Back Home/Looking Back
June 14, 2019
We’re back from Maine, I’m back to work, and it’s time to comment on our trip. As always, the comments are in no particular order. Laurie has also written about her views on the trip and I’ve included those as well after my comments. We're heavy on photos in this post as everyone tells us they like our pics!
Portland Head Light
Scenery- Maine is a visually gorgeous state. While this trip was confined to the Portland area on the coast, the entire state is quite beautiful. Mountains, skiing, hiking, and the rocky coast make for many sightseeing opportunities. It is a very visually striking place. I do miss the views in Maine.
Friends- We still have friends in the area. These were people that were part of our lives in our early years together, when Laurie and I were becoming “us”. Martha was at our wedding. Julie was in England and wasn’t able to make it back, but sent almost everyone in her family in her place. We have history with these people. We haven’t seen Julie and Martha in around 15 years but we picked up right where we left off.
It’s like that with real friends, the bond with these people was still there and still strong. We’ve had separate lives since then, but this does not diminish the times past that we spent together and how those times shaped our lives. They are still the people we knew and loved. It was truly wonderful to see them again. I hope they can come to Tennessee to visit us.
Our anniversary- We try to travel on our anniversary. This year we decided to go back to where it all started. From the place we first met, to places we lived, places we visited, and the place we were married. 32 years later, it seemed fitting. It was sort of like going home.
Changes in the area- While it was like going home, we found a place that was very different from where we started. The town is much cleaner now, more refined. The rough edges are gone and it isn’t as “gritty” as it used to be. Sketchy corner markets that sold cigarettes and sandwiches are gone, replaced by fancy coffee houses, shops selling $ 2000 dollar bicycles, and sushi bars.
The people have changed as well. It’s more of a “hipster” vibe, and there is considerably more money there. I really don’t understand how people afford to live there as Maine wages won’t support that kind of lifestyle. Perhaps they have money coming from elsewhere, but I can’t figure out how a kid starting out on coffee house wages can make it there.
Downtown Portland, 2019
Rents and property values are astronomical. My old apartment rented for $425 a month with utilities in the mid ‘80’s, which wasn’t cheap then. Similar size apartments in my old neighborhood run from $1400-2200 a month, rents that seem more in line with New York than small city coastal Maine. Many of the apartments in my old neighborhood are now “condo”. One just a few doors down from where I lived, in a building not nearly as nice was priced around $300k.
The surf rolls in, Peaks Island 2019
These prices have driven people into the outlying towns. Westbrook was a mill town abutting Portland, with quite a few rough and tumble sections. It has cleaned up significantly and some people are moving there as it is more affordable. This search for affordability has also caused growth in other outlying areas around Portland.
House with a view, Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 2019
Where we lived on the island- Peaks Island has stores and restaurants, and it seems like a lot more people than when we lived there. The ferry service is much nicer, not to mention much more reliable. The supermarket on the island is the exception. It has changed very little.
The view from where we were married, Peaks Island, Maine 2019
There is a hardware store on the island now. The library has expanded. Things that had to be brought from town in a small cart, carried on your back, or shipped via the ferry as freight can now be purchased on the island. Huge piles of boxes arrive on the ferry from Amazon and are delivered to houses all over the island by golf cart.
Nice new ferry, Casco Bay Lines, 2019
New houses dot the island, especially on the back side facing the Atlantic. We saw a very nice house on the back shore with a sign advertising it as a vacation rental. Laurie guessed $3000 a month. I looked it up on my phone and was shocked to find out it rented for $8000……a WEEK.
New ferry dock, Peaks Island, Maine, 2019
Things that haven’t changed- Our friends haven’t changed. They have different lives, they have aged just like we have, but they’re still the same. I find comfort in that. Many of the places are still the same and haven’t changed much. We see the same lighthouses, the same coast, many of the same old buildings. Places we made memories, and we find them similar or the same.
Our old apartment on Peaks Island, see the red arrow
Food- The seafood is still great, even though we can no longer get a 1 ¼ pound lobster for two dollars. It’s more like 8 dollars a pound now. In the old days when we had no money, our big treat was on Friday night. We would take the ferry home on Friday, buy two 1 ¼ pound lobsters (2 bucks each), half a dozen ears of corn (10 cents an ear), and rent a movie at the store on the island ($1.50). This was a real treat for us at a few cents more than 6 dollars. More than 25 bucks now.
Becky's Diner on Commercial Street , Portland. Top notch.
Restaurants in Portland are exceptionally good. With so many different things to choose from, it has become a place for “foodies”. We had a great anniversary dinner at a Japanese noodle bar, dim sum at a dumpling house, seafood at a great diner in the Old Port, and dessert one night at DiMillo’s, a floating restaurant that has been there for decades. We couldn’t afford to eat at DiMillo’s when we lived there but things are different now.
