An essay based off my favorite tradition: annual family vacation to Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Written November 2014 objected to be a "sensory place" piece. Assigned by Prof. Dina Bozicas, UMass Lowell.
“Hey, who is living better than us right now?” my cousin Jason routinely asks us all whenever we’re out at Race Point in Cape Cod. “No one, that’s who.”
It would be safe to say that we’re a beach family. For more than 25 years, my aunt and uncle have owned a coffee shop in the heart of Provincetown (right across the street from the big anchor near the pier). The Coffee Pot has blessed us with a place to stay in North Truro with views of the ocean and tons of street credit with the locals. Growing up I’d spend most summer weekends out on The Cape, but as jobs and responsibilities caught up with my age, my vacation time has been limited to the week of July 4th every year. I'd do some sick shit to change that.
Being raised (for 1/4th of the year) on the tip of The Cape has absolutely turned me into a beach snob. I hold myself to be “too good” for commercialized beaches where you have to carry your chairs and coolers a mile to the beach, just to set up camp two feet away from a family with six crying children and a couple putting on an X-rated show. If all you can smell is grease from dozens of fast food joints on the boardwalk then no thank you. My family and I are always asking each other, “what would ever make one think to go on a week long vacation to Hampton Beach?”
The bottom line is that if you haven’t deflated your tires, driven over sand, and parked your four-wheel-drive right in-front of the water, then you’ve never really been to the beach. You can’t beat the convenience of taking your kayaks and fishing poles right off the roof and not having to carry them more than ten feet to the water. We park our cars parallel with the ocean and set our tents and blankets up right in between. A $150 over-sand permit sticker on the back of the truck grants us access to drive on any beach on Cape Cod’s national seashore for the entire summer. Almost every day during that beloved week we pack my dad’s Suburban and my cousin’s Grand Cherokee with family and close friends and make our way out to the most beautiful place in the world: Race Point.
If you’re familiar with Provincetown than you know it’s the liveliest town of all of Cape Cod. It has high end boutiques, incredible dining, along with art galleries, night clubs and drag shows galore. However, if you venture all the way out to the very end of Route 6, you’ll find a refuge from the downtown tourism madness. You drive about a half mile through the rolling sand dunes and pass the historic Race Point lighthouse, eventually getting to the beach where you have miles of sand to chose from. Since you’re at the very end of Cape Cod, the beach boasts 180 degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, protected sand dunes, and ships sailing in and out of Provincetown Harbor. You smell nothing but saltwater in the crisp air. Being out on Race Point is enjoying the ocean the way nature intended.
My family and I will spend the entire day out there without getting sick of it. We can enjoy time together while still doing our own thing. My sister brings her easel and sketch pad to paint the sailboats, while my stepmom and aunts gossip and tend to my very active baby cousins. My dad, uncles, and brother kayak out to drop fishing lines or compare the different types of liquor they brought along (we all usually kick it with some Tito’s), while I tan, read, or kick around a soccer ball. We can enjoy time together while still doing our own thing.
Being there comes with a sense of freedom. Freedom to bring your dog, to blast Zac Brown Band CD's on constant loop, to build bonfires out of driftwood, and to drink (our general rule is to just use a koozie if you’re underaged). No one around you cares what you’re doing unless they want to join in on the giant beach volleyball game you have going, or perhaps, if they have food to barter because the chourico on the grill smells really good.
The beach is so isolated that cell phone service is non existent for miles. You’re completely surrounded by nature here and that is what is so appealing to my family. We can appreciate the simpler things in life and not rely on technology or unnecessary commodities. If you need to use the bathroom you dig a hole behind the truck. All the food you eat you prepare by yourself. There is nothing like casting out a fishing line, sticking the pole in the sand as you read, reeling in 30 inch striper fish, and then scaling and preparing it for dinner, all right there on the beach. It’s all feels so primeval. You know where your food came from.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever won at a stag party,” my laid-back father will always say, referring to his portable George Forman grill, followed by one of his signature contagious belly-laughs. That grill has cooked up hundreds of the best cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and steaks I’ve ever had, and his laugh automatically takes every corny joke he’s ever told and makes it hilarious. Everything just taste a little better when you’re out there. Everything is more funny.
Our beach trips are undoubtedly my favorite family tradition. I love sharing this experience with people who have never been to Race Point. Nothing beats the astonished look on their face when they see the lighthouse surrounded by tall grass for the first time, or when they see their first seal pop his head out of the crashing waves, or when the inevitable drunken fireside dance party begins and strangers join in on the fun.
Most people don’t realize the significant moments in their life as their happening. It isn’t usually until future reflection that you realize how special a moment was to you. Here, that’s not the case. All day you’re reminded of how good you have it. It must be something about the air. After seeing your first sunset on Race Point you’re done. The sky lights up with shades of pink, purple, and oranges that you didn’t know existed as the disappearing sun reflects it all on the endless Atlantic. Whales can actually be seen breaching out of the water as if you’re really just watching a final scene of Free Willy. You know, right then and there, how fleeting this moment is in time and you long for a pause button. But when it’s all said and done, after the sun has set, the bonfire slowly starts to kick, the best Independence Day fireworks you’ve ever seen are over with, and it’s time to pack up, you realize that this perfect beach day will last forever in your memory anyways.
After all, how could I forget the time it took my dad and Tio Tony fifteen minutes to reel in a massive blue fish? My dad, in his navy Cabo San Lucas bucket hat and polarized fishing sunglasses, wasn’t even phased that his swim shorts were exposing half of his ass-crack. To this day, the thought of my sister’s mortified face as a very eccentric and even more intoxicated woman sat at our bonfire and began ruthlessly hitting on her still puts me in stitches. I’ll never be able to look at a kayak again without being reminded of the time a fish popped out of the water as we were paddling out and my cousin Jordan was so startled that she practically flipped the boat over.
One day, the beach will have eroded and I won’t be able to show my grandchildren where some of my fondest memories have taken place. They won’t be able to walk on the rocky sand where I had my first Twisted Tea, ate the first fish I ever caught, and hopefully got married. I will only have stories of my family’s never ending conversations, pictures of the darkest tans I’ve ever gotten, and descriptions that would never even begin to do the breathtaking landscape any justice. They’ll just have to trust me that during these family trips to Race Point, there was no one living as lavishly as we were.