The prompt for the Chatham Memoir Writers Group this week was to write a memoir about surviving an incident in your life, or surviving Cape Cod. My story follows.
Before hearing the suggested prompt last Friday, I don’t believe I had ever given much thought to surviving Cape Cod. I came to the Cape for the first time in September of 1976 to spend a long weekend with friends who had a home in Chatham. My wife and I honeymooned in Provincetown in 1980. We made a couple of long weekend trips after that, then spent a week when our sons were in high school. On all of those trips, I remember us having a wonderful time, I have no memory of having “survived” a visit to the Cape. After purchasing a home on the Cape, we have gained a greater appreciation of what it means to survive it.
Surviving the Drive to the Cape
When we purchased our home in Chatham in May of 2014, my wife and I were still working and living northeast of Philadelphia. Long weekends and vacations would be spent in Chatham. The drive, under the best conditions, should take 7 hours from door to door. We almost achieved that target once when we made it to our vacation home in 7.5 hours. Just once. The closest we would get after that one time, was a journey of 10 hours. There were a couple of trips around holidays that took from 12 to 13 hours to complete. Arriving at our house in the wee hours of the morning, after a grueling drive through Connecticut, would leave us about as energetic as a discarded and flattened nip bottle. After recovering and enjoying our time on the Cape, the drive back to Pennsylvania seemed to go faster. Much to our dismay.
A job transfer to Alabama presented even more of a challenge and required pinpoint logistical planning. Long weekends were out of the question, it was an 18 hour drive from Huntsville to Chatham – 12 hours alone getting through Connecticut. My wife and cats would spend the summers in Chatham, I would fly up every other weekend. All that ended when we began living here full time in February 2019, just in time for a snowstorm, good thing I remembered how to work a snowblower. Which brings me to…
Surviving the Cape Weather
Over the course of our job related moves, we lived in two states that were prone to severe weather conditions in the form of tornadoes. Relatively flat areas with tornado warning sirens and workplaces with huge yellow signs that directed employees to basement shelters. We were fortunate to have never experienced a tornado while living in those states. However, in July of 2019, now living in Chatham full time, we had to scramble to our basement for shelter from a tornado that passed less than two miles from our house. Over the next 3 years, the loss of trees, tree tops and a gazillion branches to the high winds that buffet the Cape, and the occasional Nor’easter encouraged us to cut down most of the trees in our yard.
Surviving the Tourists
It is great to live in a place that so many people love to vacation at. But from Memorial Day to Labor Day, be aware that it is almost impossible to make a left turn, be wary at four way stops because some people don’t stop, be wary at pedestrian crossings because some drivers do not yield. The traffic circles, roundabouts, rotaries – whatever you want to call them – are as heart stopping as any amusement park thrill ride. . Watch for the unwieldy bicyclist, or the experienced ones who rocket through road crossings without stopping. Expect people at Stop & Shop to yell at you if you take a piece of fruit they were eyeing, or taking your cart when you are waiting at the deli counter. Tourists, can’t live without ‘em, and it is truly an experience trying to live with them.
Surviving the Great White Sharks
Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket & Martha’s Vineyard are now called the Summer Home of The Great White Shark. I believe that the Cape & Islands have developed a very good shark detection and warning system, but it is still a good idea to not swim in isolated areas.
There is, however, a silver lining; no, rather a pot of diamonds and gold as you negotiate these hazards. As my wife says, the longer we live here, the real Cape unfolds itself and presents a number of treasures. You can join one of the fabulous writing groups and/or art programs. The beaches are amazing, fantastic summer theater productions at the Wellefleet Harbor Actors Theater and Cape Playhouse, art shows, Farmer’s Markets. You can travel the Pilgrim Trail, from the initial landing in Provincetown to their excursions along the outer Cape. One can get out on the water via the many harbor tours, whale watches, ecological kayak tours, you name it. Visit the great Heritage Museums & Gardens and the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and grab some clam strips or a pistachio waffle cone from Kate’s, or get both, then Bike or walk the Cape Cod Rail Trail to work off those calories. But wait, that will lead you to the Chocolate Sparrow, where I believe everything they sell is low calorie – NOT! My wife and I are amazed at the number of people who walk, no matter what their age, or the weather – tornadoes excepted. So many art galleries and museums to visit, or watch the sunset from any number of beaches along Cape Cod Bay. So, so many things that do make the Cape a great place to live. See the stars of tomorrow play in one of the best amateur baseball leagues in the world – the Cape Cod Baseball League. Perhaps one of the best things about the Cape are the people who live here. People with interesting and diverse backgrounds whose life experiences unfold, much like the Cape’s secrets, the longer you know them. The willingness of this diverse group of people to volunteer and help others is also amazing.
Chatham Memoir Group
June 10, 2022
9 thoughts on “Surviving Cape Cod”
loved each one. especially Abe Lincoln. He couldn’t get a job because he lacked a diploma.
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Thank you John!
We used to commute to Chatham from Yardley, PA. Ernie describes the suffering exactly. Incoming through CT on Rt 95 was torture. (Don’t even remind me of crawling across the GW on opening day 2008 with an angry cat in the back.) And outgoing where where 95 South (around exit 8) in NJ decides to merge 6 lanes into 3 (in a downpour). We had to move to Chatham, if only to survive any further commutes!
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Oh God John! I-95 was torture. I tried the Merritt Parkway once and it was even worse, that was the 13 hour trip. We lived in Birdsboro at the time, 1 hour and 15 minutes from the New Jersey border. It took 3 hours to get to the Delaware River crossing. I am glad you liked my story.
Hi Ernie, IMO there are so many positives to living on the Cape that outweigh any negatives. I do agree there have been several exceptional weather events that have tested the survival genes. Another enjoyable story, Nancy
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A great memoir, especially Ernie’s recounting the many fun, interesting, and exciting adventures that await tourists and residents alike! I’ve heard some folks complain that there’s “nothing to do” here – I suspect these people are bored no matter where they are. Just touring each town and village to appreciate the varied “flavor” of each is a wonderful pastime. Thanks, Ernie for reminding us what a great place we live in! Why else would anyone care to survive the hellacious drive to get here?
A wonderful memoir, Ernie! I especially appreciate you recounting all the many fun, interesting, and exciting things to do here. I’ve met folks who say there’s “nothing to do here!” I suspect these people are bored wherever they find themselves. Cape Cod offers a multitude of diverse activities including touring the varied towns and villages and appreciating the rich “flavors” of each. Why else would anyone endure surviving the hellacious drive to get here? Thanks for reminding us, Ernie!
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Hi Amanda! You are right, there are so many things to do here and there sure are tons of people driving a long way to get here. My wife and I always remark on the license plates from all over the country. Thanks for reading my story and your comments. I began publishing my stories for both writing groups a couple of years ago. I will send you an invite to follow my blog. You’ll get an e-mail notification every time I publish a story.
Thank you Nancy. And you are right, there are far more positives than negatives to living on the Cape. I am glad you liked my story.