In my entire life, I can recall hearing about Provincetown exactly once. It was three days before I got there, when my friend Marc in Washington D.C. told me I would like it. No other description, no other mention by anyone previously.
Situated as it is on the very end of the Cape Cod peninsula, I assumed it would be something of a rich, white, tourist trap. Which in many ways it is. It has the same overpriced parking, the same quaint bed & breakfasts, the same pedestrian main street, the same fudge shops, the same busking musicians and human statues. What Provincetown also has, however, is hundreds and hundreds of vacationing gay couples. As such, it’s got advertisements for gay dating sites on the back of the pedicabs, rainbow flags hung between buildings, leather sex shops next to the fine art boutiques, and drag queens standing outside the theaters passing out flyers for their nightly review shows.
I had spent the day driving up the arm of Cape Cod and being generally unimpressed. I did see a pretty neat old house that dates back to the mid-1600s, but in general most of the local attractions seemed to appeal to people with much more time, disposable income and/or luggage space. Parking in Provincetown was clearly a problem, so I stopped at the first cute-looking inn with signs indicating both vacancy and parking. After setting my stuff down in my room, I walked the main tourist drag of the colloquially called P-Town looking for dinner. It was still on the early side, so I took my time wandering past the shops. It still amazes me how much seeing gay couples makes me happy. Any place that a gay couple can feel comfortable showing their affection for each other must be a place that will welcome me too – or so the thinking goes. It occurs to me that this will eventually go away as acceptance grows. Before you know it, the most bigoted and harsh neighborhoods in the country will have openly gay couples. Perhaps they’ll just have the harsh, bigoted ones? It’s funny to think that in some respects that’s exactly what we’re fighting for: to live in a world where gay people are so accepted that they are free to be intolerant.
I was walking along the pedestrian drag when I saw a shot glass in a store window. I have been trying very hard to keep my shot glass collection in check during this trip, knowing that I have to carry whatever I buy around in my car. I don’t buy anything from places my friends and family are likely to visit (since they might pick up a shot glass for me as a souvenir), and I don’t buy anything too simple or ordinary. The shot glass I purchased in P-Town falls into both of these categories. It’s very possible people I know will visit this area, and it’s a very typical shot glass. Standard size, clear glass, with an attractive yet modest design. The reason I bought it was that it was being sold in a Human Rights Campaign store, and it occurred to me that I might live to see the day where such shops are completely unnecessary, at least in the United States. My little shot glass has one small square with an equals sign in it. I’ve got a lot of cool and interesting shot glasses in my collection of over 200, but this may be the first one that has the power to truly date itself. I certainly hope it does. I hope one day I have to explain what the equals sign means to some little child who doesn’t know of a time when who you love was cause for discrimination.
For some reason the tourist atmosphere in Provincetown doesn’t bother me the way it does in some other places. There are still old people that walk too slow and families with kids that yell and scream. It’s still impossible to find a decent parking spot and there are shops full of things I don’t want to buy. But I enjoyed my evening strolling through Provincetown more than most. It’s calm and happy for no reason in particular. At one point I watched an older woman swim straight out into the ocean while wearing a hat. She kept her head above water the whole time. I watched for several minutes, but she showed no signs of turning back.
I bought a ticket to a drag show since it seemed to be the thing to do. The show was called Illusions, and we were encouraged by the emcee to get the dollar bills out of our wallets as the performers love accepting tips. “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” she told us. There were about five performers in all, each doing at least two changes. Occasionally the very entertaining emcee would come out to get the crowd laughing. Her performances were among my favorites, and it didn’t hurt that she did both Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, two of my aesthetic pop favorites. Other performers busted out the likes of Pink, Cher, and the unexpected Gretchen Wilson.
Afterwards I ducked into a fudge shop for a late night snack, and saw a pair of young Russian tourist girls wearing adorable fake mustaches and filling entire baskets with candy.
The next morning I walked downstairs to enjoy the continental breakfast. All of the other guests (as well as the hotel owners) were committed, middle-aged gay men. In my experience men in this category are among the most pleasant of conversationalists. I told them all about my trip, including my stop at the Westboro Baptist Church. They were fascinated and wished me well on my journey. I drove out of town, passing many a beach house on my way.
I think there is something unmistakably leisurely about Cape Cod in general and Provincetown specifically. Perhaps it’s from my years of hearing characters in books and movies talk about “going to Cape Cod for the weekend.” It conjures up a life of such ease. The kind of life where one can simply go places for the weekend. Where weekends aren’t filled with errands or obligations or catching up on your sleep. Instead, they are a chance to get away from the dullness of a worry-less life, the kind of life filled with weekday lunches and club memberships and Great Gatsbys. Yet the undeniable liberal culture in Provincetown takes the stuffy edge off what might otherwise be a vacation town for the One Percent. I feel certain I will find some excuse to return to Cape Cod, if for no other reason than to show one of my fellow West Coasters what the big deal is. Maybe we’ll rent a beach house, take in a drag show, or buy some name brand leather whips. And we’ll talk about how nice it is to get away from the heat of the city and into the fresh ocean air. We’ll talk about it like it’s something strange and unusual. I suppose we’ll talk like we’re from New York City.