Enjoying off-season ramblings in a Jaguar half the size of Massachusetts
AH, CAPE COD. FOR GENERATIONS one of America’s most iconic summertime getaway spots. From the quaint gray wood-shingled homes of Sandwich, to the dramatic dunes and astonishing sunsets of Provincetown, to the smattering of random Kennedys who still summer here (and to the fact that “summer” is used as a verb), the Cape has long exerted a powerful hold on the national imagination. And if you go during high season, you’ll be able to ponder all this at great length while stewing in traffic for hours, before arriving at a destination so thick with humanity that it could at points be mistaken for Piccadilly Circus, only with prettified bank branches.
These are the very thoughts I savor, however, as I glide toward the Cape from Boston on the far side of Labor Day, unmolested by traffic, tankard of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand (a requirement for all drives originating from the Hub) and the road mostly to myself. Helping matters is my car for the weekend, a silver 2012 Jaguar XJ Supersport, which—while nearly 17 feet long and weighing more than 5,000 pounds—handles like an extravagantly powered coupe. The supercharged 5.0-liter, 510-hp V-8 can go from zero to 60 in less than five seconds. (That this takes some getting used to is evidenced by the fact that I can’t seem to stop peeling out at green lights.)
The Jag makes quick work of Routes 93 and 3 out of Boston, though like any flashy car it does attract challengers. A man in a Subaru pulls up alongside me and, emboldened by my ride, blows past. I decline to take the bait, and a few miles later note with satisfaction that he’s been pulled over by a state trooper, an outcome I consider the product of some fine automotive jujitsu.
An hour after leaving Boston, I arrive on Route 6, the highway running through the Cape. When the signs read Sandwich, I pull off onto 6A, one of the country’s most beautiful byways. Dubbed the Old King’s Highway, it winds through one now-sleepy town after another, each quintessentially New England, with their clam shacks, antiques stores, centuries-old church graveyards, salt marshes, beach cottages and the like.
After a restorative cheeseburger at The Belfry, a restaurant and B&B housed in a converted church in Sandwich, I push on to Yarmouth Port and stop at the Edward Gorey House. The writer and illustrator is best known for his wonderfully macabre, Victorian-inflected children’s book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which 26 alphabetically ordered tykes meet odd and untimely ends (“N is for Neville who died of ennui”). Gorey lived here, with many cats, in a house once inhabited by a captain who was eventually lost at sea (fitting, given Gorey’s disposition). Today the house is a museum full of delightful artifacts, including a month of receipts from a local eatery at which Gorey used to order nearly the same thing every day, periodically sneaking behind the cash register and wreaking havoc—ringing up $14,000 lunches, for instance.
The traditional gateway to the National Seashore is Eastham, which I pass through en route to Wellfleet. I pull off 6A and cruise through the center of Wellfleet, to the harbor. Tucked behind an oyster house is Oceans of Books by the Sea, a long-running local institution packed with used books. The sign on the door reads “HOURS: 8:30-5 AND/OR BY CHANCE.” After a summer of unusually high shark activity on the Cape, I feel the need to temper primal terror with a bit of knowledge, so I pick up a copy of Shark Trouble, Peter Benchley’s attempt to educate people on these predators and thereby curb the wholesale slaughter of sharks unleashed by the film adaptation of his novel Jaws.
With the sunroof open to let in the sea air, I make my way into idyllic Truro, off 6A again, past Truro Vineyards and down a narrow thread of road lined with Provincetown’s famous tiny seaside cottages, arranged against a roiling gray sea, hunkering down before the coming onslaught of winter. This road meets up with Commercial Street, the main drag of Provincetown. In high season, this strip, popular with the gay community, is one wild running bacchanal, but now it’s quiet, save for the year-rounders left behind by the hordes (before he died, Norman Mailer was a local).
Near the end of Commercial Street is The Red Inn, one of P-town’s finest establishments. Seated at a table by the windows overlooking the sea, I settle in for a terrific meal: artichoke and lobster fondue, oysters and a delicious vegetable bread pudding made with marinated portobello mushrooms and a port demi-glace.
After dinner I drive to the end of Commercial Street and park the Jag along the rolling dunes. In the summertime, locals and tourists alike gather here nightly to take in the truly spectacular sunsets, often greeting the eruptions of color with applause. As the sun falls behind the horizon I can see why, standing in the cooling air, an enraptured audience of one.
Hemispheres editor in chief JOE KEOHANE hopes never to perish from ennui.
Engine: Eight-speed supercharged DOHC 32-valve 5.0-liter V-8
Starting price: $111,200
Perks: The panoramic sunroof and electric blinds, though they take some time to master, keep you from feeling engulfed by the big cat’s sumptuous interior, while the heated cup holder keeps your coffee from getting cold.
Performance: It’s a big car, but its 510 horses—taking you from zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds—coupled with nimble handling make you forget its heft right quick. Of course, with that size and power, gas mileage is understandably mediocre: 15 city, 21 highway.