Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Observation Deck

[Left] Tidal Pool
Nauset Light Beach
Eastham, Massachusetts

The warm weather arrives as swarms of tourists descend on the Bourne rotary. The locals look toward the summer invasion with mixed emotions. A simple equation: the revenue is needed, but the sudden population boom makes life harder. The increase in summer residents increases everything. Gas prices rise, lines at the Ben and Jerry’s snake out the door, beaches fill up at 10am. You can’t have paradise without the infusion of outside capital. The summer may seem chaotic, but for year-rounders, there is precision in the absurdity.

People measure life here by summer seasons.
The seasons come and go as do the traffic jams and rear end collisions along Route 6. The summer is invaded with interlopers in minivans with cargo carriers, endless, black SUV’s and BMW’s up from Boston. For the locals, it is the price of living here.

The Cape depends on the countless people who travel here every year with hopes of a few days of a life less ordinary. Kids mug for one time use cameras. Vacation memories to be stored, undeveloped, in a small 24 exposure cardboard container. Oversized beach umbrellas bloom like flowers in the mid morning heat. There is a delicious sense of rebellion in being at the beach at 10am on a Wednesday. Where would you be right now? Staring at a computer? Having the same conversations about the same obvious observations? Discussing morning traffic over paper cups of coffee service coffee?

Roadside ice cream stands burn bright under bent neon. Up in Provincetown, the lots are all full and Commercial Street is a sea of shoppers, people watchers, vendors, and drag queens. There is a sense of crowding and of limited space, but these are the memories that will endure into the winter, when there is no green and the daylight seeps out in mid afternoon. But for now, life is easy. Your desk is empty and you are still securely insulated in dislocation of a week away. Your time away is a precious commodity and there is still plenty to enjoy.

All over the cape, people feel the distance and space in different ways.
* At day’s end, a man stands on the observation deck above a national seashore beach. Slowly, he scans the horizon through binoculars looking for information in the blackout of the Atlantic. It is an opportunity to use his binoculars for something more exciting than trying to discern the make and model of the neighbor’s new TV set. He feels like the star of a National Geographic Special, like what he is doing is supremely important. The wind whips at the beach grass below the wooden platform and he thinks to himself how we would give almost anything to be capable of bottling the feeling of nights like this one. Behind him, the world could fall away and it wouldn't matter at all. Stores could cut the lights and close without notice, there could be breaking news of celebrity DWI's, the cable could be out, the network down, spam could be closing down the inbox with promises of something for nothing, but it wouldn’t matter. He would trade all the Monday nights wasted watching football for just one evening like this one, once a year. None of it matters right now. The ocean smells beautiful. He exhales in the same way, at day’s end, beach grass exhales moisture back into the air.

Soon the teeth of night will be upon the observation deck and that would be just fine. He could stand there all night, watching the colors change before eventually fading to a black that is impossible over the city where the light pollution muscles the stars out of the sky. But tonight, he could stand there and watch unattached lights moving in the darkness. Boats travel under the cover of night and there is a story attached to every deck light out past the white crescents of the breakers. Darkness and distance erase pattern or logic. He could stand there. Stand there until the cold beats him back. It is times just like now that are perfect for speculations that are often buried somewhere far below the day’s chores. It is perfectly O.K. to philosophize while standing on the edge of something as large as the Atlantic. For that brief instant, your place in the world is completely understood. Raising such questions in the over engineered confines of a Starbucks seem silly. But here, as the salt air whips around your legs, the moratorium on clich├ęs [even this one] has been lifted. Live it to the fullest because you know, somewhere in the places in your mind that never seem to quiet down, not far from the surface, the knowledge that real life is waiting for you exerts a gentle pressure. You will be back chasing down actionable tasks soon enough. Paradigms need changing. Quotas need to be met. But for now, the world falls away, nothing exists outside the black framed circles of a pair of $200, waterproof, nitrogen filled, digital zoom binoculars.

* For an enhanced experience, please read the above aloud while at a coffee house while wearing a black sweater, oil paint splattered jeans, and a paste on goatee. A monotone beat generation drawl is strongly recommended. I wrote this after an evening's photo session on the Cape in 2005. Listening to Soul Coughing' s classic Screenwriter's Blues, I amped up the fake spoken word drama. I was sitting in the car at the edge of the Nauset Light Beach parking lot. Less than a hundred feet to the east, Nauset Light swept the horizon with light at regular intervals. A man dressed in that psuedo-safari gear and a Tilley hat stood at the edge of the observation deck staring out into the blackout over the Atlantic. Vacations bring out all the gear accumulated from a year's worth of trips to Eddie Bauer and L. L. Bean. After all these years I still can't explain why some men feel the need to look like Magnum PI while on vacation. I wondered if he was the typical, suburban American: 2 weeks vacation and hundreds of hours of overtime in order to keep a McMansion and 2 luxury SUV's afloat.

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