A Pause to Give Thanks

Sometimes I get pretty down on my home state.  When a person is stuck in any one place for long enough, it’s difficult not to get bored and frustrated.  I can’t step foot outside without running into a former employer, classmate, or teacher (occasionally these are fantastic occurrences and I am overjoyed to be reunited with a long-lost-whomever, but sometimes not).  I won’t even breach the topic of ex-boyfriends, because in a city this small mine are everywhere (as are the exes of all my dearest friends, creating entirely different awkward situations).  Is it obvious that I’m feeling a bit cooped up this supposed seaside haven?

There were times when I relished the natural beauty and ease of living in Maine.  Most of those times were directly following the year I spent living in Boston – because Massachusetts smells bad and geese shit all over literally everything there.  It’s Thanksgiving time and I’m supposed to recall all that I’m grateful for.  My list is pretty straightforward – Josh, Teddy and Milo, family and friends, pizza, the right to an education, miniature animals.  (Y’know, the important stuff.)  But I was somehow prompted to start considering things that I take for granted – and Portland, Maine is certainly one of those things.  Our license plates claim this to be “Vacationland”, and while the current politics and economy are lousy, I can still appreciate what it means to be from and live in the state of Maine.

So here it is, my absolutely random list of ten reason I love my home:

1) Big Al’s Super Values: The Odd Lot Outlet

I’m starting this list off by getting real about the best thing in Maine.  Big Al – and yes, he exists – is notorious in Southern Maine for presenting his formidable figure in a white tiger t-shirt and giant suspenders for the store’s commercials.  Big Al’s is like a mini-Marden’s (another local purveyor of items that likely fell from the backs of trucks).  There are lots of Maine-centric items, but also several aisles of discount greeting cards, craft supplies, and toys.  You can find oddities ranging from holiday themed housewares to singing, pizza-whirling figurines of Italian men in aprons.  The spread at Al’s is remarkable.  It’s not far from Portland – a short drive up Route 1 to Wiscasset – and there’s a worthwhile diner nearby that serves giant pancakes.  Absolutely worth a trip (or ten), and a place I’m entirely grateful for.

2) Haven’s Candies

So, Portland’s food is kind of a big deal.  We have all sorts of restaurants that collect flawless reviews and the seafood here is special, or something.  I appreciate the variety of local food options, but when I desire sweets it’s Haven’s I head to.  I grew up on their locally-made candy canes and nonpareils, each of my Easter baskets filled to the brim with Haven’s chocolates.  The place is pretty important for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.  Recently, Josh and I attended the Haven’s Open House, held at their retail store/factory combo on Route 22 heading towards Westbrook.  We, with about 50 school-aged children, got to watch how certain confections are made and were sent home with lots of free treats.  Whenever I move away from Maine, I will sorely miss my favorite candy shop.

3) L.L. Bean

Obvious and not original whatsoever, I know.  That’s irrelevant because L.L. Bean is great.  The mammoth outdoor living compound stretches across downtown Freeport, Maine.  People from all over the United States (and perhaps all of the world!!?) order products from the company’s famed mail order catalogue.  I wonder how many of those customers know that the L.L. Bean store is open 24 hours a day?  For young Andrea, the option of having anywhere to spend my insomnia-riddled nights was a triumph.  Friends and I conducted lengthy games of hide-and-seek there and marveled at the indoor trout pond in the middle of many nights.  I live in a place where every single store is closed by 9:00PM, so having an enormous indoor playground be open all of the time is a big plus.

4) Portland Trails

I can’t speak to the trail systems in other cities, but the people of Portland Trails provide Teddy and I lots of options for local walks.  There are so many winding paths in the hidden parts of Portland.  I would lose my mind if I didn’t have access to some wooded places to explore.  The group has 30 trails listed on their website, and I think I’ve traversed almost all of them.

