A PROVINCETOWN STORY
(c) Frank DeFrancesco, 2012
(based on actual events - the names have been changed, etc....)
Ronnie was not the sharpest blade in the kitchen – nor the gayest either. His unpredictable antics could irritate the hell out of you. For example, if you asked him to check on your house while you were on vacation, you’d come home to find all the appliances unplugged including the ones like the VCR or coffee maker with clocks and timers. If you hadn’t noticed what he’d done you might wait twenty minutes for a piece of toast which would never pop up, then you’d take the name of the Lord in vain while you went around the house to reset and re-program all the various electronics that were now flashing “12:00 am”.
Ronnie had a boyfriend for many years before I knew him but after the guy died suddenly Ronnie never really connected with anyone else. He didn’t date guys and only rarely met guys for sex. He always said he only liked to do it in the shower to make sure the other guy was clean.
Ronnie had a roommate when I knew him. I don’t recall his roommate’s name, but Ronnie called him “Skank” because he supposedly never used soap to shower. Ronnie refused to use the same washing machine as Skank so instead of washing clothes at home, Ronnie would go down to the strip mall to the Laundromat to do his clothes. I guess he thought strangers were less “skanky” than Skank.
I’d gone to Provincetown with my partner probably once or twice each summer when Ronnie was around so he’d heard me talk about the East Coast’s gayest town more than once. He was just this side of forty but had never been there, even though he had a Lesbian cousin who lived in PTown with her girlfriend.
I guess Ronnie finally concluded it was time to see what Provincetown was all about and so one weekend he decided he would venture out on his own and visit his cousin Lu for an overnight stay.
Lu said, “See ya when you get here.”
It’s about a five-hour drive by car from Ronnie’s house to Commercial Street but he wasn’t sure his old clunker would make the trip without breaking down again. It was always something with that old car – a fan belt, a muffler falling off, a clogged fuel filter, a burned out headlight. Besides he wasn’t too good with maps and GPS hadn’t been invented yet. He decided to “leave the driving to bus”.
So there was Ronnie, standing at the ticket window at the local Greyhound station at six-forty-five AM on a bright summer Saturday morning with an overnight bag hoping to catch an early bus to Provincetown.
“One round-trip to PTown, please” Ronnie requested of the woman behind the glass.
“So, where’s dat juh wanna go, hun? I ani’t got no bus to no Pee-Town.”
“Well. My friends always call it PTown. I think they call it PTown for short. It’s like Providencetown or something. It’s near the ocean.”
“We got a bus leaving for Providence at eleven - fifteen. That’s the only thing I’s got listed here, hun. You wanna ticket to Providence?
“Yeah, thanks. Sounds good. What time does it get there?”
“You got a few stops between here and there then a short lay up in Springfield and then on to Providence. It should get you there around 1:35 this afternoon. Here you go. That’ll be $30. The bus starts boarding at eleven. That’s about three hours from now hun, so relax on over to the snack bar. Have a nice time, hun”.
Ronnie was disappointed about having to wait more than three hours, but he was committed and it was now or never. He passed the time as the ticket lady said, “over to the snack bar” with the morning paper, a pack of Kools and a few cups of coffee.
It was one of those spectacular New England summer days: the blue of the sky was deep and cloudless and the morning sun was gently warming up the day. Ronnie was finally going to PTown.
The bus began boarding as scheduled but was more than half empty when it left the station. An older couple got on at the first stop, then a few guys boarded in Worcester and Ronnie thought they looked gay. “Nice,” Ronnie thought as he admired the young men, then closed his eyes and enjoyed the soothing hum of the diesel engine and the highway.
When the bus pulled into the Providence Rhode Island Bus Terminal, it was just past 1:35 PM and, Ronnie thought, still early enough to see this gay town and have some fun.
Lu had told him that she lived on one of the side streets off Commercial. He had it written down somewhere. Ronnie disembarked and looked around. Somehow it wasn’t quite what he had expected, but “Well,” he thought, “nothing is ever how you expect it to be based on what people say.” So Ronnie decided to wander around a bit and, if necessary, ask directions to 29 Mayflower Street.
