Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Cape, A Game of Thrones, Crossword Puzzles and Paradise Trees: Vacation Rehashed

Last Monday, August 6, my girlfriend Jen and I packed up the Silverado and headed to Cape Cod for a week-long vacation. As I mentioned in my last post, I hadn't been on a real vacation in nearly five years, and I hadn't been on a beach in a little over nine years, after my father passed away. And I had never been to Cape Cod, which is something of a rare thing for a lifelong Massachusetts resident. When Jen and I started seeing each other in May, we talked about going away after I finished the first draft of Federal Agent, and we finally did that.

We left a little before 10 a.m., a few hours after I realized I had doubled my book sales from the end of 2011 to now. Jen drove, since I would have been lost after getting over the Bourne Bridge.

We managed to get to the Bourne rather rapidly, with limited traffic on 495 South; it was Monday, after all. As you can see in the above picture, we had no trouble getting over the Bourne, and the famed Bourne Rotary was easy to traverse, too. We slid onto Route 6 -- the Mid-Cape Highway -- and headed toward the Outer Cape.

After stopping for lunch at the Barnstable rest stop, we got back on Route 6 and finally hit a bit of traffic where the highway goes from two lanes to one in South Dennis. We withstood the traffic -- of course we did, it's the Cape and its in-season -- and managed to get going again. We slid through the Orleans Rotary and headed toward Eastham, only a few towns away from our destination, Truro.

And after we got into Eastham, we came to a full stop, and then began to crawl. (Author's note: Depending on which of us you talk to, we have different opinions as to where the crawl began. Jen said the crawl began at the rotary. I said the crawl began at Eastham Town Hall.) We crawled for several miles as the traffic built. Jen and I had wondered just exactly the reason for the traffic, as it was nearly 1 o'clock in the afternoon; Jen believed that tourists wouldn't head to Provincetown this late in the day (please keep this in mind for later in the post). Several of the eateries were empty, their parking lots at the very least. I later found out that the traffic in Eastham has been rather heavy this season, and we also found out that the town may look into the timing of the traffic lights to allow more of Route 6 traffic to flow in an orderly fashion. Anyway, the traffic jam lasted well into Wellfleet, and it wasn't until the traffic light just before Long Pond Road that we were finally able to get back up to speed.

Within ten minutes, we arrived in Truro, and a couple minutes later, we pulled into the long driveway of Jen's grandmother's house. After telling Gram about our traffic woes, we unpacked the truck, found a list of chores waiting for us, and after a visit from Jen's cousin Larkin, settled in for our week's vacation.

This house is a rather old house. It was built in the 1830's and is every bit the prototypical Cape home. It's two stories high and some 50 feet above sea level. We were about three-quarters of a mile away from Ballston Beach, which is where a shark bit the the boogey boardist a week prior. Jen had said a few months ago that when I met her grandmother for the first time, she would give me a hug and ask me if I could help fix a light switch. The house, thanks to Jen's father and her uncles, is in great shape for being over 170 years old. There are a few spots that need work/renovation, but in all, the house feels lived in, something I appreciate. The stairs are steep, and the floors slant toward the front. The room Jen and I stayed in as a low doorway. Quite a bit of the equipment, though, dates back to the Kennedy Administration. The house lies on the slopes of a hillside leading down to the Pamet River, and the topography is incredible. The flora is also breathtaking, with oak and scrub pine trees dotting the area, along with dune grass and trumpet roses. Green moss and aquamarine lichen dazzle along the roadside.

After a few hours, Jen's aunt and her sons came over and we all headed to Corn Hill Beach, which is on the Cape Cod Bay side of town. Jen took me through Downtown Truro -- "Don't blink, you'll miss it," she had said, and she was right -- which consisted of the post office and a small grocery store. We stayed a couple of hours at the beach, and this is when I really started to relax. The water was like bath water, and I managed to forget about books and work for a little while. From the beach, we could see the Pilgrim Tower Memorial in Provincetown. Afterward, we had dinner -- Gram made American Chop Suey, and I cooked four of the other five days that we were there -- and I continued reading my friend Paul S. Kemp's THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE.

Jen and I attacked the chores list on Tuesday morning. Gram gave me a little bit of a tour of the property and what she wanted done: she wanted a tall burning bush removed, as well as the ivy trimmed back from a walkway as well as the nearby bath house. Jen also introduced me to my new nemesis, paradise trees. I had the bush out in about five minutes, even though I strained my left elbow using hedge clippers on the trunk of the bush. We then trimmed the ivy together -- one of the slats on the bath house broke, the only casualty -- before we found a saw and took out several paradise trees. We then broke for lunch, even though I wanted to get the lawn mowed before I took a break. I managed to read some more of Paul's book before we made dinner, a pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. I ended up finishing Paul's book before going to sleep for the night.

