The Great Skate

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The Great Skate, Bangor
Location Study

The Great Skate, Bangor Maine, is a place out of time. An old school roller rink, I think, because it’s not like I know what an old school roller rink actually looks like. There was a place to skate when I was a kid growing up, where my middle school always held fundraisers. But it closed. It’s a thrift store now, or something.

Sunday night at the Great Skate is Oldies Night. Vintage tunes, and I mean really vintage, not RnB from the 90s vintage. Disco and earlier, save for the lone dupstep request.

Yeah, I don’t know either. I guess street rats from Bangor have weird taste.

There were collections of middle age friend groups there, all of whom were much, much better at roller skating than I am. Genuinely good. Skating backwards, dancing, fancy footwork and everything. A couple of teenagers or college students were there too, all of whom obviously worked there and came by in their spare time to skate and hang out.

It’s not a bad place to hang out. It makes me feel happy, like a kid again.

There’s a sign on the door that tells teens that no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to just “hang out.” It doesn’t surprise me to learn than any business in Bangor, Maine, has a loitering problem. It’s the middle of nowhere, after all.

One townie kid was there all by himself. Just skating around, flirting with the girls (mostly me). Which is flattering, considering I totally fell and bruised my ass.

The Great Skate is closing in June. I wonder what it will become– it’s just a warehouse on the side of the highway, more or less. Like many things in Maine, when I think about it I am filled with a mixture of nostalgia and melancholy that comes and goes easier than it is explained.

Somewhere in the Woods

Location study: Orono, Maine

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The little town of Orono (you don’t pronounce the second ‘o’), Maine, is home to the University of Maine flagship campus. It’s small in footprint and there’s hardly any parking, strange considering there’s extremely limited housing in walking distance. A lot of trees. A few months ago, one of the first things posted here, I wrote an essay on the town of Millinocket. It’s about an hour north on the highway. Orono is a lot like it– beautiful, and a little sad.

The town is fifteen minutes, maybe, north of Bangor, the last major “city” until Canada. Far into Canada, at that. Bangor has a population of 33,000 people, but it’s big enough by Maine standards. There are US cities with larger populations than the whole state.

My sister goes to the University and so do a lot of people I know from high school. But that’s probably how it is with state schools all over the place. She lives with someone who went to the same school as us, older by just enough to make them living together my teenage dream come true. It’s not a small world, it’s just a small town.

The roads around the town are long and straight or narrow and curving. They travel up and down the foothills of Acadia, the only National Park in the state. Towns are pressed between the mountains and the sea, and it takes at least forty minutes from one Somewhere to another. Mid-coast Maine, as far north as most visitors will ever get, is a lovely place that people like to vacation at. But it’s also very quiet. It’s north, but not north. Depends on who you ask, really.

My mom lives up there too. Closer to the coast than to Bangor, Belfast area. It’s a cute place, not much more than a cluster of buildings on the side of a hill and islands of the Penobscot Bay. It looks like it could all tumble away at any given moment. The whole coast of Maine looks like it was torn away from something by force. A messy split rather than a peaceful parting.

My mom said it’s only gotten cute in the past few years or so. Finally recovering from all the mills closing.

Sometimes I think I’d like to live up there. I appreciate the quiet streets and hills more than most people. I like to be alone and like to feel small under a great canopy of stars. The brick buildings of towns less than 5,000 people bring me fleeting comfort. But I know that I would get sick of it after a while. And I couldn’t think of something worse than making myself bitter and unwanting towards a place I love so much.

There’s nothing in Maine, really. Not much at least. But for me, that’s just the appeal.

The Simple Beauty of Maine // Independent Assignment

Today’s post is another independent assignment, featuring my favorite place on Earth, Maine.

This video was taken and edited by Johnny Beavers, who as far as I can tell is a film maker who makes pretty videos, mostly with drones. And this video is very, very pretty. The footage is from Midcoast Maine, in the regions of Boothbay and Bristol. If you’ve ever been to Acadia National Park, it’s around there.