After nearly an hour, Ronnie began to feel lost and confused. There was the bus station right off the highway, a huge cemetery and a baseball park and a neighborhood a little farther down. He kept walking. He didn’t see many obviously gay men or Lesbians or many people other than those taking busses. There were no T-shirt shops, or souvenir shops or people who looked like they might be going to the beach. He didn’t see Commercial Street anywhere. He got the feeling that maybe he was in the wrong place after all but decided to walk a little further. Finally, he emerged from his state of denial and asked a passer-by “I’m looking for Mayflower Street, it’s off of Commercial Street. Can you tell me how to get there?
The stranger replied with a mixture of amusement and pity, “Oh, buddy, I don’t think that’s anywhere around here. There’s a Commercial Street way across town, and I think there’s a Mayflower Street around here somewhere, but are you sure that’s where you want to go?
“Well, is this, like, PTown, isn’t it? I came to visit my cousin in Ptown.”
“Sorry fella, you’re not in PTown. This is Providence, Rhode Island. You want Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s out on Cape Cod, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks, guy. Yeah, Cape Cod, I know.” But that was not exactly what he was thinking. The day was slipping away.
So it was a long walk back to the Providence Rhode Island Bus Terminal to hop a bus to Provincetown, Massachusetts. By now it was already nearly three o’clock. Ronnie thought, “I won’t be coming back here, so I guess I should get a one-way ticket.” Ronnie approached the ticket window. “Could I get a one-way ticket on the next bus to Provincetown, Massachusetts, please?”
“Our bus line doesn’t go to Provincetown, the best I can do is get you to Hyannis. Too bad, the bus just pulled out. There’s another one in two hours, leaving at four-fifty-five. Arriving in Hyannis at six-fifty-five. Is that OK?”
Ronnie thought, “I’ve come this far, why not?” And to the ticket guy, “Yeah, that’ll be fine.”
“Thirty dollars, please.”
Four fifty-five. Another two hour wait. Ronnie’s second bus trip today would put him in Hyannis, Massachusetts at almost seven PM.
The trip out to Hyannis was uneventful but boring. The bus stopped at various non-descript “bus stations” - town greens, donut shops, strip malls to pick up or drop off passengers along the way. Driving would have been quicker, even if he got lost.
When Ronnie arrived in Hyannis he realized he hadn’t considered how he would get to PTown from there. “Now, how do I get to Provincetown from here?” Ronnie asked himself. “Well, it can’t be that far. I’ll just call Lu and have her pick me up.” He found the nearest pay phone and dialed Lu’s number.
The phone rang and rang. No answer. He hung up. He couldn’t come up with another plan. He dialed Lu’s number again. He let the phone ring longer this time. Finally he heard someone pick up on the other end.
“Hello, what daya want? and why ya calling this late?” Ronnie looked at his watch. It was just past seven. It was Dandi, Lu’s handicapped, or disabled, or physically challenged partner, Ronnie wasn’t sure which adjective to use, on the line, not Lu.
“Dandi, it’s Ronnie, is Lu there?”
“Where else would she be, stupid? Of course she’s here.” Dandi was not in a good mood. Dandi was hardly ever in a good mood.
“Well, can I speak to Lu, please?”
“Probably not. She was really feeling shitty today, so she took a couple of sleeping pills and went to bed early.”
“Could you please try to wake her? Please, Dandi, I’m kind of stranded here, in Hyannis.”
“Hang on to your shorts, shorty. I’ll see if I can get her to the phone.”
Minutes passed. The operator demanded “another ninety-five cents, please.” Ronnie fumbled through his jeans pocket. Luckily, every time he’d bought a coffee or a pack of cigarettes earlier that day, he’d paid with dollar bills and had a pocket full of change. He put three quarters and two dimes into the slot.
“Hey, Ronnie? What’s the problem? It was a very groggy Lu on the other end. “I just took some pills to help me sleep. Jeeze, couldn’t you have called earlier?
“Lu, I’m in Hyannis. It took me all day to get here. There is no bus out of here tonight. I can’t get there and I can’t go home. Can you come, pick me up?”
“Jeeze, Ronnie. You haven’t changed a bit since we were kids. Still needing me to get your ass out of the campfire. Do you know how far it is to Hyannis from here? On a good day, it would take me an hour. And that’s without Dandi yelling at me to slow down. You know Dandi can’t drive, but she’s going to have to come with me, to keep me awake. I’m going to have to fight off the pills to bail your ass out of Hyannis. Where exactly are you, anyway?”