We met at 3 Dollar Deweys, but this was before it moved to its present location. It too has went upscale, and isn't like it used to be. It has a hostess. In the old days, it didn't have a hostess....it had a bouncer.
We used to eat at a diner called “The Porthole”, down by the ferry landing on the waterfront. It was a sketchy crowd, with the cook smoking a cigarette at the grille every time we went in there. It was cheap and we could afford to eat breakfast there often. We heard from a guy in the old port that the old Porthole apparently was shut down due to “rats”.
This used to be an alley, with none of these places. As you can see, it is quite popular now.
It has since reopened and expanded into several of the warehouse areas around it. High end with a waterfront bar…….very different and quite popular. The old diner counter is still there, but that’s the only thing that looks anything like the old Porthole. It’s a real restaurant and bar and has won awards. Very different from a fry cook with a cig dangling from his mouth while he cooked your eggs.
Spring Point Ledge Light, South Portland, Maine
We had to go out of Portland to find one of our old favorites, Italian sandwiches. A Maine staple, they were usually found at small mom and pop markets. You picked one up for lunch or for dinner on a night that you didn’t want to cook. They were tasty and filling, but definitely a working class meal. We went to Westbrook to find these old school Maine sandwiches as Portland has gotten a bit too fancy to find them there.
Things we don’t miss- The city government doesn’t seem to have gotten any better. The incredibly popular Old Port Festival was going on while we were there. It was it’s 46th and last year. Someone in the city government decided that they would shut it down this year. The explanation given by the city government and repeated to us by every local we talked to was “because”. Taxes are sky high. It’s quite unaffordable to live there. Bureaucracy is rampant. We don’t miss those things at all.
Another shot of Portland Head. There is a reason it is the most photographed lighthouse in the world.
In closing- I mentioned above that it was like coming home. But we all leave home at some point, striking out for a place with more opportunity and a chance for a better life. We wanted to have a family and couldn’t figure out how we could do that in a place we couldn’t afford our own home. We moved to North Carolina, where we both made more money and the cost of living was half what it was in Maine. It afforded us a life we could not have lived had we stayed.
I said something to Laurie while we were in Maine this trip. I told her that while I didn’t realize it until years later, I had come to Maine to find her. Once I found her, I didn’t need Maine anymore. There are things we miss, and much more so, people that we miss. We’ll come back to visit, but we won’t live there again. We’ve made a good life for ourselves elsewhere…..but this was where we started our life together as “us”. It will always be a special place.
We hope you enjoyed the photos and our story. I’ve already received many comments on our photos. It’s easy to take great photos with scenery like Maine.
Go visit Maine. It’s gorgeous….and a place you need to experience. Thanks for following along.
Go visit Maine. It’s gorgeous….and a place you need to experience. Thanks for following along.
Laurie's thoughts and photos
Moored boats, Peaks Island, 2019
One of the things I love most about Maine is the smell. It is unique and as soon as we stepped out of the car in York it brought me home. The coast of Maine is mostly rocky and hosts a particular type of seaweed (kelp) which gives the air its unique aroma. The wild roses were just beginning to bloom adding their sweetness to the air.
Tidal pools to explore
We played down on the rocks at a cove that was just down the street from my house in South Portland. The tidal pools were a source of endless exploration of their self contained ecosystems. I grew up in an era when I left the house in the morning and the only rule was I had to be back home when the street lights came on. We rode our bikes everywhere. It was a good place to be as a child.
Maine’s coast is not a place to plan to sit on the beach and sunbath. There are a few sandy beaches in South Portland (Higgins and Crescent) where you can lay on the beach and swim. The water never gets above 65 degrees, so getting in it is totally a personal decision. When I was a kid we played in the water until we literally turned blue. As an adult I have to admit I hate cold water.
Laurie's lighthouse photos
Ram Island Light
Portland Head Light
Bill has written about the places we have been on this trip. Everywhere we have gone are places from my childhood and young adulthood. We spent time with old friends, one of whom I've known since I was 10. It was like we saw each other yesterday - which is just how it should be when old friends connect.
My family moved to South Portland when I was in 4th grade and stayed until I was in 7th grade. At that time (mid to late 1960's) Portland was a pretty rough harbor town. The waterfront was all working wharves with very little else. Boone's restaurant and DeMillo's were there but not much else. There were some stores in the old port section but they tended to be more practical than touristy.
There were bars where the men went when they came to shore and most were pretty rough. We rarely went down to the waterfront area. The shopping and all that was up on Congress St. And even that wasn't much to brag about. If you wanted a real city you had to go to Boston.
When I moved back to Portland in the mid 1980's to take a job at a school for special needs kids and get out of NYC, Portland was already changing. The old port area was beginning to have bars and restaurants. It was safer and the commercial areas were being squeezed out. Chandler’s Wharf was the first condo built there on the wharf and there was a big controversy about it. But the city was still pretty gritty in a lot of areas.
