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 café that qualified. So with the assurance of the businessman that I might get a fair hearing, I headed over to make my pitch.
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.