I’ve always thought of getting a job in the summer on Cape Cod a bit like a bear catching salmon running upstream--all you had to do was stick your hand out and grab one. Help wanted signs dot the Cape from Provincetown to the Bridge, and with a season so short, summer is what you make of it. All you really had to do to be an exceptional employee was to stay past labor day.
I loved having summer jobs, each Memorial Day was a chance to reinvent myself. Who was I going to be this season?
For many years I was a time traveler at the out-of-print CDs and tapes store in Whaler’s Wharf, where we blasted Patty Page into the courtyard. Couples danced and some store owners squawked. I sold trunkfulls of golden oldies three CD box sets to people who’d come looking for that Old Cape Cod but couldn’t find it anywhere. People who lived on sailboats charged their radios behind our cash register, and if I leaned my head out the door, I could see Provincetown Harbor.
The first and only day I ever scooped ice cream, a line of people from here to the street formed as I tried to figure out how to work the soft-serve machine. I watched as college students here on J-1 Visas flicked their wrists, to give each ice cream cone the perfect swirl. I was fourteen, and in over my head.
There was the summer I commuted all the way to North Truro, to the crest of the hill at the Route 6/6A split, to a sand and gravel pit that was home to a summer stock theatre. The theatre was looking for interns, somebody to set the props and run the light board. Rehearsals were held in a bright, yellow-pine lined living room overlooking Pamet Harbor. Cattails swayed as actors called for their lines.
One night, after the curtain fell on our first show of the season, the stage manager quit in dramatic fashion. “I can’t believe my show’s in the hands of a teenager,” the director groaned, but promoted me anyway. We were right on the edge of the highway, and on hot nights I’d try to convince myself the roar of the passing cars into Provincetown was the sound of the pounding waves.
Later, I spent a couple summers delivering mail, covering for letter carriers who were sick or on vacation. There, down narrow streets made of sand, on rickety porches that threatened to give way underfoot, I memorized my little town, each alleyway and sidestreet. It was the most intimate way of knowing a town, and in many ways my mental map of Provincetown is forever frozen in those two summers. Addresses of people who have since died or had to move are still etched in my memory.
On Sundays, sometimes I waited for the Express Mail in the postal lot in Eastham, watching family cars loaded to the gills with luggage as they chugged Up Cape, hoping to outsmart everyone else and beat the bridge traffic. I came to know those neighboring towns a bit better, following along an atlas and snaking down dirt roads. Before those summers, Provincetown always seemed like an island, and Route Six a long bridge I had to cross before I got there.
Of course, the best thing about those summer jobs was that they always ended. Summer would end, the tourists decamped, the ice cream store closed, Patti Page was silenced, the huge, white tent came down, and the mail was forwarded to somewhere warm.