Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a "Mainah"

I was born and raised in Maine and I have lived here for my whole life but something I read today made me wonder, is that all it takes to make someone a "Mainah"? Being a Native of Maine is an accident of birth; you either are or you are not, and there is nothing you can do to change it. But it seems to me that being a true "Mainah", native or otherwise, is more of an attitude, an appreciation and a love for Maine and all that it represents. So someone who was born in Maine but can't wait to escape to greener pastures (figuratively speaking)is not a Mainah. When I was much younger, still in college maybe, this was me; I was certain that life would be better in almost any place other than Maine, and I intended to leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Clearly, I was not a Mainah at that stage of my life.

On the other hand, someone who moves to Maine "from away" and over time develops a deep love, respect and appreciation for life in Maine, someone who sees wonder in its seasons and geography,understands its people and their ways, and finds joy in even the simple aspects of "life as it should be" that we natives take for granted - such a person, I think, can fairly be called a "Mainah".

Sarah Smiley writes a weekly column called "Shore Duty" about life in general, military life in particular, and recently life in Maine. Her husband is a Naval Officer and they came to Maine (Bangor) on assignment a little over two years ago. I have read her columns for several years and I was curious as to how she would adapt to life here. Well as it turns out, she has adapted very well.

The "Shore Duty" published today was titled, "What's special about Maine", and it was what started me thinking about what makes someone a Mainah. Here's a brief excerpt from the column: "I fell in love with Maine during those first few months in 2008. Everything - from the way the heater smelled when it first kicked on to the boots people stepped out of on their front porch to the puddle of slush they left behind - was endearing." There was much more, of course, but you get the idea -Sarah is clearly smitten with life in Maine.

Then she wrote the passage that started me thinking and ultimately led me to conclude that I disagree with her on one point: "The process of falling in love was complete. I had become one with Maine (though still not a "Mainer" (sic) of course)" I think she's wrong - she is a Mainah in the best sense of the word, and even if they are reassigned and move out of Maine she will still be "one of us" - because she "gets" what life in Maine is all about. And that's what it takes to be a Mainah, by Gawd!

I guess that since I plagiarized from her column it's only fair that I plug her website, so you can learn more about Sarah Smiley at www.sarahsmiley.com - she's "real people" - I think you'll like her.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's a "Snow Day"

Today is Monday, December 27 and what will surely be labelled "The Blizzard of 2010" is upon us. The snow started to fall late last night but the high winds and heavy snowfall didn't ramp up until after midnight (I guess - I was asleep by then) and by daybreak there were several inches of snow already on the ground and it was still falling and blowing at a pretty respectable rate; it still is as I write, a little after noon. All in all the conditions have created a personal "snow day" for me.

On a normal Monday I would spend most of the day driving a van to transport veterans to the VA Facility at Togus and return them home. It's a volunteer activity which I enjoy and I had two riders scheduled for today, so I was a little disappointed that the weather forced cancellation of the trip, but at least the decision to cancel was a no-brainer. I hate to call off a trip when conditions are "marginal" but today is anything but that so there was absolutely no doubt about the call.

I have not always appreciated "snow days". When my sons were still in school, storm cancellations necessitated making provisions for them to be supervised for the day. When they were very little that meant they went to their day-care provider for the whole day instead of just after school, which of course increased the expense, but I was still very grateful that the facility was there for us. Later on, when they were "too big" for day care but still too young to leave unsupervised I usually just took the day off from work to stay home with them, and we did some pretty fun things so it certainly wasn't all bad. Still a missed day of work had "costs" of its own so it wasn't something I hoped for when a winter storm was in the forecast.

I have to say that I am enjoying my "snow day" today, though. First, the timing of the storm made it certain last night that I would not be driving today, so I could "sleep in" knowing that I didn't have to be in Round Pond by 8:00am. So I got up at a very leisurely time, made a pot of coffee and just relaxed for a while - the morning paper had not come (it showed up at about 9:30, much to my surprise as the travelling looks really treacherous) so I spent a while just "puttering". Then I fired up the snow-blower to clear the driveway (I think I'll have to do it again, though) and retrieve the paper. Now, with the hard work done, I can just stay in and relax for the rest of the day and not feel the least bit guilty about it! It's like having a day off from my "day off", if you know what I mean - no plans, no schedule, no "to-do" list to work through. It's a "snow day"!

