A few years ago, we were driving off on vacation with the fam in the minivan. Once we got past the malls our wife let out a huge sigh. “This is the furthest I’ve been over the bridge in six months,” she said. This was an exception during a particularly busy time, but it does serve as an example of how insular our little burg can become. Our isolation can lead to misunderstandings as our habits and customs do not always track with what those on the outside would consider “normal” or even in many cases “particularly sane”.
As a public service The Clam offers a short list of five things we do here and nowhere else. Take note if forced to interact with people from further away than Exit 14.
1. Carry Dunkins Cups Everywhere When we would do a thing called “stay out late” we once bore witness to an altercation between two drunken swains on lower Main Street. These dudes were swearing at each other, puffing out chests, offering threats of physical violence and eventually one of them took a poorly executed swing. The guy on the receiving end of the punch dodged it and put other guy in a headlock and they did that intoxicated man-hug shirtgrab deal that passes as a fight amongst the surpassingly inebriated. What made this so incredible to watch was the one guy who skillfully kept his Dunkins upright throughout as if it were positioned in the center of an invisible gyroscope. Of all the times you want two hands free, you’d think a streetfight would be it, but no. Not here.
In Gloucester it is perfectly socially acceptable not just for sidewalk brawlers but for attendees of any event large or small to perpetually clutch a Dunkins in the free hand: A pallbearer, best man at a wedding, a mohel, the defendant at the arraignment, everybody sips coffee at all times. It should be noted this is not cool in the outside world where commuters and patrons are socially allowed to have active beverages, but everyone else is expected to be able to go an hour or so without a regular with two sugars.
2. Operate a Free-For-All-Rotary With Minimal Signage Every time we turn from the left lane in Grant Circle toward Blackburn we check the car to our right for telltale ‘out of town’ hallmarks such Yankees stickers or lack of duct tape in order to gauge if they will actually turn right or not. We live in a constant fear of a ‘sweeper’ one of those fools with the erroneous belief they have the right to just carelessly amble around the rotary from the right hand lane.
The law is on our side, but in the outside world a two lane rotary merging with a two-lane road is a traffic rarity, like car-swallowing sink holes outside of Florida or a Prius in Texas. You’d think there’d be a sign or something, but no. On the plus side this is not a bad intro to the Gloucester experience in general.
3. Park Frigging Everywhere On sidewalks, up to the ends of intersections, on crosswalks and in front of curb cuts for wheelchairs and strollers (where they exist), in front of driveways if you are only ‘going to be a minute’ and in fire lanes. We have dear friends who live next to East Gloucester School and they regularly come home from work unable to park because strange cars are parked in their actual driveway in front of their house. At the Temple downtown people just straight up park in the private, posted lot and stroll on into the Y. Once one of the folks there went out to tell a guy that the parking is for members only and the guy punched him. Yes, seriously. The thought process that must have been something like: “I believe the private, religious organization in whose marked lot I have left my truck is obliged to provide me with parking to the point where I will physically assault someone.” In other places you park in parking lots or marked spaces and there is resident-only parking on the side streets. In Gloucester we’d park on your grandmother’s grave if it meant a better position in line at George’s.
4. Yell at Other People Rather Than Just Walk Over and Talk to Them Everywhere else in the world yelling at someone is an effort to warn them of consequential and immediate danger or to signal that you are ready to commit an act of tremendous violence upon their person. Not so here. When we lived downtown we were surprised to find that many people on one side of the street would have long, shouty but otherwise banal conversations at all hours of the day and night with people on the other side:
FIRST GUY, YELLING LIKE A SPARTAN WARRIOR: “Dude, I saw youah brotha yestaday, he was with that chick Stacey.”
SECOND GUY, SHRIEKING AS IF PASSING A KIDNEY STONE: “Ah, shit no, really? I thought she had a order on him?”
FIRST GUY, POSSIBLY ENGULFED IN FLAME: “Naw dude, they were togethah.”
SECOND GUY, LOUDER: “Ah shit. Hey, you got a cigarette?”
FIRST GUY, SUBDUED BUT STILL LOUD: “Yah dude, I’ll come ovah.”
In other parts of the world it is considered polite to cross the street in order to discuss the various chicks with restraining orders against one’s brother.
5. Refuse to Engage in Any Transaction Until it’s Determined ‘Who you are’ This one is weird. You try and engage a local business or service provider and nothing can happen until they figure out where you fit in the great scheme of things. “Who are you again?” they’ll ask. They don’t want your name, they want your pedigree. “Oh, I’m related to the so-and so’s, the one’s who live out by such and such, my uncle is that guy with the thing who used to have the place on…” This is a totally normal way to interact with people in Gloucester. It’s like you are a Viking noble proclaiming your right to the throne: “I claim this seat as Sorgen, son of Galden who won the battle at Borggen Fijord, Grandson of Troddggenn who added consonants wantonly to his last name after sinking the Saxon fleet in the Sea of Blugregnerennn with his kinsman my great uncle Glennnn of the many ‘N’s’ at…”
Most places you can just give them a valid credit card and they’ll do business with you.
We hope this has been helpful.