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Some people – mostly flat-landers who live in Portland – like to divide Maine into at least two distinct parts – the ‘Greater’ Portland area and the ‘Lesser’ Maine area. They like to point to all the usual stuff - Portland’s world-class museums and art galleries, its theaters and trendy restaurants. After they finish rattling off that laundry list of trendy attractions, they wont shut up. They keep right on going, talking about Portland’s historic architecture and boutique-filled Old Port and quaint neighborhoods and scenic off-shore islands.
And did I mention those trendy restaurants?
All that talk must be working because - to some people - Portland is one of the most popular places in Maine. If you don’t believe it just ask someone from one of its historic, quaint, scenic, trendy neighborhoods. They’ll say Portland's popularity is a result of all those things mentioned above and the fact that Portland attracts mostly younger people from throughout the state who come south to attend schools like the University of Southern Maine and stay because of its jobs and those chic little restaurants that serve strange foods that most Mainers don’t care to talk about and would just-as-soon not eat.
That’s the good news about Portland.
The bad news is that members of the criminal class from as far away as Massachusetts and beyond are also attracted to Portland, making the Port City a state leader in things like crime, drug use, confiscatory rents and (add your own adjectives) lawyers. As far as we know criminals are not attracted to Portland because of its many historic and fashionable enterprises, and trendy restaurants. They find it's a good place to sell controled substances.
A general rule that visitors to Portland might follow: If you like to ‘hob’ you can do that most anywhere in Maine, but if you like to ‘hob-nob,’ Portland’ is definately your place.
For those who like to live life fast (instead of just half-fast) you’ll be glad to know that Portland will take your money faster and max out your credit cards quicker than any place in Northern New England.
As you head north and east of Portland you enter what some call the “Real Maine” zone.
As our state undergoes funny, quirky changes, the dividing line between Maine One and Maine Two can change and change quickly. You can think you’re in the middle of Maine's Greater Portland Zone or some other fashionable place and suddenly you’ll come upon something like the Maine Idyll Motor Court on Route 1 in Freeport and just like that you’re right in the middle of the Real Maine.
I use Maine Idyll as an example because for as long as I can remember they’ve been providing fine accommodations to the traveling public with their clean, classic, reasonably-priced road-side cabins.
Time was most of Maine was a Real Maine zone and you had to look hard to find a place that wasn’t "real" and "Maine" at the same time. Back in the 1950s some used to think that Monhegan Island wasn't part of the real Maine, what with all its beatniks and its New York artists but of course it was and has been part of real Maine for over 100 years. Maine has always been home to the arty crowd and those who like to hang around where artists hang around.
In fact the first beatniks I ever saw were standing on the Monhegan ferry dock waiting to board the Laura B. They had beards and were wearing sandals and smoking funny looking cigarettes, which I later learned were French Gauloises.
You’ll know you’re in a real Maine zone if the mail box in front of the house looks like a lobster trap or it has a special mail box on a twelve foot pole labeled ‘Air Mail.’
Real Maine includes dooryards with old cars, furniture, appliances, engine blocks hanging from tripods, discarded boats and lots of other useful things that a real Mainer doesn’t like to throw out for fear of needing them in a decade or two.
Former summer complaints who become year-round residents like to pass local laws banning things like real Maine dooryards, calling them "eye-sores." That’s only one reason why the real Maine is slowly disappearing before our eyes.
If you see a real Maine dooryard while driving around the other Maine stop your car right in the road and get a good picture of it. Chances are some civic-minded do-gooder group will have ordered it removed by the time you come back through.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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