Winter storms can be dangerous and not everybody can just stay home and stay warm and safe until they pass. But for this storm on this day I am in a unique position to take advantage of the weather as an excuse to stay home and do absolutely nothing for a while, all the while knowing that I am doing the "responsible" thing by staying off the roads and out of harm's way. What could be better than that?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"The Broiler Capital of the World"

I grew up in a small town on the coast of Maine, and that's how it promoted itself: "The Broiler Capital of the World"! The boast was based on the major source of employment in the area, the two poultry processing plants that were located side by side directly on the waterfront at the head of the bay. There was a sardine plant there, too, but it was the poultry plants that gave the town its claim to fame. I was reminded of this today as I worked on a crossword puzzle and "broilers" was one of the answers.

"Broilers" of course referred to the countless chickens that were raised in the outlying areas and transported in cages by "poultry trucks" to the plants at the bottom of Main Street, where they were slaughtered, processed and shipped to markets all around the country ( and maybe the world, but the "global economy" had not really materialised yet.)

Almost everyone in the county was, directly or indirectly, involved with the poultry industry. Anybody who didn't work in one of the plants, grow chicks in a chicken house, or drive a truck to take them to them to their final destination was probably related to somebody who did. And almost everybody else in some way supported and depended on the industry. It was, in many respects, a "company town". And the "company" was a chicken plant.

Since the local economy was so dependent on "broilers" I guess it's only natural that a slogan that featured the industry was developed and promoted. So "The Broiler Capital of the World" came to be - I don't know exactly when the slogan came into existence but I do not remember a time when the town was not known as that, and my recollection goes back to the early 1950's. And it was not just a slogan - there were activities and events intended to further the town's reputation as such, foremost among them an annual "Broiler Day".

The celebration was held in July, as I recall, and was a pretty big deal for the whole area. There was a parade, of course, and selection of a "Broiler Queen", and maybe even a dance, but the main event was the day-long celebration at the waterfront park, where there were games and displays all leading up to the main event - the biggest chicken barbeque you can imagine. A good time was had by all, and the chicken was really yummy! The organizers of the event did a really good job promoting the industry that supported the whole area.

But of course there was a "dark side" to the industry that everybody had to ignore for "business as usual" to continue to go on. For one thing, travel over any road in the county inevitably wound up with you behind a truck transporting chickens and it was not a pretty sight. Chickens were crammed into wooden cages which made their misery apparent, and their feathers created a hazardous "storm" behind the truck. And there were precious few opportunities to pass the trucks safely so what could have been a quick trip to town frequently became a long, slow ride instead.

Much more serious, and what ultimately led to the demise of the industry in the area, was the fact that both plants were located directly on the shores of the bay and they discharged the effluent (i.e., "chicken guts") directly into the bay. No filters, no treatment - straight from the slaughter room floor into the water. A visitor to the waterfront was greeted with a view of floating chicken feathers, organs and offal. It was not a pretty sight. It's ironic that the city park where the "Broiler Day" celebration was held had a large pool for swimming because nobody in their right mind would dare venture into the waters of the adjacent bay for fear of encountering chicken parts floating by. The only "positive" aspect of this - and it's a real stretch - was that the Striped Bass that migrated into the bay every summer found the offal to be very tasty, and a fisherman who wanted to catch them had only to hook a chicken lung onto his line to assure a catch.

All good things must come to an end and so it was with "The Broiler Capital of the World". By the late 1960's environmental concerns led to government regulations that prohibited things like discharging untreated waste directly into our waters, and so the plants had to make major capital investments to "clean up their act" or shut down, and of course they did the expedient thing - they closed up shop and moved on and left the local economy and the waterfront they had sullied and abandoned to fend for themselves. Those pesky "government regulations" that folks are so fond of complaining about did the industry in. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing I guess is in the eye of the beholder, but I sure wish I had bought some shore-front property while the prices were depressed due to the chicken guts floating everywhere.

The end of every era is, of course, te beginning of a new one and so it was with my home town. The collapse of the local economy and the devaluation of property values resulted in what can only be called local depression conditions, but this too had a bright side: the opportunity to purchase prime waterfront property at bargain-basement prices attracted the attention of some savvy investors. Chief among them was MBNA - you remember, the credit card giant that made billions by making easy credit available to folks like you and me.

MBNA, which at the time had more money than God, came into town and bought up scads of prime real-estate and set up a call center and hired lots of local residents to staff it. And they didn't discharge anything into the bay, which over time managed to clean itself up pretty well through natural processes - chicken guts may not be pretty, but they are bio-degradable and in a few short years the waterfront was relatively pristine again. And since shorefront property is highly desirable and in short supply values began to go back up, and other people and companies with money came to the area to snap it up, and life and the local economy were good again. And then MBNA went belly-up.

