Staycationing in Maine
A former editor of this magazine was fond of announcing, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, "I'm going on vacation next week." At which point, you could either ask the obvious follow-up question or not. Within two seconds, he'd tell you anyway: "I'm going to Maine!"
I don't know what this gentleman, an Old School sort of chap, would have made of the term "staycationing." The basic principle is that, if you live in a place as vast, varied and colorful as Maine, why bother with the hassle and expense of long-distance travel? Just throw some stuff in the car, break out DeLorme's indispensible Maine Atlas and Gazeteer, and hit the road. You're sure to end up someplace cool.
The practice of staycationing has been going on forever, I should imagine, but has picked up steam lately, what with the troubled economy, a falling dollar, rising gas prices and all that. Since 2008 the state's Office of Tourism has been making a serious push to spread the notion more widely. Local chambers of commerce, private tourist organizations, even B&Bs have jumped on the wagon. From what I can tell, the effort is paying off.
I strolled down to Lincolnville Beach late this morning — a perfect summer day, hot and sun-drenched, with an onshore breeze kicking up such waves as may be had on the placid shores of Penobscot Bay — to poke around for evidence of this phenomenon, as it were, on the ground. I began as any inquisitive 7-year-old might: counting up license plates in the public parking area. My tally ran to 33 Maine, 21 other, the latter mostly from elsewhere in New England.
This done, I began approaching random beachgoers, trying to look as harmless as a man carrying a reporter's notepad can look. "Are you guys Mainers, by any chance?" I asked them.
Strangely, almost all of them were. I don't know what those out-of-state drivers were up to — eating lunch in the nearby lobster pound, maybe, or, praise Allah, spending money in the little row of tourist shops across the road — but all 33 Maine vehicles seemed to have disgorged their occupants onto the crowded sands. (It's just a tiny beach, really, flanked by a ferry terminal on the southern end.)
The other odd thing was, none of these Mainers were locals. I mean none of them. Everyone had driven here from somewhere at least an hour away, sometimes much longer. My first chat was with Rich and Louise, a cheerful couple from Waterville. "Are you all on vacation?" I asked. Rich laughed: "We're always on vacation." "We love to come here," said Louise. "It's so relaxing. There's so much to see right here in Maine."
This seemed to fit my journalistic purposes almost a little too neatly, and editors, I have learned, don't like it when they suspect their writers are making stuff up. So I pressed on. The pattern persisted right up and down the beach. Kim and Ronda, a pair of beautifully tanned sisters from Canaan and Rome, respectively, told me they regularly visit a variety of waterfront spots around the state, including Lake George and Old Orchard Beach. Fred and Leu from Winslow were taking a "farmer's day off," making a swing that began at the China Diner, followed by Lincolnville for sunbathing, then off for a sail ride in Belfast and dinner at Young's Lobster Pound. "Young's is a real popular spot for folks up around Winslow," Fred said.
The Lawler family from Fairfield, 10 strong on this particular day ("Sometimes there are 15 of us," Mrs. L reported), had staked out a spread in a rare patch of shade. The younger Lawlers were mostly in the water, and the parents looked happy "just sittin' on the beach," as Mrs. L put it. "We do this every summer. We always come to Lincolnville. There are are other places closer to home, but I don't know — the atmosphere is different. We always feel comfortable here."
Okay, I fibbed about there being no locals at all. I did meet a couple of leather-clad neighbors gliding in on his-and-hers Harleys. When I explained what I was up to, the biker dude nodded sagely. "There's no reason to ever leave Maine," he declared. "I've been everywhere, and there ain't no better place than here."
This drew the attention of a lady in a big SUV parked nearby. She called over to me — Mainers will do this, our legendary taciturnity notwithstanding — and I found myself in the presence of a truly hardcore staycationer. She was Shirley Raymond of Damariscotta and was camping out with her husband Tom and, get this, 13 other family members in Camden Hills State Park. "We've been doing this every year for 15 years," she said. "We like to stay in state parks, and we especially like Camden. It's reasonable and it's clean, the showers are nice, and it's so convenient to everything."
So went my day in Stacationland. This all amounts to nothing more than what social scientists would call anecdotal evidence, of course. But I feel pretty comfortable inferring from it that Mainers like nothing better than spending their summers, like my former editor, visiting Maine. God knows I personally never go anywhere else. It's like the biker dude says: There's just no reason.