Nothing more to say. Here is a nice, relaxing video for everyone’s Monday.

Saturday, November 21st

Saturday, November 21st. Southern Maine. 11:11am


 

I woke up this morning in my bed, at 8:30, like every other day I’ve slept in my bed. 8:30, to silence, to light, to the gentle floating of dust illuminated by the morning light.

My sister’s cat has taken up residence in my closet.

It is 11:11 in the afternoon and it is very quiet. My dad, who gets up early every day, is napping. My cat, who reacted in no way to my returned presence, snoozes on a pile of blankets. The only noise in the occasional whining of the dog, who has an ear infection, and the hum of the water pump. The washing machine is on– I didn’t wash the sheets before I left.

Only by leaving and returning do I understand how quiet things are here. How dark the night is. How the air smells and feels a certain way, like the air is not just cold but clean as well.

When I first woke up I went to take pictures outside in my jacket and bare feet. The air nipped and dug into the flesh of my sole.

Seacoast Eats

white-heron-tea-coffeeThanksgiving is coming right around the corner, which means I get to go back home! If you ever find yourself in the Seacoast area, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a short list of good places to get some food (there are many good places, but these are my favorites).

  1. Lexie’s Joint Islington Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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That’s right, this little hole in the wall, with six or so tables and a bar, located down on Islington in Portsmouth NH. It’s, in my opinion, the best burger place around, beating out the fancy Brgr Bar with its sixteen dollar fairs. Burgers here run on average six dollars each, more for a double. The fries are extra, but man are they worth it. They also give you little cookies with your check. For a long time I avoided telling people about this place because I didn’t want it to be so crowded, but the word as gotten out. But don’t worry, if the line is too long you can always order take-out and have it delivered to you by the Take-Out Guys.

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Favorite Order: It used to be the Bistro burger, but that has since been removed from the menu. I now go for the Green Munster, Aioli fries, and either the coffee frappe or cucumber mint lemonade.

  1. Black Birch Wallingford Square, Kittery, Maine

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In my opinion, this is the nicest gastro-pub around (don’t worry, under 21’s are still allowed in the door). It’s a little on the pricer side, but that’s to be expected. Many of the places around are either casual or very fancy, and this place strikes a nice balance between the two. It’s also impossible to find. The facade of this building looks like a bank and when I worked in Wallingford Square I probably spent more time giving directions to Black Birch than I did serving customers. My mom also really likes this place.

This is what it looks like from the outside. I promise it’s nicer inside.

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Favorite Order: They change their menu quite frequently. Last time I went I got the mac and cheese and it was delicious. My mom said she likes the Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale.

  1. Ceres Bakery Penhallow Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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This is admittedly totally biased but I worked here when I was in high school. Very important: there’s in a Ceres Street in Portsmouth but it is not there. It’s on Penhallow, this weird one way side street. That doesn’t change how good this place is. It’s a bakery in the sense they sell baked goods (all of which are yummy), but it’s also one of the cheapest lunch places around. And fresh bread everyday (if you know of Colby’s, they buy their bread from Ceres). There’s soup, a lunch special, and sandwiches made to order. I really encourage people to try the specials because a lot of work goes into them and I haven’t eaten one I didn’t like. If you’re genuinely looking for a small-town vibe, where everyone is having a good time and there are regulars with signature orders, look no further.

Favorite Order: Lemon Chicken Orzo. End of story. The Ceres brew tea is also yummy.

  1. White Heron Islington Street, Portsmouth New Hampshire

White Heron is everyone’s favorite tea supplier. If you order a chai tea latte at any cafe, chances are pretty good that they’re using White Heron’s stuff. You can also buy numerous other teas from them, loose leaf or bagged, in their location way down Islington, past Lexie’s by a whole lot. They sell adorable tea related items and tea shirts as well as delicious food and drinks. Plus free wifi and parking (if you can find a spot).