“I’m on Route 28, at a strip mall near where the bus dropped me off. There’s a Shell Gas Station and across the street there’s a coffee and donut shop. That’s where I’m at now.”
“OK. I’ve been through there many times. I know the Shell Station and that donut shop. Sit tight. I’ll come get you.”
“Thanks, Lu.” Ronnie knew not to say much more at that point.
“Yeah, no sweat. What I don’t do for family. If you weren’t gay, I’d just tell you to go fuck off.”
By the time the two Lesbians had filled a thermos with hot coffee and gotten Dandi’s wheelchair into the van – Dandi refused to go anywhere without her chair - it was almost eight o’clock. Lu helped Dandi into the van and Dandi kept shaking Lu to be sure she was awake enough to drive.
“I’m OK. I can drive.” Lu was barely convincing.
Halfway to Wellfleet, Lu began to nod off. Dandi screamed, “Wake up.”
“I can’t. I’m going to pull over and take a rest.” Lu wisely decided.
Thirty minutes later, Dandi grabbed Lu’s arm and shook her hard. “LuLu, can you drive now?”
Lu came to - enough to shake off sleep for a minute and start the engine. They pulled out onto Route 6 again and headed for Orleans. At the Orleans traffic circle, Lu missed the off ramp for 28. She had to go around the round-about again.
“I’d better pull off and take another break before I kill us both.” Lu declared with somewhat slurred speech. She pulled into Frankie’s Fish and Chips and parked as far from the restaurant as she could. Her head went limp and Dandi put her head back and closed her eyes. It was after nine.
The flashlight through the driver’s side window woke Dandi first. She elbowed Lu hard. “Lu, wake up. Get it together quick, it’s a cop.”
Lu, struggled to wake up. Everything was a blur. Dandi repeated, “It’s a cop, wake up.” Something about the word “cop” counteracted the effect of the drugs Lu took earlier.
“Yeah, I’m here!” she declared as she hit the down button for van window.”
“Are you ladies OK?” the Officer Murphy inquired, “You can’t park here when the establishment is closed.”
“Oh, sorry. We just pulled in here earlier to grab a bite to eat, then decided to just shut my eyes for a few minutes,” Lu fabricated. What time IS it anyway?”
“It’s ten-thirty, ladies. The restaurant closed at nine-thirty. I should do a sobriety test, but you didn’t break any laws as far as I can tell, and I’m not smelling alcohol, so I’ll just let you be on your way. I’m going to follow you up the road for a few miles to be sure your driving is up to snuff.”
“Oh, thanks officer, sorry about troubling you.” Lu said. She drove off, slowly but soberly enough to satisfy Officer Murphy.
It took Lu another forty-five minutes to get to Hyannis and by some miracle, Lu found the Shell gas station, and the coffee shop, which was just about to close for the night, and her cousin Ronnie who had gotten tanked up on caffeine over the best part of four hours.
Ronnie offered to drive as he was now more awake than Lu had been all day. Lu passed out in the back. Unfortunately, Ronnie didn’t know where he was headed and Dandi was no help. By the time Ronnie found Route 6 East – the "fast" way back to Provincetown - he had toured a good part of the mid-Cape and chalked up about an hour of extra driving. They pulled into Mayflower Street just after one AM.
Dandi was grouchy and exhausted and insisted that Lu help her get ready for bed. Lu, who hadn’t completely metabolized the sleeping pills she took earlier that evening, wasn’t far behind.
Lu came out of the bathroom, pointed to a ratty couch and said, “You can sleep there, cuzin. Just don’t go out or the door will lock behind you. And I’m NOT getting out of bed to let you in.”
When Lu finally rolled out of bed in the morning it was almost eleven o’clock. The sun was heating up the day quickly and townies ands tourists alike had already been spilling onto Commercial Street in search of breakfast and t-shirts. Ronnie was hungry too, but had been too afraid of going out and being locked out of the apartment.
All Lu could manage to say was, “Ronnie, if you walk down Mayflower you’ll come to Commercial. You can get yourself breakfast. And you should stop at the bus station on the wharf to check the bus schedule. I don’t think there are too many outgoing on Sunday as most of the weekly tourists leave on Saturdays. Hope you had a good time.”
Ronnie hardly had time to grab a coffee and check the bus schedule before he was boarding the Transit Authority bus for Boston where he would get a whistle-stop excursion home. If he was lucky, it would still be Sunday and daylight when he arrived.