During the summer, new readers often write to ask questions like: "Where do you write from, John?”
I could write something clever like, "Right here." But as a “serious journalist” I try to avoid responses like that.
Instead I'm more likely to answer: I write in Maine since that is more or less where I am most of the time.
Over the years some curious readers have written to say they live in Texas or Montana or New York or even New Hampshire and claim to know nothing about Maine. They ask for more information about our state.
To respond to such inquiries, I was forced to do research on my home state (And did I happen to mention that research was the basis for one of my books: Down the road a piece, A storytellers guide to Maine?).
It's not that I was ignorant of Maine facts, after all I'm also a radio talk show host and as such I'm supposed to know everything, right?
Anyway, I've learned a lot about my home state over the past year or so. For example, with an area of 33,215 square miles, Maine is the largest of the six New England states.
Being a storyteller, I'm often tempted to exaggerate Maine's size and write that we have more like 50,000 square miles; or maybe 100,000 square miles. Nobody ever checks such claims.
Once I included comparison figures in my reply so the reader could see that even though Maine is smaller than many states, it's a lot bigger than the states that make up the rest of the region we call New England.
Our neighbor, New Hampshire, for instance, barely has 9,000 square miles of space to its name and much of that consists of huge piles of granite, otherwise known as The Presidential Range. Maybe that's why New Hampshire folks are always coveting our land and starting border disputes.
Someone from Texas (area: 267,338 square miles!) recently wrote for some information on Maine and, knowing that size is important to Texans, I was almost reluctant to include information about Maine's size. I finally included the figures but added that although Maine may seem small by western standards-Montana for example (area: 147,138 square miles)-we're a lot bigger than, say, Connecticut (area: 5,009) or Rhode Island (area: 1,214 square miles). Wal-Mart has parking lots that are bigger than Rhode Island.
Speaking of parking lots, I also received this angry email the other day from Fred in Pownal.
He writes: “John, I've enjoyed your column for years and knew I had to write after visiting the grocery store the other day. Is it my imagination or do parking spaces keep getting smaller? I counted at least 20 cars over the white line in the store's parking lot during a recent visit.
“I thought to myself, 'Something should be done about this.' But my problems didn't end in the parking lot, John.
“I got my four items and then got in the so-called Express Lane. Is using the term Express Lane an example of supermarket humor ? Don't tell me large impersonal corporations can't be funny.
“John, there are glaciers in Alaska that are moving faster than some supermarket Express Lanes.
I was second in line and thinking, 'Hey, Fred, it's only a matter of seconds now and you're out the door.'
“No such luck. The woman in front of me watched the clerk scan and bag her 28 items and only then did she decide - maybe it was time to start fishing through her large handbag for some money. I timed her, John, and after getting out the necessary bills she dug through her purse for seven minutes getting the last 67 cents of her total. Those sixty-seven cents cost me seven minutes of my life, John. I'll never see those seven minutes, again.”