I actually lived about 20 miles west of Portland but was in town every day for work. After Bill and I met we moved to Peaks Island and there was one place to eat, a small food market and that was about it. A small lobster shack was right down by the ferry landing and we bought lobster there for our dinner.
You had to make your own entertainment because there wasn’t anything ‘to do’ on the island. If we went into Portland for a night out, the last ferry left Portland around 11:30 on the weekend. Casco Bay Lines was a lot like the old NYC subway system - you got on and hoped you were going to get to your destination.
Now it is all different. The old port area is hopping at night with bars, live music, trendy restaurants and tourist shops. The commercial fisherman have struck a deal with the city to maintain some of the west end of the waterfront for their industry. Prices have sky rocketed and rents and real estate are ridiculously high. The gentrification has spread out to all areas of the city, and areas we wouldn't have gone to at night are cleaned up and have coffee shops, little markets and places to eat. Peaks Island was always high for rent and real estate but now it's unapproachable.
Even with all the changes that affect daily life there, Portland is still a beautiful little city, and most of the public areas are still public. Harbor views are beautiful and places like Portland Head Light, Spring Point Light, Eastern and Western Promenade are so worth seeing. If you have time to drive around, there is a road that skirts the bay (called Back Bay) and is quite lovely. Lots of places to walk along the waterfront and ride bikes. Parking can be expensive but at least it’s readily available in most areas.
Peaks Island is so easy to get to now. Ferries run almost hourly, even car ferries which were about 3 times a week in the old days. But don't take a car out there for a day trip, you won't need it. It’s only about 4 miles around the whole island. Get off the ferry and go right to find the coast road. We didn't eat there but there are several restaurants there now.
The 5th Maine Regiment Hall, where we were married
5th Maine Hall
The 5th Maine, where we got married, is still open to the public and requires only a donation. A very friendly man attends it and has lots of good stories to tell. There is an old WWII fortification called Battery Steel in the middle of the island, which is interesting to see. It is covered in street art now but still has the structure of the old tunnels. There are concrete watch towers up and down the coast from that era as well. Some of them you can still go in.
There are other islands that can be accessed by Casco Bay Lines and can make for nice vacation destinations. I stayed on Chebeague a long time ago and there wasn't much out there then. Monhigan and Matinacus are farther out and bigger islands. All are worth looking into if you have more time and are looking for a real ‘get away from it all’ place.
Other coastal towns in Maine
Driving up Route 1 from the NH border York, Wells and Ongunquit are lovely little seaside towns. There isn't a lot there but they are very picturesque. Kennebunkport is more touristy but definitely worth a stop. Biddeford itself is a working class town but Biddeford Pool, off of Route 1, is worth a drive through. Unfortunately there is no place to park along the ocean road, or anywhere else near the ocean. Typical of these now monied places. No one can own the low to high tide area, but they can make it impossible to get to it unless you rent or own a house with parking.
We used to go to a little shack just up from Nunan’s in Cape Porpoise. Steamed lobster, butter and corn for cheap. It’s gone now. Old Orchard Beach is also down in that area with an amusement park and a sandy beach. We didn't stop because it's not our scene but if you have kids, it can be fun.
We only drove as far north as Freeport. But if you have time Camden is a beautiful town that is surrounded by cliffs. Not much farther is Rockport where Andrew Wyeth lived and painted and the whole town is pretty much devoted to that claim to fame. All of this is a day trip from Portland.
Maine has always depended heavily on tourism for income. The typical taciturn attitude seems to have modified a bit. Mainers have always had a love/hate relationship with tourists. Unless you had been there for several generations you weren’t considered a local. But the service workers we encountered were all very nice and probably none of them were locals as defined by the old guard.
There are a lot of homeless people in Portland, which I think is always a reflection of how difficult it is for people to find affordable housing. It was nice to see one large apartment block had been turned into assistive and independent living. But in general, it seemed like so many places where the trend is for out of town people to buy houses and rent them as AirBNBs. The sense of community is lost and ‘locals’ are different than they used to be.
South Portland seemed to be pretty much the same. It was always more of just a place where people lived, not much to make trendy. People who are middle to lower income are being pushed out of the city and moving into areas nearby. Westbrook is becoming more popular since it is still affordable and since they shut SD Warren paper mill down, much more pleasant. The paper mill used to share its aroma with the entire area and when I was a kid, there were days when even South Portland stank.
So I hope it won't be another 15 years before I get back up to Maine. Some of the changes make me sad, but it is what it is, and change is inevitable I suppose. Some of those areas kind of needed a bit of an upgrade, so we will see how it is next time we are here. I just wish there was some kind of balance. It would be so nice to see a city that can control growth somehow so that communities can be preserved and regular people can still live in them.