Living on the Wrong Side of the Bridge

One of my favorite memoirs from years ago was by an NPR writer, Carol Wasserman titled Swimming at Suppertime. It was about life on the wrong side of Buzzards Bay, in her case Wareham, which for me is actually the right side. But it’s always stuck with me, the title and subtitle — she was mourning the loss of her husband, in between writing,  living year-round, and swimming (at suppertime) with her lady friends in the gritty town of Wareham, Massachusetts — a stone’s throw (if you’ve got a good arm) — from chi-chi Cape Cod.

Me, I live on Cape Cod. I grew up here in between my father’s military tours in other places. And Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett, and beyond — the Route 6 West corridor along Buzz Bay — is more like the Cape Cod I remember  from childhood and into my college years. It was more colorful, more real, more of a struggle, and more of a delight for those who survive here year-round, because we were all in the same boat.

We took a ride to Wellfleet a couple of weeks ago, hugging the back roads that wind along the backside of Route 28 on our way east. It was a Saturday on the brink of the full moon, and I was feeling hemmed in, crowded, suffocated, wanting to climb out of the box of this island-peninsula — serene and accessible open space is becoming rarer here, speed and traffic more prevalent. I want slow, meandering, and I feel more of that on the other side, even in the eastern Massachusetts land of more strip malls and industrial parks and more traffic — the sky and roads just seem to open up a bit more, I don’t feel as trapped.

I wanted to be back over the bridge — but as we rolled further along to our destination, I started feeling lighter, a little less encumbered — noticing the undulating marshlands and bogs with the crimsons, golds, and russets of a coastal autumn. As we moved beyond Chatham and Orleans, and on out towards Eastham and Wellfleet, I began to relax more. Off-season on the Outer Cape can be close to desolate, a stark contrast to what it is in the summer. It can truly feel like the edge of the world. Wellfleet was quiet, but not quite yet shifted in to winter mode. We parked down near the wharf, and walked up to and across Uncle Tim’s Bridge, for a walk around the tiny island that sits in the brackish water that empties into Wellfleet Harbor. Ah, peace, although not quite on my “right side of the bay,” but for that morning, for me, it worked. I relaxed, enjoying the view, the air, the outdoors, the ground beneath my feet, and contemplated what it must be like for people who don’t have either the time, or the means for these therapeutic escapes. Wellfleet is an example of what the rest of the cape has become — more of a playground for the wealthy, than a home for the rest of us.

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