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Favorite Order: The Chai Tea latte (always); I’m always partial towards egg sandwiches of any sort but the tofu rice bowl is also really good.

  1. Loco Coco’s Route 1, Kittery Maine

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Taking a stand on the burrito battle here. There are two main places to get burritos– Loco Coco’s in Kittery and Dos Amigos in Portsmouth. People get pretty feisty about which one is better. The parking at Loco Coco’s is so much better, and so are their chips (made in house). I also think their burritos are warmer? But that might just be me.

Favorite Order: I’ve literally never gotten anything else on the menu besides a burrito. My favorite is the chicken but the California one has french fries.

  1. La Festa Central Ave, Dover New Hampshire

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The only place on the list located in Dover, which may be a little out of the way for tourists. It is, however, the best pizza place. Like burritos, pizza has a line drawn. There’s also Flatbreads in Portsmouth, but if you want traditional pizza La Festa is the place. They sell these cinnamon and garlic knots that are so cinnamony and garlicy they’re amazing.

Favorite Order: BUFFALO CHICKEN

  1. Seafood

This is potentially a very controversial topic, and there’s just no one option. Bob’s Clam Hut is the total tourist option, but it’s very expensive and I worked there once and absolutely hated it so I cannot in good faith recommend it. A higher end place would be any of the wharf ones on Bow Street, one of which is Surf, where my sister worked in the summer as a line cook. It’s very good and they have a raw bar, if you’re into that. Personally, my favorite seafood place is only open during the summer. It’s the Lobster in the Rough, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Weathervane Corporate headquarters on Badger Island. It’s very unassuming, there’s probably twenty seats total and even less items on the menu. It’s definitely a local place and where the Weathervane sends all of its favorite employees. Sure, I may see everyone I ever went to high school with when I go, but it’s worth it.


As always, if you enjoyed this post, please like and comment. Cheers!

These Ocean Kids

I write a lot about where I grew up. At least for the moment, it’s a topic that keeps floating around my head. Maybe it’s because I miss it so much. Maybe it’s because our hometown shapes us in permanent ways. I don’t think we can escape where we come from; whether that place was good or bad we don’t have to be ashamed. To be fair though, I’m not from a rough area. I’ll leave that topic to another person at another time.

I was a lower middle-class kid growing up in a middle to upper middle-class town. Or, towns. My high school was two places (now three) pushed together. For the most part it was a bedroom community for a major Navy yard fifteen minutes away and a small city just over the state border in New Hampshire. It was also twenty minutes from the beach, and forty from a really good beach. Now that I live in Philadelphia and know a lot of kids from Pennsylvania, I’ve realized just how unique that really is.

The best time to be in New England is fall and summer (or winter, if you’re into wintery things). Fall is what you hear about on TV shows, and yes, it really is that nice. In the northern parts, the leaves start changing all the way back in late August, but it gets later and later as you head to the coast. The best place to go is up one of the small foothill mountain– I’ve been going up Mt. Blue Job (pronounced Jobe) since I was a kid. It also has the advantage of being littered with wild blueberry bushes. Applecrest Orchard in Hampton is probably the most popular apple picking site in the area, well worth it because of the apple cider donuts. There’s a person on my street who sells mason jars of real maple syrup, which is delicious but dangerous, because you can never go back to the fake stuff.

Summer is– well. It’s something special. My gripe is that it can get very humid and I don’t have AC. The summer of 2013, when I was a rising Sophomore in high school was the best one of my life, the quintessential New England summer. My sister worked nights, and I spent a borderline absurd amount of time with her and two very good friends. We drove a 2001 Kia Spectra, a car of legend, and drove around in bikinis listening to sugar-pop on the radio. There are often thunderstorms at night, and we’d drive to the beach and sit on the storm wall and watch lightning crack over the ocean.

I don’t have these things anymore– they mostly go away when you start working in the day full time– so I can’t help but romanticize them. Maine is the Vacation State, after all, and you have to stick to back roads if you hope to get anywhere on the weekends. There are also cyclists everywhere and New England roads were not meant to accommodate joggers, bikers, and two lanes of traffic.

