Saturday, September 24, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 37: Coasting in Maine

Making my way downeast along the ragged, rocky coast of Maine, I experienced the full range of the elements autumn had to offer: Fog so dense that driving was both disorienting and downright dangerous; rain so intense it penetrated the pores; foliage so glorious in the autumn sun you were transformed from complainer to Mainer in the space of a day.

I had learned the art of “cold-calling” while in insurance sales. This Town Meeting 76 campaign gave the term a whole new meaning. More in the tradition of the Methodist preachers of the 1800s, circuit riders as they were called. I also came to appreciate my biblical training, as when Jesus sent out those first circuit riders (I guess they were actually circuit walkers) he told them to go into one town and preach and if received leaved with a blessing, and if not well-received to just shake the dust off their feet and move on.

I made my way from town to town, stopping at this church and that business and that town hall, telling the Town Meeting story and trying to close the deal by walking away with a scheduled meeting. I think I neglected to mention that we had no budget to speak of to support ourselves on the road, a little gas money and a few dollars for meals, never enough to last the week. We were expected to live off the land. Fortunately, wherever there was a McDonald’s restaurant we could walk in and get a free meal. One of our Guardians, our term for well-connected supporters of our work, was vice-president of marketing and advertising for McDonald’s Corporation. The company’s sponsorship of TM 76 meant that any of our volunteers anywhere in the U.S. were able to get a meal. So breakfast, lunch and dinner were on Mickie D., which may be the reason I have a sixth sense for where any of his restaurants are whenever I travel.

I like to say I was thrown out of only one town in Maine that entire season. I rolled into beautiful downtown Bucksport one drizzly, foggy evening. It was close to dinner time but no McDonald’s. So I stopped at a couple of likely places, found the Chamber of Commerce president who was also the Head Selectman. This consolidation of power did not give me a positive feeling about this town. After telling my story and arranging for another meeting with two or three town leaders after dinner, I asked if there was a restaurant and Inn where I might be able to request a complimentary meal and room. Actually, there was only one little cafĂ© that qualified. So with the assurance of the businessman that I might get a fair hearing, I headed over to make my pitch.


Bucksport, Maine

I found the owner of the Bucksport Inn in the kitchen, cooking. I guess I should have offered to pitch in and bus tables or wash dishes. I attributed the response I got to my request to his having had a hard day: “Are you nuts? I don’t give nothin’ for free to nobody!” I bought a donut and cup of coffee with the change I had left.

When I arrived back for my meeting, two of the three town selectmen listened politely for awhile and then interrupted, almost in unison: “We don’t think Bucksport is ready for your town meeting project. And you probably don’t need to see anyone else. You might just want to be on your way.”

OK. It was getting late and it was still misting. I made my way back from the coast to August, where the Maine turnpike section of I-95 began (or ended), found a phone booth, and phoned my friends Harry and Ellis Bliss, who would always welcome me back. Ellis answered and I could hear my hang-dog pleading voice go out through the phone line:

“Mom, can I come home?”

“We’ll leave the light on for ya” came right back. The humor of the Tom Bodett famous line was not totally lost to my tired mind.


Ellis and Me 20 Years Later - 1996

I was still a couple of hours away. That bed never felt so warm and inviting as on that night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 36: The Fall of Maine

Maine in autumn can be the most colorfully exhilarating place on earth. But it can also be brutal. When the leaves are in full splendor they are truly awe-inspiring. And when one of those Nor’easters come swooping in off the Atlantic you are suddenly unable to stay warm and dry. Chilled to the bone is an understatement—chilled to the marrow would be more accurate. The fall of 1977 was starting off with mild, mostly sunny weather and easy driving.

I decided to stick fairly close to the I-95 corridor heading downeast, since it traversed nine of Maine’s sixteen counties. Several had interesting and unique names, probably adapted from local tribes: Sagadahoc, Kennebec, Piscataquis, Penobscot, and Aroostook. Others were more typical English and New England monikers: York, Cumberland, Oxford, Knox, Somerset, Waldo, Hancock, Lincoln, and Washington.

I would drive a ways on the Interstate until I saw an interesting sign for a town not too far off the highway. Some of the towns had unfamiliar names as well: Kennebunkport, Bucksport, Skowhegan, Bangor, and Machias.

Bucksport  Machias Maine2

           Bucksport, Maine                         Machias, Maine

One of my early visits was to Damariscotta-Newcastle, a quaint little burg right on the coast that depended on the summer tourist trade.

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I happened to stop by the local newspaper office to see what I could learn about the town. The Damariscotta Town Crier was a weekly. Sam, the owner and publisher, was in and to my delight, took the time to listen to my story about Town Meeting 76. Sam was a New Yorker who had bought the paper about 5 years earlier, so was considered almost as much a newcomer as I was. But Sam was looking for a way to build community awareness and participation. He agreed after spending an hour with me to have the newspaper sponsor the meeting. We had a date set before I left his office and I had met with 3 or 4 town leaders and got their OK as well.

I was only at the end of my first week on the Maine Town Meeting circuit and I had 2 of my 16 on the schedule. Life was good. Maine was cooperating. I headed back to Boston for a weekend of celebration, R & R, sharing what was working and what wasn’t, and planning for the next victorious week.

Monday, September 5, 2011

So How Was Your Summer?

An e-mail from my cousin Betty in Texas is probably responsible for this posting. She was concerned that she had not received any message from me since June with an entry on my Blog. Wow! Someone actually has been reading these and someone missed reading about my journey! Then the thought came to me that, at my age, most likely the concern has to do with my state of health and whether I was still “with it,” physically, mentally, or both.

My summer has been full, not of writing, but of visits to and from kids and grandkids, friends’ 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, playing with Norma Jean, a little swimming, and helping son Robb move into his new home in Riverside.

June was a trip to Portland for a week with Eric, Tina, and getting to attend our 5 and 8 year-old granddaughters Katy and Grace’s dance performance extravaganza.


In July 6 year-old (now 7) granddaughter Samantha from Iowa made her second solo flight and stay for two weeks, a swirl of non-stop grand-parenting including two trips to the beach, one to the desert and mountains, and a day at the San Diego Zoo, capped off by a 7th birthday party by the pool.

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August was consumed with Robb having two hospitalizations after a month or two on the streets in Riverside and San Bernardino, followed by our taking charge and moving him from his Perris home to a big old transitional living residence near downtown Riverside.

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Today is Labor Day and I am relaxing while reflecting on the summer that was after a traditional trip to Oak Glen for hot dogs and pie with our gang. I promise to resume my regular posts to Mellow Milan’s Musings beginning this coming week, even if only one of you is reading them.

I hope your summer has been full of life’s rewarding experiences.