Provincetown isn’t for everybody. It’s a great place, and I spent my summers growing up up there. There are lots of things to do, lots to see, and lots of ways to relax. But it isn’t for everybody.

It can be challenging if you’re at all uncomfortable around the LGBT(add letters as appropriate) community. If you’re homophobic to any degree, you will most likely be miserable. I say this, not to extoll the virtues of tolerance, but because it is difficult to discuss Provincetown without the topic coming up. I will not even attempt to avoid it. In fact, one of the more amusing things we encountered requires a certain knowledge of the gay community.

Bear Flag

It was the first day of Bear Week. My girlfriend and I were waiting at the Aquarium Food Court for our name to be called, indicating our order was ready for pickup. The deck was crowded, and we’d found an empty table in the courtyard just before the deck. We’d just sat down when one of the vendors called out “Bear!” Apparently someone had given “Bear” as their name.

On that day, calling out “Bear!” was somewhat akin to calling out “Dad!” in a crowded playground. For a week, bears from all over come to Ptown to enjoy the freedom of being openly bears. Some explanation of the term may be required for those unfamiliar with it: A bear is a slang term used to refer to describe gay men who are hairy, heavyset and/or muscular, and who project an image of rugged masculinity.

What does this anecdote have to do with our vacation? Plenty, though it’s not all encompassing. Provincetown is a place where self expression is widespread. As such, the level of tolerance is generally very high. There is often an atmosphere of genuine joy and lightheartedness that is not only refreshing, but revitalizing. People watching there is fascinating. It is even more so if you’re familiar with the various subcultures you see up there. If you understand the signals, keys, and symbols displayed, the depth of understanding what you’re seeing is greatly increased.

Yes, it’s crowded, which can be irritating at times…especially if you’re hungry and have a long wait at one of the many restaurants. But if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you can usually find something entertaining in just about every situation.

So what does the anecdote not encompass? The individual activities: from watching fireworks to watching whales, from exploring the National Seashore Visitor Center to some of the most–interesting–shops around, from fine dining to eating at a food court, and above all, the people watching. We did a lot over the course of the week. There were still plenty of things left to do when we left.

One thing, though, sticks out in my mind. I got a chance to visit with my martial arts instructor and his wife. It’s been many years since I had any kind of meaningful interaction with them. I’m really glad I got to speak with them. They’ve played an important, if usually distant, part in my life.

Returning to Provincetown revitalized me in ways I hadn’t expected. My coworkers noticed the changes immediately. I’m not going to try to describe them, except to say that I’m more grounded than I have been in a long time.