On Wednesday, I started reading a book I've wanted to read for quite a while, George R.R. Martin's A GAME OF THRONES. I read about 10 percent the first day. I tried to get the lawn mowed, but as we found out, the mower wouldn't turn on (it turns out that the mower blade handle needed to be pulled back further, even though it was in the neutral position). We tried to jump it, thinking that it was the battery, but nothing. We then decided to get changed and take a drive up to the Truro Public Library, where we found some bargains for sale. I picked up two Tom Clancy books, PATRIOT GAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. I also picked up a first edition trade paperback of Frank Herbert's GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE.

Picking up this book made the trip for me. Look at that cover art! I posted the photo on Facebook and tagged Kevin J. Anderson in it; KJA and Herbert's son Brian have resurrected the series, and I wanted to show him what I had found. Jen and I then went down to the Truro Vineyards and picked up some wine; I picked up some cranberry wine for my mother as well as a Merlot 2009 for myself. Jen got a 2011 Chardonnay. We then stopped at the Atlantic Spice Company. I picked up some steak seasoning while Jen picked up some pickling seasonings. Then, after returning home, we walked to Ballston Beach for a little bit. I didn't bring my Kindle. The water, being the North Atlantic, was COLD. There was also a sharp undertow, and even standing on the beach as the waves rolled in, the water pulled back with incredible force, sinking me into the scree and mud to my ankles. Jen and I decided it was too cold to swim, and instead we laid on the beach for a little while. We got a little bit of color. After a nap, we had grilled chicken marinated with balsamic vinagrette along with brown rice and grilled summer squash and zucchini on the charcoal grill that Jen's dad uses. While I fussed over the grill, Jen's grandmother told Jen that she thought I was cute (Jen confided that to me later). I read a little more of GAME OF THRONES before bed.

Thursday, we took a drive up to Provincetown via Route 6A, making a stop at the Highland Light Tower in North Truro.

The lighthouse may be somewhat familiar, as the lighthouse looks somewhat similar to the post office scene in Men In Black 2. However, the post office is a few miles away, and is tiny. We walked around the lighthouse to the rear, where there is a golf course as well as a viewing platform near where the lighthouse had originally stood. In 1996, the lighthouse had been moved 450 feet from the cliffs to its new location.

The "wife" and I, with the Atlantic behind us.

As we were walking back to the truck and watching some folks tee off on a par three, Jen mentioned that she would be interested in taking up golf as an activity that she and I could do together. So it looks like my clubs will get some use after all! We left soon after and headed to Provincetown.

On 6A, there are many cottages overlooking the Bay. I took a look at some of them and told Jen that claustrophobia would strike me the minute I stepped into one of them. A few minutes later, after skirting a Truro police cruiser that had trailed a disabled motorcycle as its owner pushed it up 6A, we arrived at Provincetown. All along 61, we saw the Pilgrim Memorial grow larger as we drew closer.

After parking near the memorial, we walked to the Lobster Pot for lunch. It was around 1 p.m. Jen and I sat at the bar overlooking the marina. She had fish and chips, while I had steamers.

I hadn't had steamers since before dad had died, so I had broken several streaks with this trip! After lunch, we walked around Commercial Street, stopping at several shops, including two used book stores. The smells in the used book stores were incredible, assaulting our nasal cavities as soon as we walked into the building. Jen picked up a book in one, while I considered starting THE WHEEL OF TIME. At some point, I'll start it. I even picked up some shirts for my nephews at Cuffy's, as well as some for me, my sister, mother and brother-in-law. After we returned home, we had steaks with boiled corn on the cob and mashed potatoes. Jen's uncle also came over and told us what was wrong with the mower and told me to enjoy my vacation; he then mowed the lawn in the twilight. I dove further into A GAME OF THRONES, avoiding the Olympics. By the time I fell asleep, I was at 33 percent into the story.

On Friday, it was a relaxing day as I read, read and read. Jen and I then took a walk to Dyer's Hollow via the paths through the dunes. We went to a restaurant in Wellfleet for dinner, before I continued reading. I managed to finish it Saturday afternoon, hours after having difficulty sleeping since I had a potential plotline in my next project in my head. We helped Gram with a puzzle on Saturday afternoon, and we had my famous homemade marinara over pasta. We cleared out a few more  paradise trees before we settled in for our last night on the Cape. I then bought A CLASH OF KINGS and read a little of it before bed.

It rained early Sunday morning, and so the start of our return trip was in dampness. But there was hardly any traffic to speak of as we made it to the Bourne Bridge and headed home.

Overall, it was a great vacation; Jen and I had morning coffee with her grandmother, and we all took turns with the Cape Cod Times crossword puzzles every afternoon. Cape Cod, I'll be back. You won't get rid of me that easily.

I just hope you're ready for me when I return.