Happily, by the time of this last development the natural beauty of the region had been cleaned up and re-established itself as the primary attraction of the area. It was desireable for what it was: an area rich in natural beauty and resources, a place where people wanted to come just to enjoy the wonderment of its location. So my home town no longer calls itself "The Broiler Capital of the World" but it's doing pretty well anyway. I haven't been back in quite a while but I understand it's thriving as a local center for culture and the arts, and I think that's a good thing. Maybe when I do go back for a visit, I'll take a swim in the bay just for "new times" sake.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My blog has a follower

In truth, I started this blogging enterprise strictly for my own entertainment. I like to write, mostly about myself as you may have noticed, and this space provides a forum for me to go on and on about whatever happens to be on my mind at any given moment. So I've been perfectly content to babble on whenever, about whatever for however long I felt like.

And that's still the way it is but maybe with some subtle differences. First and foremost, someone is "following" my blog. As I understand it, "followers" are notified of updates and posts to the blog they are following, so they can check in and see what's new. And this particular "follower", who (whom? - I think that's grammatically correct, but it sounds so wrong) I happen to know, says she is interested in my musings. Well first, I'm a little concerned about anyone who finds the workings of my mind interesting (except maybe in a clinical sense) - I know I'm witty and entertaining but I didn't think I'd ever convince anybody else of that. So the fact that someone would actually want to come back on a regular basis to read what I have to say is a little unexpected; plus now I feel obligated to write stuff that might actually be interesting/entertaining/informative to someone other than me - that's a lot of pressure for a hack like me! But I don't mind; in fact, I'm grateful for my follower and I hope I don't let her down. And comments would be welcome, too!

Also, I have discovered that I can track the number of "hits" on my blog and actually see the source of the "referring URL" (I'm not sure what that means but it sounds important.) So I know that some folks have come here via Google, which I guess I might have expected (you cannot be "invisible" on the internet with search engines like "Google" keeping track of every character posted) but I totally did not expect hits from Russia and Bosnia referred by some Russian English-language search site (I "Googled" it to find out what it was). And there's another website that refers its visitors to "web sites you might be interested in" (including this one, apparently), for what reason I have no idea - but I'm guessing it's not because they have visited here and found it to be worth recommending for the literary content.

So apparently in addition to my "follower" and the few other folks I have let in on the existence of this blog, I have a "world-wide" audience who have at least visited here even if they haven't actually read any of my posts. And to all I say, "Welcome - I'm glad you stopped by". But I intend to stay true to my original intent when I created this enterprise, and that is to write for myself, about whatever I find of interest and as often as I feel the urge. If someone else finds this to be of interest for whatever reason, then I am glad - you are welcome to visit as often as you like. Feel free to agree, disagree, or comment about anything you like - but just so you know, you probably won't change my mind about anything.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I love my TomTom

TomTom is a GPS device, and technically it's not mine - it belongs to Disabled American Veterans (DAV). A few months ago DAV bought TomToms for the vans we use to transport veterans from all over the state to the VA medical facility at Togus. I drive a van one day each week, and to be honest when I first saw the GPS I chuckled because I thought it was totally unnecessary. I've lived in the mid-coast region for my whole life and I like to think I know the roads in the area pretty well. Not so, as it turns out.

Some of the veterans we pick up live in pretty remote areas, way off the beaten path, so to speak. But I've always been able to find them even before TomTom arrived on the scene. Sometimes it involved a little research before I set out and every now and then I had to check the DeLorme Atlas to locate the right road, but I always got there. But now with the all-knowing GPS sitting on the dashboard all I have to do is enter the Vet's address, even if it's off the highway, down a country road and on a private lane and TomTom gives me turn by turn directions right to the front door - it even tells me, in a very charming feminine voice, when my next turn is coming up!

I admit, I didn't totally trust it at first - I turned it on and put in the address, but I still got my own directions and went the way I thought was best. TomTom and I didn't agree every time on the best route, but she was very patient with me and every time I deviated from her directions she would "recalculate" and produce a new route that was consistent with the way I was headed. And no matter which way I went, she always cheerily announced, "You have reached your destination" just as I pulled into the desired address. Over time I learned to co-exist with TomTom but I still never came to regard her as "necessary." Until today.

Today brought the first significant snowfall of the season. It wasn't bad when I started my run to Newcastle to pick up my only rider, but by the time I arrived the roads were snow-covered and getting very slick. The usual route from Newcastle to Togus, the one TomTom showed me when I first started using her, is over a series of very winding, hilly roads which are a challenge (but very scenic) in good weather but today they were just plain hazardous. No plows or sand trucks had treated the "back" roads so the ride was slow but, thankfully, uneventful and we arrived safely at Togus, where it was snowing even harder.

