The Blues, Pilgrims and Gay Mecca: Rhode Island

At the end of the last post I was setting course for Rhode Island and, in a shocking twist, that’s where I went. I have mainly been staying off the Interstates and highways to gawp more directly at the countryside as I passed, but this has led to some difficulties. Namely, the only law-abiding driver in America.

The strange thing about American roads is their oft-varied speed limits. In the UK, you have speeds for the town, the outskirts of town and most other places are governed by the national speed limit (60mph). The speed limits on the smaller roads of America seem mainly to have come about by someone over-ordering speed limit signs. One stretch of road, within a few miles, can hop wildly from 25mph to 45mph with no apparent reason. Which is theoretically fine, because I’ve never seen any driver actually do those speeds. Until this person. Until this person who always changes their air filters when they’re supposed to; this person who installs Windows updates the second they’re told to; this person who doesn’t jaywalk, doesn’t litter, doesn’t people-traffic. This law-abiding driver, who does 25mph for miles of empty, decent road.

Anyway! Onto Rhode Island:

Too far, I said Rhode Island. Turn around.

Seriously, how small is this place? Rhode Island.

Rhode Island to scale. Probably.

Not unrelated to the law-abiding driver, I get to Rhode Island when the day is dying. I cross a couple of spiffy bridges and find myself in the little town of Jamestown. Not the Jamestown I had vaguely heard of and which partially motivated me to pull into a place called Jamestown, but a Jamestown nonetheless.

It’s true that Jamestown, RI probably doesn’t offer as much as the more famous town of James down in Virginia, but it won me over with the residential section where each street is named after a part of a ship (Mast Street, Bow Road, etc.). Well, that and I found a bar pretty fast. Not any old bar, but one where the nice barmaid was very obviously much drunker than any of the patrons. And one of the patrons at this seaside bar had a bona fide hook for a hand.

Decorum — and me getting my face hooked in – prevented me from gawping and taking a picture.

To complete the night, we even got a blues band (Rhode Island being famous as the blues capital of Rhode Island), with a saxophonist that looked like Macaulay Culkin if Macaulay Culkin had aged like a normal human being.

In the morning, in an attempt to find a coffee shop, I accidentally cross into Massachusetts. Twice. Taking it as a sign that I had seen all Rhode Island had to offer, I head further east, through Cape Cod and as close as I can get to Ireland without installing water wings on my car. I follow the road east until it ends in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

I was told, by someone, sometime, somehow, that Provincetown is a “gay Mecca” (I guess because, like Muslims to the real Mecca, gays bend over five times a – you know, it’s not important). It is also home to the Pilgrim Monument, a 252-foot all-granite structure dedicated to the landing of the Pilgrims. Because nothing appeals to gays more than Christian puritans.  (Although, considering the Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim themed sex shop I passed, perhaps that’s true).

 Phallic symbolism may also play a part.

I’ve arrived in Provincetown during its sleepy off-season so I’ve found a charming, peaceful bay town, but I’m determined to find out the quality that makes it a gay Mecca. Is it the easy access to a dock? Is it the nautical-related banking system?

 For seafarers who need a place to store their funds. It’s a bank for depositing seamen.

Still not the je ne sais quoi – wait, is it the spontaneous urge to use French? – I’m looking for. There was, of course, mass appeal:

 You had me at “good cheap wine.”

After exploring the entire town from its quaint seaside houses to its quaint seaside houses at the other end, I think I’ve finally worked out what it is: galleries. Galleries by the bucket-load. There are approximately 12 galleries per square metre in this place.

L: More like “gaylleries”, amiright?
… Ugh. I’d criticise you for that, but, you know…
L: Yes, you’re really sitting on the moral high ground with your childish mockery of Cape Cod’s oldest community bank, whose five branches have become a vital part of the community.

Okay. Have we finished teasing the nice, friendly people of Provincetown? [L: I had more, but go ahead.] Well then, like the Pilgrims we’re heading further along the Massachusetts coast, to Plymouth.

We Didn’t Land on Plymouth Rock, etc.

As most Americans will know, the Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock some time ago. It must have been at least a couple of months, as they’ve managed to knock up a lot of houses and things since. Those of you who don’t have any nautical experience might wonder what the significance of the Rock of Plymouth Rock is, that is: why that particular spot and not anywhere else along the miles of the coast? Well, it’s somewhat technical; it has to do with finding a spot which is deep enough and devoid of hazards, allowing ships to land there safely.

Also, there already were honking big pillars all around it.

Well, that’s the rock seen, might as well find out the significance of it at the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which has already become my favourite museum for calling you dumb bastards out on everything you believe. I’ve never seen a museum with quite this sort of tone before. Most displays in the first room went along the lines of: “This sword is commonly believed to have been owned by Captain Whatshisface. This is obviously wrong, [so painfully, obviously wrong, that the fact that you momentarily considered this sword to belong to the guy we’re talking about sickens me. This isn’t a display to him, you troglodyte, this is a display pointing out how wrong you are about him.]” ;  “This painting, commemorating the first Thanksgiving, depicts the Native Americans sharing their food with the Pilgrims. Look at it. They’re wearing historically inaccurate clothing. Disgraceful. The guy who painted this in the 19th century didn’t even Google it, what a moron.”

Needless to say, this is an excellent museum and I recommend you go to it, because you’ll learn how wrong you were. How very, very wrong. Racist granddad at Christmas wrong. You’ll also learn that the Pilgrims departure from Leiden was partially motivated by the fear that their children were growing up Dutch.

The horror.

So ends today’s misadventure along the East Coast. Sadly no bird picture this time around, just go look at the terrifying Dutch again. Join us same time next week, or sometime next time I post, when I go to Boston to… look at it.

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