Okay, so I’ve been halfway there, done half of that. For my entire adult life, I’ve heard about Fire Island and Provincetown as being East Coast gay meccas. Last week I checked out Provincetown.
I realize the “optimal” time to visit is during the summer, but I figured it would be too crowded, too overwhelmingly gay for me. Too many people wanting to be on display and wanting to check out the other displays. Call it a hunch. So early October seemed reasonable. Foliage season. I was already going to Boston. Why not add P-town to the itinerary?
And my first impression was negative. Not too gay, but too touristy. My Cape Cod bed-and-breakfast was on the main street, Commercial, and I had to drive about ten miles per hour, braking constantly as pedestrians took to the middle of the road without a care in the world. Yes, there was signage telling drivers to yield to pedestrians, but at some point that notion can be abused. And that point had been passed! I was cranky by the time I reached my destination. Relieved I’d only arranged to stay one night, I fretted over how I’d spend even that limited period of time.
After checking in, I dutifully meandered, keeping to the sidewalk or the parking lane, modeling how cars and pedestrians can coexist. Really, it wasn’t so hard to do.
None of the shops enticed me but that was fine. I didn’t need a tchotchke to cram into my suitcase. Not even a nifty rainbow t-shirt from the Human Rights Campaign store. I drifted off the main drag and ended up on the beach, gazing at sailboats, puffins and the sea.
Okay, this place has something.
Based on a friend’s recommendation, I later drove to Herring Cove Beach to catch the sunset…and a seal that seemed to like an audience. (Maybe even the seals here are gay.) By nightfall, I was relaxed. But more than anything I looked forward to seeing Provincetown during an early morning jog, when shops would be closed and tourists would still be sleeping off a drink or two too many.
I caught the sunrise from the beach and then from a pier. I ran along Commercial Street, sharing it only with a few delivery trucks and the occasional dog walker. Everything seemed more charming without all that human clutter and clatter. The appeal of P-town started to make sense. Having it all to myself was glorious.
The rain waited until I’d finished my run. I headed up the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument—another recommendation from my friend—to get panoramic views of the area. Remarkably, I had the entire tower to myself as everyone else apparently presumed soggy views weren’t worth the climb. Sure, the raindrops on the windows at the top and the shower from the overhead made me keep my phone camera in my pocket but that served as a reminder that experiences are still worthy even though they are not documented on Instagram. Being the sole visitor was a wonderful contrast to when I fought for elbow room atop the Empire State Building last summer as people posed for selfies. This moment was perfect.
Most gay men would say I didn’t do it right. I missed out on the quintessential Provincetown experience. I wasn’t seen and I didn’t take in the gay scene. No gay bar, no gay-frequented restaurant, not even a conversation or an exchange of looks. I’m okay with that. I got what I wanted—a tamed visual of this gay haven and a solitary exploration.
If I ever return to Provincetown, maybe it will be in February, during the week, when shops are closed down for owners’ extended vacations, when vacancy signs are common and when there is absolutely no excuse for pedestrians walking in the middle of the street. The rainbow flags and the store windows will still remind me that I’m in a gay haven, even if the gays are all in Puerto Vallarta. That’s another mecca I suppose I should visit, whenever the off-season happens to be.