During the summer of 2008, my family took a roadtrip to Beantown, stopping along the way at artsy places like Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania and lowlife way stations like the Ghosthunters show storefront in beautiful (well, actually kind of ugly) downtown Warwick, Rhode Island.
This week I finally had a reason to fly into Beantown, a.k.a. Boston, Massachusetts. Beantown turned out to be a way station to my real destination, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which sits on the southern side of Cape Cod. There I spent three days in a lovely conference room and spent my evenings wandering around Woods Hole and nearby Falmouth. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute sits in what is probably the most bucolic campus in the country, with dozens of lovely building surrounded by maple and oak trees, joined by lovely walkways and with the Atlantic Ocean just a fifteen minute walk away.
As I told my daughter, I enjoy my short distance business trips the best. The shortest ones generally occur in my own time zone, and I can get there with a direct flight, generally lasting an hour or so. Getting there does not swallow most of my day. As it turned out, it took longer to drive between Boston’s Logan airport and Falmouth (where we stayed) than it did to fly between Washington Dulles and Boston. There were no weather or aircraft delays, just routine traffic delays trying to drive out of Boston during rush hour.
Cape Cod is further away from Boston than I thought. I imagined you could glimpse it from Boston Harbor but I doubt that is true, at least not at surface level. It is further east and further south than I imagined. Falmouth, where we stayed, turned out to be a lovely and typical New England town with plenty of stores, galleries and restaurants designed mostly for tourist season. In October, while the tourist traffic was somewhat off, the locals were friendly, looked well moneyed and were overwhelmingly white.
The citizens of this part of Massachusetts are an unfailingly polite group, or so it appeared to this visitor. A walk down the Shining Sea Bike Path into Woods Hole led to many pleasant greetings from fellow residents. Woods Hole is small and exclusive enough to make it nigh impossible to park without a permit. It is also a harbor town. Aside from serving oceanographic interests, it acts as a conduit for tourists to and residents of Martha’s Vineyard. For $7.50 you can board a ferry that will deposit you on the island. Make sure you also purchase a return trip and not miss the 9:30 PM ferry, or you may be in for a long and cold night. Particularly during the summer season, without a reservation you cannot count on a room at Martha’s Vineyard.
I looked hard to find things to dislike about this part of Cape Cod. Most towns in New England come complete with a picturesque town square or commons, which offer a lovely dose of tamed nature in what would otherwise be a busy part of town. In Falmouth, my group found plenty of old churches, meeting halls and restaurants. Dinner at The Quarterdeck in Falmouth revealed a tavern populated not by tourists but by locals, all of whom seemed to be on intimate terms with each other. There was not a hint of crime or litter in Falmouth. Nor could I complain that the town felt fake. Steeped in hundreds of years of history, it cannot help but be authentic. Nor, after walking its long main street, I could I find a chain restaurant, a real plus. If you do not enjoy seafood, you would probably be happier elsewhere, but if you do enjoy seafood you are blessed with abundant and fresh seafood at local restaurants, which you can watch being hauled in at harbors like Woods Hole.
If forced to find items to complain about, one could make the case that the local roundabouts found on the Cape as well as much of New England, while quaint, are annoying and create backups at certain parts of the day. I also checked the local real estate prices. The riff raff are apparently easy to keep away because they cannot afford to live in this area. It helps to inherit a relative’s property or to have a six figure income. Otherwise you probably cannot afford to live in this area, despite its conspicuous absence of supersized houses.
This second trip to New England in less than two years made me realize again that New England is loudly calling for me to settle there. Fortunately, it is also calling my wife, which means we will be looking at retiring, if not in some charming Cape Cod town like Falmouth, then somewhere in New England, providing we can afford it. While there are definitely some not so nice areas of New England (such as Revere, where Logan Airport sits) much of it is charming and inviting to those who like a northern climate.
I imagine New England gets much less charming in the winter, particularly during its abundant snow season. I suspect much of its charm would wear off after shoveling snow several times a week. Most people retire from places like Boston, not to these places. I may find that the milder climate of Northern Virginia where we now live is much better overall.
Still, now that I have an exposure to New England, I want to live here. It will be hard to convince myself to spend my retired years somewhere else.