From Over the Bridge, At Least For Now by Mike Cook

Well, this winter did not turn out the way I expected.

Had anyone told me when I gave up my rental share in a house in Gloucester to spend the winter working in southwest Florida that I would be writing this from Provincetown, well, let’s just say not even I would have believed them.

But the fates, a lost wallet, and right wing bumper stickers all played a role in my winding up on a northbound  Greyhound bus, one cannot fly without a photo id these days, not really knowing where I was going to land.

As to the bumper stickers, I had no idea what a bastion of right wing, fundamentalist Christian, Tea Party Republicanism much of southwest Florida, even right along the coast, is. But I do now.

The bus ride was actually an intriguing experience. It got me back in touch with just what a vast and varied land the United States of America remains.

Pulling into the Greyhound terminal in NYC at 1:00 AM on a frigid night, with a three hour lay over ahead of me, was an experience I won’t soon forget. The sitting area was full of homeless people desperate to get in from the cold. To say that it was street theater taken to a disturbing extreme is an understatement of equally disturbing extremes.

I sat, writing in my journal, wondering “How can it be that in the richest nation on earth, people who, through no fault of their own, find life unmanageable can be relegated to an impoverished netherworld that is, truly, beyond Dickensian?”

After that experience, the deep woods of North Truro, where I first stayed upon my arrival on the Outer Cape, were a welcome respite from  the ugly realities of the world we all know exists but far too few of us want to talk about, let alone do anything about.

So, here I am settled into Provincetown with plans to return to Gloucester in April.

I have ample time on my hands to contemplate the meaning of this most recent adventure of mine and what might come after.

As I stroll the deserted streets of Provincetown, I find myself wondering if the  nouveau riche, bourgeois bohemian, gentrification, albeit of a largely gay variety, that has transformed this once magical place into little more than an expensive summer resort that celebrates diversity so long as it is rich, gay, and overwhelmingly white, is what awaits Gloucester.

Of course, the dynamics will not be exactly the same. But Gloucester, like Provincetown, Portsmouth, and Newburyport, with its beautiful coastal geography, is, with the decline of the blue collar/middle class fishing economy, being targeted by the same well to do bourgeois bohemian types who have so changed Provincetown, Portsmouth, and Newburyport in recent decades.

Provincetown, like Newburyport and Portsmouth, now ranks among the most expensive small coastal communities in the nation in which to live.

The working class, whether it be the gay men and lesbians  who waited on tables and tended bar,  the struggling artists and writers, or the locally born Portuguese who harvested the sea, are largely gone.

Year round housing that can be called even remotely affordable is all but impossible to find. As a result, many of the workers in the summer tourism season who wait on tables, tend bar, prepare the food in restaurants, and  change the sheets in $300 a night guesthouses are college students from eastern Europe and Jamaicans who live in dormitory style housing provided them by their employers to whom those employees then pay rent.

I don’t know what, if anything, can be done to stop, or even temper, the gentrification that is bearing down on Gloucester, but surely pointing out some of the downsides to that gentrification, many of which are abundantly visible in places like Provincetown, Newburyport, and Portsmouth, might be a means of getting people to think carefully before they embark down a road that could bring changes to Gloucester that are only in the interests of a select few as opposed to the hard working many.

mike_cookMike Cook  Long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

But then I realized liberals are not a monolithic, like thinking group of people, especially when you are talking about  “liberal laborers” and  “limousine liberals”.

Ah well, I hope this rambling of mine gets people thinking about the role classism plays, not just in what is happening in Gloucester, but throughout the nation as a whole – before it really is too late to do anything about it.

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