New England is fickle. Every stereotype is both true and false. Last year, we lost power of Thanksgiving because of a snowstorm and winter lasted clear until April. To quote– “it was a wicked shitty winter.”

And yeah, people actually talk like that.

The Saddest, Loveliest Place on Earth

Location study: Millinocket, Maine 

Millinocket Maine is a place hardly anyone has heard of– in New England or elsewhere. Not exactly surprising; anything north of Bangor is essentially the middle of nowhere. This is a place where the speed limit is 70 and highway is divided by honest-to-god mountains in places. Once upon a time it was the home of the Great Northern Paper Company mill, but it stopped running back in 2008. These days, there’s no reason to be there at all unless you’re headed to Baxter State Park, a place not without it’s own controversies.

Why is this place worth writing about, besides a eulogy? Simply: I love it, and I want more people to know about it before it slips away entirely.

I ended up there because three years ago, my dad proposed to my sister and I that we go camping and whitewater rafting together. It would be the first family trip since my parents separated when I was thirteen. Once we’d dipped our toes in the relatively tame Kennebec, we decided the next year we’d graduate to the Class V Penobscot four hours north of us.

The Kennebec is a great beginning river, and because of that it’s the most popular commercial rafting river in the state. The town it’s located in, The Forks (pop. 35) receives a good amount of tourist attention particularly because it’s proximity to Portland and Boston. The Penobscot, however, is located over five hours from Boston in the Maine interior.

The drive into Millinocket from I-95 is perhaps the dreariest I’ve ever been on. First is the trip through Medway and East Millinocket, where the streets are lined with signs advocating “National Park YES” or “National Park NO.” It’s obvious that the whole area is quietly dying, though the people who live there are still just as wary to outsiders as they’ve ever been. That includes me and my family, lousy southerners, but we can blend in well enough. It also includes well known runners like Scott Jurek, who broke Baxter Park rules by publically drinking and received exactly no pity.

Unemployment fluctuates between 13-20 percent in the area. Yet still, throughout its profound hardship, it is undeniably beautiful. Coming over a crest in Millinocket means a jaw-dropping view of Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s highest point at 5,267 feet and the traditional end of the Appalachian Trail (though that, too, has been up for debate as of late).

I have admittedly not seen much of Millinocket besides the home base of Three Rivers Whitewater, the superb mom-and-pop style rafting company we’ve used for two years now. What I have seen is a run down commercial area, campgrounds, and woods. On rafting day, the drive to the Ripogenus Gorge and the Maine Electric Dam takes you up the Golden Road, a private highway for logging trucks built supposedly for a million dollars a mile all the way up the Canada. It’s also where American Loggers is filmed. Go figure. It’s unlikely you’ll spot a moose (I never have) in the daytime ride, but looking is a distraction from the turbulent hour ride.

Rafting down the Penobscot is phenomenal. Firstly, it’s fun as hell and compared to other class V rivers, relatively safe. What I mean by that is all the rock in granite, so you can’t get sucked under if you fall into the river– which will probably happen at least once. Secondly, on one side of the river is Baxter State Park, and the other is the Allagash wilderness, just north of the 100 Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail. There’s the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, Bald Eagles, the whole works.

If you live in any other part of the country, Millinocket is most likely nothing like anywhere you’ve ever been. It is the epitome of perfect, beautiful melancholy. A full sky of stars bordered by the trials of a struggling town. Robert Frost would love it.

In August of this year, they tore down the mill. I saw the cranes. I come from deep working class families– my dad grew up in a mill town very much like Millinocket and worked at a tannery in high school. It was like– watching something. Sometimes the words won’t come, and that’s all I can say about that.

If you ever have the time, please, take a trip to Millinocket. While you still can.

For the data on Millinocket I heavily use Wikipedia and this Portland Press Herald article. If you want to know more about the state of the town, I definitely recommend it.