5) Portland Metro Route #4

Oh, #4 bus, how I love you.  I once resided just outside of Portland in the town of Westbrook.  Out of boredom and curiosity, combined with a desire to cut down on personal vehicular travel, a friend and I would hop on the #4 bus and venture into Portland.  I have overheard some pretty racy conversations on that bus (“…and I told him I was gonna burn his fuckin’ house down if he didn’t buy me that beer!”).  It’s also quite slow, because it makes so many stops and takes such a circuitous route.  Perhaps because I’d never really ridden busses before the #4, or perhaps because the characters encountered on each ride were so hilarious and talkative, but either way I have never had as much fun riding the bus as I have on the #4.  Firstly, the route is actually quite scenic in parts.  Secondly, it stops at one of my favorite places in Greater Portland: Westside Lanes.  Which brings me to my next item…

6) Candlepin Bowling

Until adulthood, I was unaware that other areas of North America were deprived the sacred right of candlepin bowling.  Hell, until junior high and the local popularity of late night “Galactic Bowling” (aka: we covered everything in glow-light paint and turned the lights off, c’mon and bowl, kids!), I didn’t know there was a form of the game that didn’t involve thin pins and 4 1/2 inch bowling balls.  When I first played 10-pin, I couldn’t believe that people preferred that to my game.  Candlepin bowling alleys often have carpeted walls and legions of little old ladies playing in leagues.  There’s nothing hip about candlepin bowling alleys, the game rooms are full of antiquated machines with chipping paint, and there are rarely automated scoring machines.  They seem to exist solely for my old-timey bowling pleasure, and I couldn’t be happier that I live in a place that appreciates such a sport.

7) Architecture and History

Portland is without doubt one of the best places in the US to experience history.  Despite burning multiple times (yep, the entire city) throughout its existence, Portland still manages to house some of the most remarkable structures I’ve seen.  While unfortunate new hotel developments seem to be popping up and replacing some local landmarks (was I the only one who appreciated the worn visage of the abandoned Jordan’s Meats?), I still think that Portland is noteworthy for its buildings.  I took a Maine Studies course in high school that involved several walking tours of this area and am thus fortunate enough to know where to find the working horse troth in Portland, and which buildings in the Old Port were once “houses of ill repute!!” (direct quote from my beloved high school history teacher).  For a girl who gets her kicks reading history textbooks and decorating her house with anything old, Portland is aesthetically perfect.

8 ) The Coast

This is about as cliche a choice as L.L. Bean, but the shore is just different in Maine.  I should know from my current geology course (but don’t) what causes Maine to have such rocky beaches.  I’m just glad we do.  I don’t care for sunbathing by the ocean, but I do like to examine the tide pools that gather on our rocky coastlines.  The sea water is terrifyingly cold here most of the year, with late-July through mid-August being about the only decent time for ocean swimming.  But to me, the Atlantic is best enjoyed on a foggy weekday in November by climbing out onto the slippery rocks that jut into the sea.

9) Bintliff’s American Cafe

If you live in Portland and haven’t eaten at Bintliff’s, you’re doing something wrong.  I will personally buy you breakfast there.  I can’t advocate enough for this place.  I love the staff and the inappropriate conversations we conduct together in hushed tones while wholesome middle-aged couples enjoy omelets.  I love that every single thing I’ve eaten from Bintliff’s was the best version of that food I’ve ever had.  Their waffles?  Best I’ve ever had.  Eggs benedict?  More impressive than other any egg dish I’ve ever consumed.  There’s also a full bar for those of us who feel compelled to imbibe before noon.  I routinely hear friends complaining about the lengthy wait times for tables at Bintliff’s, but if you stop in between Monday and Thursday, you’re sure to get a seat quickly.  They serve CBD coffee and I just love them, that’s all.

10) Maine Hospitality

Hospitality is not quite the right word, but what I’m referring to is the unique camaraderie that exists between Maine residents.  We tough out the worst winter weather together, suffer waves of tourists every summer, and are often dismissed by the rest of the country.  (People from other states have actually asked me if Maine is part of the United States or Canada.)  We commiserate about potholes, bad local politics, and the price of heating oil.  I may not have much experience elsewhere, but I know enough to confidently assert that Maine residents have a special neighborly way about them.  Every time my car has broken down, I’ve had no less than two people stop to help.  I’m greeted with pleasant small talk at my neighborhood market.  The owner of my favorite local farm stand gives Josh and I what she calls “the friendly neighbor discount”.  Not every interaction is full of niceties here in the frigid northeast, but lots are.  Maine isn’t a bad place to call home.

I suppose this concludes my list of local treasures.  I do love my home state, and taking a moment to remember why has been nice.  I’ll try to keep these positive thoughts in mind as Portland turns into madness for the holiday season.  Good thing my family doesn’t exchange gifts because I hate shopping in our crowded downtown this time of year – but I’ll write all about my holiday traditions some other time.