Good Roads, Good women

Thursday, 30 September 2010 08:08 AM Written by 

FARMINGTON, ME. -- McDonald's 

Unlike Steinbeck, I never did find a potato farm on US 1 in Aroostook County that looked like it was harvesting or processing spuds with Canuck migrant workers or even machines.

Maybe next time.

In Ft. Kent I reached the northern end of US 1 about noon on Wednesday and turned south on state Route 11 for the long drive back to New Hampshire and the way West. DSC_1932_3 

On the map, Route 11 looks like a boring north-south highway stuck into the top half of Maine. 

For some reason -- maybe because Steinbeck said nothing about the road itself -- I dreaded Route 11. I imagined running all day long through pine trees over a marshy flatland.

In reality Maine's longest highway is prettier and far more interesting and fun to drive than foggy, flat US 1 -- until the sun sets, anyway.DSC_1941

 After it leaves the top of Maine, Route 11 runs over, around, up and down and through hills and low mountains in deepest, darkest, woodsiest Maine. 

There was so little traffic I began to suspect the smooth wide two-lane highway was built just to prove how empty the middle of Maine truly is. Or to give highballing' double-trailered logging trucks their own speedway.

Other cars were almost as rare as the towns, houses and farms. Steinbeck saw moose on Route 11. The only mooses I saw were painted on warning signs.DSC_1925_copy

Route 11 took me longer than it should have.

I pulled over too many times to take photos of sagging abandoned farm houses or the cute little rest stops that MaineDOT has built to provide a quiet place for  picnics or the couples who arrive separately in their pickup trucks.

When I stopped at a rest stop to snack on some peanut butter and crackers -- I wasn't counting on finding a restaurant for a another day or two -- there were three cars and only one person. Then a couple stepped out of the woods and got into their vehicles.

Maine people -- Mainers? Manians? Mainsters? -- couldn't be nicer and they've obviously been brought up to be kind to strangers.

In the little burg of Patten I turned around to go back and photograph a weed-strangled home that was obviously inhabited when Steinbeck hurried through there 50 years ago so he could get to a motel in Lancaster, N.H., before nightfall.DSC_2001_copy

As I got out of my car, a young woman who had seen me turn around pulled over and asked if I needed any help.

She thought I was lost, of course, which it looked like I was. But I was just driving the way I usually do -- as if traffic laws don't apply to journalists (or ex-journalists).

She quickly filled me in on the local history, said her town has about 1,000 inhabitants and suggested I take a picture of the corner store "because it's going to be torn down tomorrow."DSC_2009

She wasn't the first woman in timeless/spaceless/changeless Maine to think I was in distress; she was the fourth in less than 24 hours.

In Calais -- was that Tuesday? -- after I talked to the people in Karen's Main Street diner and the town bookstore, I stopped along the side of the road on my way out of town to file a blog item.

I wanted to take advantage of the sudden surge in Verizon's cell phone signal. (It was from Canada and roaming charges will apply until I call Verizon and plead my case; it happens all the time, warn the locals.)  

I was twisted around backwards, squeezed between my two front seats, typing on my laptop, which sat on my "bed." 

Since I am journalism's worst typist even when sitting up straight in a booth at McDonald's, it took almost two hours to write my blog item and load and send it and photos to Pittsburgh.

My first visitor was a U.S. Customs and Border Control officer, who pulled up behind me in her patrol car. I thought it was a local cop coming to arrest me, but she couldn't have been sweeter.

She had passed me three times and saw me in the same stupid position, so she naturally thought I had had a heart attack or had been the victim of a mob hit.

 I told her, apologizing as abjectly as possible, I was fine and explained what I was doing and begged for mercy because I was an ex-journalist and didn't know any better.

She believed every word of it, wasn't the least bit mad or officious, and left me to my pathetic typing. I didn't dare take her picture.

Ten minutes later I looked up from my keyboard to see two cars parked right behind me and two women with worried faces hurrying toward me.

They too thought I was dead or dying and were genuinely relieved, and not the least bit annoyed, to be told I was physically fine, just mentally challenged.

I finally came to my senses and pulled into a parking lot farther up the road, where I should have been in the first place. 

It felt comforting to know the good women of Maine were looking out for me. 

Where the Calais police force was all this time, I'll never know.  I'm not complaining, mind you. But based on my five-day, nearly 1,000 mile loop through Maine, police are as rare as moose. 

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