When I was a kid, I spent some fun vacations on the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts (my home state), including in Plymouth and on Cape Cod. This summer, for the first time in years, I went back there. And this time, I brought my own family along.
We stayed in Brewster, in a house my parents rented. It was close to Sheep’s Pond, where we went on the first sunny day. Massachusetts is filled with small lakes — called “ponds” by the locals — and some actual ponds, also called “ponds” by the locals. (The most famous of which is probably Walden Pond, favored site of Henry David Thoreau.)
Early in the vacation, Jen and I left Bernie with my folks and made our annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Lenox, Mass., to see James Taylor play his July 4 show at Tanglewood. Wonderful, as always. His band this year included Rochester’s own Steve Gadd on drums; Larry Goldings on piano and organ; Lou Marini of the Blues Brothers on sax; and the great Arnold McCuller on backing vocals. I also got to see my first fireworks over Stockbridge Bowl, an old Berkshires tradition.
One thing that really surprised me about the Cape was the food. It wasn’t very good. Particularly the seafood. From what I’ve read, the Cape has been so overfished that most of the seafood you get there is flash-frozen far away and shipped to the Cape, making it about as much a seafood paradise as, say, Pittsburgh. Plus, it’s incredibly overpriced. I went to the Kream -N- Kone for a fried clam platter with onion rings and fries. The price: $19.99. You’re welcome.
If you’re going, there’s at least one other thing to avoid — the ZooQuarium in Yarmouth. The name alone should have been a warning. And when we pulled up and discovered that it was housed in a huge concrete bunker, we should have turned tail and fled. But for some reason we plunked down $30 to get in to what was essentially a petting zoo with a sea lion. It was like paying $30 to go to Petco for the afternoon. And Bernie’s not a big fan of loud noises, so the main attraction — a sea lion show in a big concrete auditorium — sent him running back outside in about 10 seconds. Traveling tip: Avoid the ZooQuarium.
On the plus side, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History was wonderful. The museum itself was closed when we went, but we walked the trails, which were beautiful. If the trails are any indication of the quality of the museum, it would be worth a visit. The John Wing trail (named after an early white settler of the area), wound across a marsh and a cranberry bog before crossing a small island and ending at a secluded beach. Absolutely gorgeous.
We also had fun in Plymouth, one of my old summer haunts. (And the town where I famously spent a week at the age of about 7 eating Ding Dongs and candy at my grandparents’ house, and returned from vacation as round as a basketball, much to my parents’ chagrin. They made me jog every night for a week or so, but natural growth eventually took care of the weight.) Bernie and Jen and I went to Plimoth Plantation, a living museum which houses a 17th-century settler village and a Native American village. My one comment about the Plantation is that I’d like more third-person interpretation in the settler village. It’s interesting to talk with actors playing the part of 17th-century pioneers, but when you ask them how they did a job without a drill and they respond “I know not of this tool,” it doesn’t really answer your question. Overall, though, a really interesting trip, even in the rain with a two-year-old.
We also went to the Mayflower II, a replica of the original that was built in the late 50s as a postwar sign of friendship between the UK and US. The boat sailed from the UK to the US when it was built, and it has sailed several times since. I remember going there as a kid and learning this deathless humor: April showers bring May flowers, but what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims. (I’ll be here all week. Try the Indian corn.)
When I used to go to Plimoth Plantation as a kid, I always fantasized about my family having arrived on the Mayflower, which of course they didn’t. In the intervening years, though, I discovered that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (that’s nine “greats”) Stephen Flanders came to Massachusetts in 1638. The Flanders line goes through my maternal grandfather Bernard (after whom my son is named) and my mom to me. At Plimoth Plantation, when I looked through many of the books on early settlers of Massachusetts, my family was in there. So that was pretty hip.
If you go to the Cape, make sure you go see some games in the Cape Cod Baseball League. One out of every six former college players in Major League Baseball played in the Cape League, which is the premier college summer league in the country. Jen and I read The Last, Best League by Jim Collins, which tells the story of the 2002 Chatham A’s. We went to a couple A’s games, and they were everything we’d imagined. Future stars, before all the hooplah. Don’t miss it. (To get a little taste, you can listen to Cape League games online.)