I felt the return trip would be safer if I travelled on the main roads instead of returning the way I had come, so as soon as I left Togus I departed from the route the GPS had plotted for me but as usual she agreeably plotted new routes every time I went by a turn she had chosen to put me on her preferred road. And ultimately she relented and produced directions that were consistent with the way I was travelling and everybody was happy. My route added a few miles to the trip but we arrived safely, dropped off my passenger and headed "home". TomTom knows where "home" is and how to get there no matter where we start or what roads we travel - today that became important.

From Newcastle to "home" is a straight shot down U.S. Rt 1 with no turns at all until it's practically time to turn into the driveway - if GPS directions ever seemed irrelevant, this would be the trip. By this time the storm had intensified and even Route One was getting greasy and traffic was moving slowly, which was OK by me. As I approached Wiscasset things started to get interesting - apparently Route One was closed just north of the Wiscasset bridge and traffic was being diverted onto Route 27, which goes to the Boothbay area - I did not want to go to the Boothbay area and if you know this area at all you know the ONLY way to get "home" is to cross the bridge in Wiscasset (or double way, way back and go another way entirely.) But I was given no choice - leave Route One and go down 27.

Now I know from my earlier travels in the area that there is a "back way" to get from Route 27 back to One right at the very end of the bridge I needed to cross - I just wasn't sure where the turn was. But TomTom, God bless her little electronic chips, knew exactly where it was and as soon as I made the turn onto 27 she "recalculated" our route to take me right to it! There was a long line of cars going down 27 and it was apparent that none of them had a clue as to how to get back on Route One, but when TomTom flashed a big green arrow to a side road and sweetly directed me to a "right turn ahead" I slowed, made the turn, and watched everybody else go straight, towards Boothbay. So there I was, by myself on another winding hilly snow-covered road; there was one hill I thought I would not make it over, and there was a 90 degree turn that, if missed, lands you in the bay but I made it and eventually I arrived at the end of the bridge on Route One. There were long lines of stopped traffic in both directions but I had come in just south of whatever was blocking the road so I just pulled out into the southbound lane and proceeded on my merry way - and as I watched in my rear-view mirror I did not see a single car come out of that detour behind me. Apparently no one else had TomTom to direct them.

So let me say it again: "I love my TomTom." I may even get one for my own truck.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've never been much of a whiskey drinker, or any "hard liquor" for that matter. Oh, I had a fling with Scotch when I was barely, or maybe not even, old enough to drink legally. And I went through a Tequila period during my first marriage, mostly due to Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville", I think. And my flirtation with Rum was Jimmy's fault, too, since every boater needs "boat drinks" at the end of the day. And of course St. Patrick's Day calls for an Irish whiskey (Bushmill is my preferred choice) to celebrate the occasion. But beer has always been my adult beverage of preference - I switch brands depending on my mood and budget, but basically any beer will do. Red wine is good, too - not the fancy "vintage" stuff, just a nice, smooth table wine, and if I'm listening to Jerry Jeff Walker, a Sangria seems appropriate. Whiskey though, not so much.

Until a couple of years ago (more or less) when I read an article in a magazine about good cheap booze; or maybe cheap good booze - I'm not sure which it was. Either way, it mentioned bourbon. I've probably had bourbon once or twice in my life (Wild Turkey comes to mind) but this article sang the praises of a brand I'd never heard of - Evan Williams. It spoke in glowing (bourbon does give you a glow) terms of it's taste and complexity, and lots of other stuff I didn't understand, and compared it favorably to much pricier brands. Well I love a bargain, so the next time I found myself in the booze aisle at Shaw's I looked for it, and sure enough - there it was for under twelve bucks for a fifth. Everything else was much more expensive and I knew, because I had read it in a magazine, the this stuff was good (and cheap), so I bought some.

Have you ever heard the song, "God's own drunk"? It's about a still and the whiskey it produces, and there's a man tending the still, and there's a bear and - well, if you've heard the song you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, you just wouldn't understand. But when I took my first sip of Evan Williams bourbon, that song came to mind and I knew exactly what it meant. That Kentucky bourbon danced on my tongue and it warmed the back of my throat and then I felt it all the way down to my belly. And I fell in love, and I knew I had a new mistress.

Now I've had enough experience with women and booze to know that you have to treat them both with respect and enjoy them in moderation. But I'm pretty sure that I've found the whiskey that I'm going to stick with for the rest of my life; as for that woman, well I guess she's still out there waiting to be discovered.