Saturday, June 5, 1999
Looking for breakfast, we were heading to downtown Bangor, to a place one of our guidebooks claimed was the best deli in Maine—a presumably hollow honor—when traffic stopped. Absolutely. At the intersection ahead, nothing but semis rolled by.
“What gives?” Tom asked.
“Beats me.” Then I got out to look.
“Where you going?” he grouched, still coffee-deficient—he’d been stalling till breakfast.
“To the corner. Pick me up if you get there.”
That wasn’t gonna happen. Other people were already leaving their cars. On the sidewalk, folks were cheering the trucks.
A local holiday? City tradition? I got no useful answers.
“Damned if I know,” grinned one of the waving Bangorees. “I heard trucks and came out to see what was happening.” The man’s young sons were waving too.
As I went back to Tom, the semis began to honk. Long mournful tones like ferries, that freaked the dog.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Tom insisted.
“Pull in there,” I said—a drug store parking lot. As we circled behind the building, we nearly creamed an angelic pre-teen, leaping from nowhere on his skateboard. He continued, oblivious, toward the trucks.
Which seemed lined up for miles.
We turned opposite them, took the first right, then another, and ended up close to where we’d begun. I hopped out, to part the traffic on the two-lane street, and Tom inched through, again turning away from the jam. Two blocks later we pulled in to buy gas, another morning concern, along with coffee. As I stood at the pump, working one of those rare nozzles without automatic, I asked a woman across from me what was going on.
She frowned. “I think it’s the annual parade.” Next, she add that her son had forgotten his glove for Little League, and rushing home to get it, she’d also been trapped.
“What’s it for?” I went on.
“I’m not sure. It just happens every year around this time.”
I mentioned a sign I’d seen on one of the passing flatbeds: People. Pride. Progress. It meant nothing to her.
When I went to pay the cashier, the slogan meant nothing to her either. “Are there trucks downtown?” she squealed. “Oooh, I’d like to see them. Nothing ever happens here.”
Meanwhile, Tom was desperately settling for gas station coffee, rarely a wise move. In the truck, the dog was still antsy about the horns.
“We should forget the deli,” I told him. “Eat along the way.”
“Should we buy something here?”
Cheese doodles were not breakfast.
“Can we really get out of this?” Tom soon asked.
I pulled out our map, which wasn’t especially detailed for this part of Maine, ’cause we weren’t planning to explore. “I think I can steer around it,” I said. “If the trucks are actually headed downtown.”
Bangor wasn’t the state capital, but if this were some kind of political rally, I figured it needed a courthouse. Still, as we started working free, semis were already looping back to the interstate, fortunately heading away from us—maybe to converge on Augusta.
It took a half-hour, but we did break loose. “What was that all about?” Tom asked, now that he was caffeinated and the dog again calm. I tried finding out on the radio, but only got music and God.
“Best I can figure, it’s some kind of celebration. But who knows if they’re happy, or pissed-off? They don’t have very good PR.”
It also shouldn’t have been hard for us to get something to eat. But by the time we’d lost the traffic, we’d also ditched everything else.
“There are three small towns coming up,” I finally told Tom, after placing ourselves on the map. “Clifton, Amherst, and Aurora. Stop at the first restaurant.”
Clifton offered only a car dealership, huge and out of place amid low farms and fields. Five blank miles later Amherst produced a combination gas station/general store.
“Should we stop?” Tom asked.
I vaguely remembered Aurora being a Disney witch, which didn’t sound hopeful. And this place, at least, advertised a snack bar.
The gas station was three pumps and a cashier. The general store, a dozen low shelves stocked with everything from Fruit Loops to files.
“Why files?” Tom wondered.
“For fishing?” There were also hooks and live worms.
The snack bar had six stools and two booths. A young woman and two older guys were reading local papers at the counter. “Says here,” one of the old guys recited, “that if you’re convicted for spousal abuse, you can no longer be licensed to carry a gun.” Clearly, he didn’t approve.
The young woman finally noticed me. “Oh, are you waiting?” she smiled.
“Can we still get breakfast?”
She glanced at the clock, which said nearly eleven. “Well, I just cleaned the grill…”
“Only oatmeal and orange juice. And coffee,” I added, for Tom.
“Let me see—I might have some oatmeal.” After a minute rooting, she came up with a small battered packet. “Instant,” she grinned.
Bad, I thought. “Why don’t we just have lunch?”
I took a booth. Tom, still fascinated by the variety store, lingered there. But once I lured him to the table, he ordered fried clams. “I’ve been wanting some since we passed Howard Johnson’s.”
That was at least two days back, though passing Howard Johnson’s was probably still a good idea. And this place, no doubt, would be worse.
I ordered a turkey sub, which seemed rational. Actually, it was fine, especially since I’d asked to leave off the mustard, relish, olives, onions, and pickles. Tom’s clams came cremated, just the way—he claimed—he liked ’em. For orange juice, the waitress pulled a new half-gallon from the store’s refrigerated case, then filled two milk shake glasses. But she didn’t charge us more than if we’d bought the whole carton.
Paying the gas station guy, I asked what was ahead. “Towards Canada?” he replied.
An hour later we were ferrying back there. On a tiny boat, with an eerily calm dog. At the border, the Customs agent waved us through without even checking Tom’s drivers’ license. “Treat him well,” he grinned at the mutt.
Why do guys always figure dogs are male?