Cape Cod Without the Crowds
Summer on the Cape is justifiably famous, but the traffic can be a drag. In autumn, the tourists vanish, but the small-town charms and natural beauty remain.
I knew mid-September would be iffy in terms of weather, but I didn't expect this. After plowing into the Carolinas, a hurricane is heading to Cape Cod. My wife, Jessica, and I were willing to put up with some rain in exchange for quiet days and no crowds--but ahurricane? I gaze at our 2-year-old, William, certain that parents all over Massachusetts are clucking their tongues.
We drove up from New Jersey the night before, knowing that the storm was somewhere in the Atlantic. Crossing over the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape, all I could see was mist and the hazy headlights of cars going the other way. Were hardy New Englanders really fleeing? The parking lot atThe Corsair & Cross Rip, a complex of motels and house rentals in Dennisport where we had reservations, was full, a good sign. The office was closed, a not-so-good sign. Then I noticed an envelope on the door with our last name. Inside was a handwritten welcome note, requesting that I pop in the next morning for a proper check-in.
By mid-morning, the consensus on TV is that by the time it reaches the Cape, the storm will be a tropical storm with plenty of rain and wind, but nothing that'll rip off rooftops. At present the skies are gray, but dry, so we decide to get outside and start exploring.
Over apple pancakes and coffee atThe Breakfast Room, the conversations all revolve around the weather. "Sometimes it'll be raining here and blue skies on the other side of the Cape," our waitress says, "so we'll head to the beach there."
On a map, the Cape resembles an arm making a muscle; with no particular destination in mind, we head to the top of the biceps. When signs for Gray's Beach appear in Yarmouth Port, we follow them. Sure enough, the sun peeks out as we walk along the beach and a boardwalk over marshland, both at Bass Hole. As William tosses pebbles into the water, I breathe in the salty air and feel better about not calling off the trip. It's so quiet we can hear the gulls flapping their wings.
A drizzle turns us back to the car and toHallet's Store, a museum-quality soda fountain dating to 1889. It's not even noon, so I decide against ordering a sundae and settle instead for a bottle of Hallet's homemade root beer to drink in the car.
With the rain picking up, we seek indoor activities and wind up atThe Brewster Store, another quaint, rickety throwback, constructed as a church more than 150 years ago. Now it's a general store with a nickelodeon that plays songs for a quarter. We sit on a bench in front of the store, watching rain pound the road and sharing fudge, a whoopie pie, and animal crackers. William sticks with his crackers, roaring at each tiger he pulls out, and eyes my whoopie pie suspiciously. After I dab some pie cream onto his lips, he drops the animal crackers box. We polish off a carton of milk, and Jessica goes into the store for more.
For lunch, we drive to Chatham to meet Jessica's brother Luke and his wife Susie, who have been on vacation celebrating their anniversary.The Chatham Squireis a fine place to dine with a toddler, in that it's generally loud and rowdy. At the bar, a silver-haired gentleman with a George Hamilton tan orders a cocktail amid a cackling crew of rugged-looking men in sleeveless shirts.
Our waitress is friendly but indifferent, which I've heard is the way service always is here. As far as pub grub goes, the food's fantastic. We're all envious of the fish-and-chips Luke ordered--made with fresh cod, in healthy-size chunks--and he generously shares them with the table.
We race past Chatham's cute stores in the rain and hunker down in our room. On TV, a lobsterman says that he's simply trying to get his boat and equipment "out of hahm's way." From our window, I see that the parking lot next door is flooding. Jessica pokes her head outside, where a CBS News truck and a reporter are taping a segment. I state the obvious: "That can't be good."
- The Corsair & Cross Rip41 Chase Ave., Dennisport, 800/345-5140, corsaircrossrip.com, suites from $145
- Breakfast Room675 Rte. 28, West Dennis, 508/398-0581, apple pancakes $5
- Hallet's Store139 Main St. (Rte. 6A), Yarmouth Port, 508/362-3362, hallets.com
- Chatham Squire487 Main St., Chatham, 508/945-0945, thesquire.com, fish and chips $15
- Brewster Store1935 Main St., Brewster, 508/896-3744, brewsterstore.com