Monday, November 17, 2008

Lost in Sandwich, or How to Take a Women's Road Trip

On a hot blue-skied day in Sandwich, I get lost.

Okay, not everybody could do this. I have three maps, dotted with “You are here” signs and decorated with arrows.

Well, I warned everybody: “I’m not very good at map-reading.” But I said goodbye to Mindy and Jan and walked briskly down the private drive from the condo.

It started with a wrong turn. It is my first day in Cape Cod. I turn instinctively toward the downtown area. The only problem is it’s not a left-hand turn, as Jan advised when I asked for directions to the beach. So what? Didn’t she mention the First Church of Christ? Yeah, It’s historic. Something like that. So why consult a map?

Founded in 1639, Sandwich has a Ye Olde New England look that tourists “ooh” and “ah” over. As the first village on the 70-mile peninsula of Cape Cod, it is a natural place to get out and stretch one’s legs. Personally I cared more about its beautiful white sand beaches than its Colonial architecture. In the middle of the village I passed a glass museum, a doll museum, and....all wasted on me. I refused to do anything educational.

Finally, unable to find the beach and aware that I was walking in circles, I sat on a bench on the village green and just sipped from my water bottle. I thought, What am I doing in Sandwich? On my first girl trip since 1981, I was already lost..

What’s a "girl's" road trip? It’s a trip taken with women friends, without husbands or boyfriends. It’s driving down the road at 75 miles an hour, praying a cop doesn’t ticket you, popping your gum while you swap life stories. It’s stopping at countless rest stops without some guy interrupting, “Do you have to go again?”

Perhaps women's road trips are a twentieth century phenomenon. Over the centuries most road travel books have been written by men, judging from a quick glance at the Oxford Book of Travel. Road trip literature since the 1960s has included the ultimate road novel, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road , Tom Wolfe’sThe Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip , an account of the Merry Pranksters’ rock-and-roll, acid-laden cross-country bus trip, and William Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, a back roads look at America. Then there are the road trip movies: “Easy Rider,” “Get on the Bus,”“Harry and Tonto,” and “Stranger than Paradise.” And who was television’s premier chronicler of back roads? Charles Kurault.

When women in literature hit the road, they’re often on the lam or running away from husbands: there’s the mother/daughter road trip in Mona Simpson’s novel Anywhere But Here , and the cross-country adventures of Taylor Greer in Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling The Bean Trees.. In movies we’ve seen the offbeat travels of women characters in “Manny and Lo,” “Thelma and Louise,” ”Boys on the Side,” “Trip to Bountiful,”and “Leaving Normal.”

An old woman in a church dress walked past. “Well, you found a nice shady spot.”

I smiled. “It is nice here, isn’t it? But could you tell me how to get to the beach?”

I had, of course, gone the wrong way entirely. I was all turned around. I had no clue what direction to go in. “Which beach? Oh, near Horizon House? Left, left, right, right, right,” she said. “That’s the easiest way, I think.”

So I started up the street around a left curve until I hit an intersection. And lo and behold, I was finally on the right road, Tupper Road, the road I started on, for God’s sake, the road I was supposed to turn left on instead of right. And I was approaching the intersection of Route 6A when Mindy pulled up in front of me in her Tracker.

“Want a ride?” she said.

“Please. “ And I climbed in, grateful to escape the heat .

So we went to the Bee Hive, a pub with a mural in the foyer and beehives hanging above the bar, and ate respectively a Greek salad (me) and clam chowder (Mindy). Then we went shopping. It was only hours later, when the sun was starting to set, that I realized, We never made it to the beach.

Not much of an adventure, you say? I think that’s the whole point.

In the evenings, we went in search of night life. We went to Hyannis! Oh, land of the Kennedys. Described by Jan’s husband as “tourist ticky-tacky,” it appeared to be a town of strip malls and tourists.

A used bookstore employee directed us to a coffee house called Prodigal Son. I cannot pretend that the ambiance was charming. It was a dingy hole-in-the-wall coffee bar, smelling of smoke and sweat. Mindy and I squeezed our bodies onto a faded burgundy couch in the back, banged down our decaf (Mindy) and latte (me) on a coffee table, and awkwardly opened books and laptop.

Then a guy stood up on a makeshift stage area in the front and announced that it was Poetry Slam night.

“It’s the Boston slam team vs. Hyannis,” announced the emcee. “And what’s our prize?” he asked as an afterthought

A ponytailed guy working the sound system quipped, “A date with me?”

Everybody groaned.

I typed notes about the slam on my laptop, though it was so dark I could only see by the light of the blue screen. A man with round glasses approached, nodded, and said, “Cool laptop.”

“Yeah.” I wondered, Hasn’t he ever seen a laptop?

Then Patricia Smith from Boston got up. I grabbed Mindy’s arm like a groupie.

“I can’t believe it. We get to see a famous slam poet. She’s a past winner of the National Poetry Slam,” I said.

Smith, a slim African-American woman, was younger than I expected. Funny, I felt about thirty on this vacation, but Patricia Smith probably is thirty, while I’m a forty-one-year-old pretender.

“Did I tell you that I’m the architect of rock and roll...Now I’ve never been sexy...But if I do say so myself..I do still turn some eyes,” she recited.

Oh yeah. I hear ya! I felt the same way, especially tonight. I typed frantic notes, and suddenly looked up to see one of the ponytailed guys turned around on his bar stool andsmiling.

What is this? Are these guys blind or desperate or what? By the time Mindy and I left, we were laughing.

“Hey, I really think we could have picked up some guys in there,” Mindy said.

“Oh, my husband would have loved that,” I said.

During the remainder of the girl trip I:

1. went to the beach, but did not go swimming.
2. went shopping in Provincetown, an artists’ colony on the tip.
3. read novels.
4. dyed my hair.
5. and did as little as possible.
And I returned from my girl trip refreshed and rested, horrifying my husband with my tales of DOING NOTHING on vacation.

RESOURCES FOR GIRL TRIPS (These may be old; I'll look them up)

Journeywoman,an online travel magazine for women:

The Women’s Travel Club, itineraries designed for married and single women who like to travel:

women’s adventure travels, adventure travel service for women over 30:

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I enjoyed reading it -- though I've never consciously been on a girl trip. I didn't know it was common enough to be defined as a category of travel. I did travel with a girlfriend around Europe; and my older daughter, Laura, has now travelled twice with a close girlfriend, once cross country (California to the East Coast) and once from New Jersey to Florida and back again. Driving.

Women did travel in the 19th century in large numbers but often alone and dressed in rigid respectable clothes so as to keep assaults away. Still I imagine you're right and there have been many more men than women.

Jim and I were to Cape Cod. We stayed in a hotel where the clientele was mostly gay men. I felt so awkward after the first day we left. I remember the water was too cold to swim.

I don't know how to take a vacation. I can't seem to get myself to leave work home.