When the masters of the universe arrive at their vacation homes on the island, they really cut loose and wear red pants. There were stores packed with them, whole walls of red pants, pre-faded, and available plain or with whales embroidered on them. They were available in long or short pants.
A couple of people in our group with ties back there came prepared with their own red pants, and wore them without any sense of irony. It turns out that Nantucket is so staid that wearing red pants really is something to do.
Martha’s Vineyard was a much livelier place, with a few "real" towns and communities of full time residents. It also was colorful. With the exception of the red pants, Nantucket is colorless. The houses are all weathered gray shingle-sided. Martha’s Vineyard was painted up in bright colors, with carpenter Gothic-style houses everywhere. I began to wonder if both the carpenters and the house painters were on some kind of acid trip. There were some beautiful beaches, and I braved a quick dip in the Atlantic, even though it was too cold to stay in the water for long.
We took a side trip to Chappaquiddick Island and found the bridge where Teddy Kennedy rolled his car (a black Olds, according to Wikipedia) into a tiny, shallow pool and left his mistress there to drown. There was no monument to what is referred to as the "Chappaquiddick Incident." The bridge appears to have been recently replaced.
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We took another ferry to Woods Hole, and then rode a rail trail to Plymouth. The rail trail out on the Cape actually had two roundabouts in it. I thought it was just some landscaper gone wild. But on the stretch from Woods Hole to Plymouth, on a sunny Saturday, there were so many people that roundabouts were necessary, and a full cloverleaf interchange wouldn’t be out of line. The traffic on the rail trail runners, baby strollers, skateboarders, bikes, dog walkers, you name it was so thick that it looked like a stadium emptying out after a game. I would have felt safer on the freeway.
We made a stop at Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims established a land of freedom and tolerance (except for the Irish), so long as everybody towed the Puritan line. It took them a few years to get into the witch-burning business, but they managed to run the Catholics off to Rhode Island right from the get-go. Plymouth Rock itself has been moved around several times. A big chunk of it broke off and went missing. They have done a reasonable job of splicing a new piece on. Snow globes are on sale at Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe across the street.
Boston was 200 years old before Salt Lake City existed. But the history still feels very accessible there.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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