In every soul there is an alleyway.
And every town has one: at least one place like this. Even in beautiful Provincetown, full of narrow winding lanes, lovely gardens, charming old houses, galleries, shops, and sandy beaches, you will find an alleyway.
This one might be considered the underbelly of the town, if you tend to be judgmental. It is off the beaten track, not exactly a destination, except for those who seek it: this narrow passage between the Old Colony Tap and the Lobster Pot restaurant. Both are venerable establishments — although the “O.C.” is a bit shabby and tattered, with peeling paint and shed shingles. Some call it “Clam Alley,” but, like many real places, it does not actually have a name.
It is visited mostly in the deepening shadows of the afternoon, or in the heart of the evening, or late at night, even after Last Call. It is just steps away from the busy center of town. Churning Commercial Street is at one end, headlights and bobbing heads passing by, preceded by their shadows, the Bradford bar and restaurant across the street. And at the other end, the harborside beach and the lights of fishing boats and MacMillan Wharf, and nearer by, the upturned dories, like prehistoric creatures, lying amidst the beach grass. The ghost of Eddie Ritter — or is it Eddie Ritter? — calls out.
On the right side of the alley is a row of ripe garbage cans from the ’Pot. On the left, a bunch of bikes drunkenly leaning against the wall, and sometimes a parked motorcycle. Underfoot are shells and cigarette butts; on either side, sprouted weeds lean in.
This is an arena for drama: it is offstage for the Old Colony Tap inside. Through the sagging side screen door people spill out into the alley to pursue important conversations where they can be heard above the blaring (and excellent) jukebox (playing, perhaps, Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”); arguments are resolved, usually by lack of focus and inattention (rarely, with shouts and fists); joints are lit up and passed sloppily around, and cigarettes, too, since the indoor smoking ban; clandestine communications are conducted; occasionally the preliminary steps of assignations are initiated.
Most sex, I am told, takes place on the darkened beach beyond, but, says one confidant, “There is nothing like getting backed up against the wall in the dark and getting ‘stranger kisses,’ not even knowing the guy’s name — maybe just the name of his boat.”
For some, this is the place for the later stages of drunkenness, for stumbling and fumbling and falling down. One such stumbling fool, who couldn’t manage to light his own cigarette and apologized repeatedly, is told by my friend: “Enjoy that jag, buddy — you paid for it!”
Oh, for the pre-pandemic days, for the old days of random excess and wildness and indulgence, to be young or not so young, to be alive and half-lit and enjoying the hilarity of life and good company on a beautiful summer evening in our own cocoon, in “Clam Alley,” or whatever you want to call it, to await — if you survived all this — the next great chapter of your life in Provincetown.