The following e-mail came over the transom here at Storyteller Central the other day. It was from Jeff Billings of Virginia, who had three questions about his Maine experience, which we will try and answer in order.
Jeff writes: John, I read in your book "Down the road a piece: A storytellers guide to Maine," that the vast majority of tourists go to Maine for three reasons – to eat a lobster, see a moose and photograph a lighthouse. Being a tourist and wanting to get with the program, I first took the family to a seafood restaurant for a lobster and my first question is: Do they really expect someone eating a $60 lobster dinner to wear a silly-looking plastic bib?
Next, I'd like information on the most convenient place to see a majestic bull moose with an impressive rack.
Third, do I really have to photograph a lighthouse?”
Thanks for the e-mail, Jeff. With those three good questions you have given me the opportunity to discuss important issues relating to any tourist’s Maine experience.
As far as the lobster bib is concerned, I once heard that it was first used by a restaurant owner, in the Down East town of Milbridge named Alton Beal, who was also a compulsive gambler. He and his cook, Thurland, would bet on just about anything. Once they bet on whether a certain delivery truck would arrive before or after 10 a.m. - Alton said before - Thurland bet it would be after.
Another time they did an over-and-under bet on the first check of the day. There was no end to the things they could find to bet on.
The way I heard it, Alton once bet Thurland that he could make the next customer who ordered a lobster dinner – the restaurant's most expensive entree – wear a cheap, silly plastic bib that would make him look completely ridiculous. Thurland thought that was easy money and took the bet.
It wasn't long before a man sat down and ordered a lobster dinner and Alton swung into action. He took a plastic bib to the man's table and said, "Excuse me, sir, but my attorney has advised me to require all lobster dinner customers to wear this cleverly designed bib in order to avoid liability in the event that you damage that nice LL Bean shirt you're wearing while eating your lobster.”
Without skipping a beat, the tourist took the bib, slapped it on, shrugged his shoulders and gave a silly grin to the others in his party. Alton thanked him for his cooperation and then went back to the kitchen to collect from Thurland on the bet.
You next ask about the best place to see a moose. If you mean by the question, where is the most convenient place for the moose, I would say deep in the north woods. But I suspect you are thinking about YOUR convenience, and that could be a problem – for you, not the moose.
The only place in Maine where moose arrive on schedule for nature shoots is at Baxter State Park. The reason? Those moose are considered state employees and their activities are governed by their 180-page union contract. At other well-known “moose venues” like Rangeley and Moosehead, the moose schedules are much more casual and seeing one is hit or miss, so good luck!
As far as photographing a lighthouse, I ask you to reconsider that particular activity. I'll even beg you, if necessary, Jeff.
It's been said by those who claim to know, that if you took every lighthouse photograph taken, just here in Maine, since the development of the photographic process, and laid them end-to-end, you'd hopefully be too tired to think about adding to the pile of lighthouse photographs.
All seriousness aside, Jeff, no matter how good a photographer you are, believe me when I tell you that our planet does not need another lighthouse photo!
Beloved town, with gladness we discern
How fortune smiles on thee at every turn.
And trust that all its present favor brings
Is but the promise of still goodlier things.
Do you think he had any idea of all the outlets to come? History is silent about that.