Monday, October 3, 2011

Bridges and Shells

Growing up on Cape Cod is both a pleasure and a curse. The calendar year is a rollercoaster ride of monumental highs and tragic lows. A local Cape Codder can go from feeling like they belong to a unique club of a privileged few who live in the best place on earth to experiencing a sensation of entrapment and isolation over a very short period of time. Once you cross over the Bourne or Sagamore bridges, you enter a bubble that is unique and unlike most other places. I have lived on the Cape since I was only a few years old and many aspects of my life are rooted there. When not in school I work as a lobsterman, and it does not get more Cape Cod than that.

Cape Cod is full of excitement and tourists during the summer months. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, few summer destinations can rival what the Cape has to offer. Flocks of beachgoers crowd the coastline, and once quiet main streets become happening areas lined with boutique shops and seafood restaurants. During the dead of winter it is quite possible to drive a stretch of Route 28 without passing another vehicle for a few miles. Like clockwork, come the Fourth of July traffic is bumper to bumper. A once five minute drive triples to a fifteen minute agonizing commute.

The boom in population during the summer is welcomed. The winters are long and lonely on Cape Cod. In my hometown of Harwich, the year-round population of 12,800 soars to 37,500 during the summer. Many of the attractions that have mile-long lines during July and August are closed during the fall, winter, and spring. Much of the downtown areas around the Cape have half of their businesses boarded up, with signs hanging from the front door reading, “See You Next Summer.” Local residents have a great appreciation for the tourists and summer residents of Cape Cod, even though it is not an uncommon sight to see a bumper sticker asking, “If it’s tourist season why can’t I shoot them?” Many residents make their living during the summer and rely on the money that is spent by off-islanders. Therefore it is always heartbreaking when Labor Day weekend ends and school resumes.

Cape Cod can be a very strange and peculiar place during the dead of winter. There is very little going on, therefore very little to do. For kids and teenagers the lack of interesting and engaging activities leads to a high percentage of drug and alcohol abuse. Having grown up in the Lower Cape area, which is made up by the towns of Harwich, Chatham, Brewster, and Orleans, also known as ‘the elbow,’ I have experienced this first hand. Everybody drinks and everybody gets high, from the high school dropout to the class president and valedictorian. During the peak of summer there are scores of things to do, from striped bass fishing, taking in Cape League games, walking down Main Street Chatham or Hyannis, or just working on your tan at one of the world-famous beaches. All of this disappears though after the first week of September and the year-round residents are left abandoned and alone. Since the population triples in the summer, and my town does not have too many hotel rooms, this means that almost two-thirds of the houses are deserted for nine months of the year, quite literally turning Harwich into a ghost town.

The several mile long man-made Cape Cod Canal might only be a few hundred feet wide, but it cuts us off from the rest of the state, the country, and the world. Growing up I knew several individuals who were terrified of going over the bridge and leaving the Cape. I have heard stories of people freaking out when they approached the bridge and were incapable of going over it. Suicide rates are higher on the Cape and Islands compared to the rest of the state, especially among youth. I constantly hear of steps being taken to reduce the high suicide rates, but there isn’t much you can do to stop the ride that all Cape Codders take during the year.

I make my living from the traditional Cape Cod trade of harvesting lobster. Locals could learn a lesson from the lobster, which fortunately for me, does not vacate Cape Cod waters after Labor Day, instead they stay year round for lobstermen to collect their bounty. Lobsters shed their hard shells during the summer so that they can do the only thing they enjoy doing other than eating: fornicating. They are very vulnerable when they are outside of the protection of their hard shell, but the risk is worth the reward for them. They come close to shore in shallow waters, engage in their favorite activity, and then grow a new hard shell and head back out to sea to continue their mundane and routine lifestyle of searching for food and trying not to become prey. There is nothing wrong with shedding your shell for a little while to have to have a good time and escape from your usual life that revolves around work, family, and obligations. It is imperative however that we know how to regrow our shells and continue on with life and not become overwhelmed by it.

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