I will miss the throngs on Commercial Street in the center of town: the hubbub, the chatter, the flow of people, the animated wave of humanity — young and old, gay and straight, in every manner of dress and hairstyle and makeup, in all sorts of footwear or perhaps none at all. All kinds of people with their heads bobbing, laughing and talking, ducking into and out of shops and galleries, congregating, darting across the street in front of slow-moving cars and speeding bicycles. It is exciting.
There is, over all, an awareness, a group awareness. Notice that very few people bump into each other. No, as in a school of mackerel or a flock of starlings, there is a smoothness to the movement of the crowd: how else could this happen if each individual did not consciously or unconsciously (or some blend of the two) make himself or herself aware of the people on all sides. We slow down for the old or differently abled, we make way for the strollers and wheelchairs, we do not step on little dogs.
There is an intense and positive energy to the crowd: barkers and street musicians, drag queens and performance artists, the people lounging on the benches in front of Town Hall, and shoppers, shoppers, shoppers.
Oh, how I will miss them all.
In the spring and fall, the older visitors from the tour buses walk around town, somewhat bewildered, with their name tags dangling. Children may have their faces painted. Foreign visitors (say, from Beijing or Idaho) seem bemused. What are all these people after? Ice cream and estate jewelry, T-shirts and salt-water taffy, sunglasses and hot dogs, designer fashions and original art, sometimes a tattoo, perhaps a drink or two (maybe more!) along the way, or a snack, or lunch, or dinner. Food is a central focus of the crowd. Drink is a close second. Baubles come next: there is a compulsion to buy something.
Commercial Street has a life of its own: in the early morning there are mainly dog-walkers and joggers and solitary strollers with their first cups of coffee, all these accompanied by the legion of trash haulers picking up the previous day’s residue, the municipal street-sweeper, the delivery trucks bringing in supplies for the day ahead, the window washers. As the day progresses, the shops and restaurants open and the crowd begins to grow, almost like an organism, especially if it is an overcast or rainy day, a non-beach day. The afternoon blends into the evening, and perhaps more are interested in the restaurants and bars. Evening progresses and the “night life” begins: sounds of joviality and clinking glasses and alcohol-elevated voices. The night goes on and the crowd starts to thin to quiet couples and the serious cruisers. Even in the wee hours of the morning, a few souls are about, probably up to no good.
It is a pleasure to be part of the street scene, to pick up on the positive vibes, the good-natured, relentless getting and spending, the people out for a good time, the sexual tension. There is a continuous parade of personalities, of “characters,” a never-ending cavalcade of humanity, a scrolled-out cinematic display of human behavior: laughing and talking, ogling, being ogled, being amused, looking for amusement and refreshment.
The energy of Provincetown’s Commercial Street is urban in a sense — like that of Greenwich Village in New York City or Boylston Street in Boston — but there is a difference: a gaiety (in the original sense of the word) of people almost exclusively out to enjoy themselves. There is a hum akin to a beehive. It is glorious.
Oh, how I will miss it all.