STONINGTON, ME. -- BOYCES MOTEL
Sleep one night in a parking lot and next thing you know it's fall and long-pants time.
When I crawled out of the back of my car in the Bangor Walmart lot shortly after dawn, it was barely 50 degrees and the start of a gray and damp and chilly day. It was also actually much darker than it had been at 3 a.m.
About 15 RVs had taken up Walmart's standing invitation to America's RVers and spent the night under the bright lights, but no one but me was in a hurry to hit the road.
I had no interest in exploring any part of Bangor, even if it once was the lumber exporting capital of the world.
I just wanted to do what Steinbeck did in 1960 -- cut through the city on my way south on Route 15 to the seacoast paradise of Deer Isle.
In "Travels With Charley" he said he got annoyed by Bangor's traffic confusion and got lost. If the roads were laid out in 1960 the way they are now, I can understand why he got so testy.
Downtown Bangor -- where I grabbed an omelette at a crowded bagel factory -- looked suspiciously to me like one of those cities that has spent about five decades wrecking large parts of itself.
First came urban renewal projects, I bet. Then the heavy-handed street and traffic management.
Too many one-way streets and too many turn arrows and lines on the pavement are always a sign of planning experts working too hard. They only gum things up, waste paint and make things worse.
Once you are beyond Bangor's suburbs on Route 15, the 60-mile trip to Deer Isle becomes a highlight reel of Maine culture.
Boats and RVs of all sizes, truck caps, kayaks, logs, shingles and gigantic piles of firewood on people's front lawns are everywhere. The best roadside sign advertised "Guns, Ammo and Camo."
The closer you get to Deer Isle and the impossibly quaint and funky "downeast" tourist/lobster fishing village of Stonington, the farther back in time you go and the more upscale and artistic things get.
By the time you reach Caterpillar Hill and its panoramic view of Deer Isle and the ocean and the rainbow-arcing bridge that connects them, you've already passed dozens of pottery studios, antique shops, art galleries and ceramics shops -- but no sports bars or McDonald's.
Eventually the turning, roller-coasting road delivers you to Stonington's narrow old Main Street.
And when you see the harbor, the fishing boats and the charming/funky mix of beautiful homes and buildings holding onto the hillside or hanging over the water's edge, you'll understand why Steinbeck thought it was unlike any American town he'd ever seen.