We visited our daughter’s family over the Christmas holidays in Portland ME where we were joined by our son’s family and the families of our niece and nephew along with a Pit Bull, a Golden Doodle, a neighbor’s Cairn Terrier, a large snake which fortunately slept all the time, and the coup de grace, a tiny, orange tabby kitten only a few weeks old. The arrival of Ringo, the kitty, would not have been such a big deal except that the very idea of the arrival of a tiny, strange animal, which could possibly be a cat, drove Betsy, the Pit Bull, and Gimli, the Golden Doodle, crazy; and there were several times when one or both of the two dogs came perilously close to snapping off the poor kitten’s head.
The week in Portland, however, gave me sufficient exposure to the coastal Maine culture so that I now consider myself an expert regarding this unique brand of Yankee.
Let me set the record straight. What you hear about Maine is not necessarily accurate. Here is the truth about the coastal Maine Yankee: all the people do not wear LL Bean lumberjack shirts, LL Bean boots, LL Bean down jackets, LL Bean hats, and LL Bean hiking boots all the time. Just most of the time. Nor is everyone thin and disgustingly fit though most certainly look like they are. And it is not true that all men over 30 have bushy beards and hair down to their shoulders, but a lot sure do. It is also not true that you can’t go outside without seeing someone walking a dog, often two dogs, but most of the time you can. Nor is it true that you can visit any of the several dog friendly beeches without counting at least a hundred four-legged creatures, the vast majority Golden Retrievers and Black Labs, bounding and frolicking all over the place. But you can sure count a lot of them.
It is not true that all these Yankees drive all-wheel-drive SUVs all the time with kayaks and skis on top. There are not that many skis on the top during the summer. It is also not true that there are no people of color though you have to look hard to disprove that, and with recent immigration of Africans, that is changing.
It is not true that the place is drop-dead beautiful with rocky beeches, majestic islands surrounding the town along with ancient lighthouses and sparkling blue waters everywhere with lobster boats heading home after a long day on the water with scores of gulls following behind and ferries scurrying people from the islands to the town and back. But that description comes pretty close. It is also probably not true that Portland has some of the best restaurants around and the most for any city its size, but it could be true. The restaurants we went to were all pretty good, one exceptional. All these Yankees do not own wood stoves or spend most of their waking hours chopping wood when they are off work. Just some do including Peter, my son-in-law.
So be careful when you hear people talking about how great Portland is; and if anyone tells you it is cheap and affordable, be doubly careful. When Embry and I departed from the airport we had an hour to kill before boarding our plane back to DC. At the airport diner we ordered two small bowls of lobster soup and one small bowl of coleslaw along with two beers. It took over 45 minutes for the order to arrive; and when it did, we had to gulp it down and then run to get to the gate on time. Total tab excluding tip: $75.17. We made the mistake of agreeing to have lobster in the soup. We were told by the waitress that it actually was not soup but “bisque,” and if you wanted lobster in it, you had to pay more. We don’t drink “bisque” where I come from. We drink soup. I wondered what a cup of clam chowder would taste like without clams or a crab soup without crabs. I will be more careful next time.
So now you know. Portland is not necessarily all it is cut out to be, but for a misplaced Southerner living in DC most of my life, I will have to admit I understand why my daughter and son-in-law, who used to live only a few miles from us, headed north with their teenage kids in tow to get out of Dodge. They chose a pretty nice spot.