Down East 2013 ©
I’ve recently returned from a marvelous, if all too brief, visit to Key Largo, Florida. Florida is a great place for a Maine humorist at this time of year. Obviously the weather, with temps in the high 70s low 80s, is a welcome break from the frigid March madness we’ve been “enjoying” in Maine this year, but there’s another factor that can’t be ignored. In late winter and early spring there seem to be darned near as many Mainers in the Sunshine State as there are back home.
I first noticed this phenomenon during a mid-winter Florida trip in the early eighties. It was January and while my friends back in Maine were outfitted like Admiral Perry’s explorers to navigate safe passage from the front door to the mailbox, I was enjoying back to back-to-back days of warm sun and balmy sea breezes. Nice work if you can get it! I was visiting my friends Richie and Julie Gerber, recent migrants from Maine to Fort Lauderdale, since I was in the neighborhood anyway I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the new Miami Metro Zoo.
When I arrived around ten a.m. the vast parking lot was already jammed with cars, many sporting New England plates. Parking a quarter mile or so from the entrance I hoofed it across the tarmac. In the 5 minutes or so it took me to walk to the ticket kiosk at least a dozen people waved, smiled and hollered friendly greetings.
“ Hey, Tim, we’re from Bangor!” “We have a place in Buck’s Harbor” “We saw you at The Blue Hill Fair last year!” You know, stuff like that!
Although the audience for my show at Ocean Reef Club were all “people from away,” a fair number of them either had summer homes in Maine or had at least visited a time or two. It’s strange when people who have just spent an hour or more listening to me tell stories about Maine cue up immediately after the show to tell me their Maine stories. It happens all the time. As you might expect the quality of these tales varies widely, but every now and then a real gem emerges — like one I picked up on Key Largo. This “true Maine story” is one worth passing along.
A resident of Massachusetts, the speaker recalled how much he’d enjoyed the two years or so he’d spent living and working in Bethel, Maine. In particular he was impressed with the traditional Maine small town way of life, the relaxed pace of things, the “owners-in-the-store” friendliness of local businesses and, of course, the rich assortment of “Maine characters” he encountered around town.
His Maine sojourn at an end, he prepared to head home. Just as he was packing up the last of his belongings in preparation for the move back to Massachusetts, he noticed that the automatic transmission on his beloved classic Mercedes 280 SEL sedan was slipping badly. The car (his pride and joy) had been purchased new and regularly maintained at the authorized Mercedes dealer in his hometown back in Mass. But, that was no help in the present predicament. The dealership was hundreds of miles away and before he’d even started the journey he was effectively stranded in his driveway in Bethel.
Although he seriously doubted whether the on-duty grease monkey at the local garage around the corner would be able to repair such an exotic piece of foreign machinery he was also desperate, so he went ahead and made the call.
“Ayup, I ‘magine I can give ‘er a look-see anyway,“ came the quick reply, somewhat garbled by a mouthful of Italian sandwich and a swig or two of Moxie, “But, ‘twon’t be fer anothah half ow-ah yet. Gotta finish eatin’ m’ lunch.”
The half hour passed and the mechanic arrived wearing faded oil stained over-alls and lugging a battered toolbox. Once the problem had been explained Mr. Fix-it slid under the chassis for a “look-see” leaving his toolbox planted in the driveway. A couple of minutes of grunting and groaning later he slid back out, stood up, wiped his hands on a grease stained rag, nodding to our friend “from away” and said, “There. Give ‘er a try now“.
Dubiously the owner slipped behind the wheel, started the car and put it in gear. The car moved forward effortlessly, silky smooth, no lag, no slipping transmission, no problem. Impressed the satisfied customer asked “What did you do?’”
“Fixed it didn’t I?” Came the grinning response. Payment was duly offered and declined. The local fellow wished him a safe trip home, picked up his toolbox and lugged it back down the street to finish the afternoon pumping a little gas and catching the last half of the Red Sox on the radio.
Car and driver made it home without further incident and my storyteller admitted that he’d almost forgotten the whole incident until a few months later when he had the car at his local Mercedes dealer for some scheduled maintenance. Still curious about the impromptu repair, he recounted the story. “While it’s in for service anyway”, he asked the service manager, “would you mind taking a look underneath to see if you can figure out what that fellow in Maine did to fix my transmission in two minutes with no tools?“ a few minutes later he was summoned from the waiting room to the repair bay. With the car up on the lift the manager took a long screwdriver and pointed it at a section of the transmission housing where there should have been a bolt. The bolt was long gone. But, there in its place, holding the transmission housing together were three or four plastic coated metal twist-ties of the sort used to re-seal bread wrappers once they’ve been opened. They both had a good laugh realizing the car had performed flawlessly for several months with a repair the Maine man had concocted in a couple of minutes from materials he happened to have handy in the pocket of his over-alls!
Only in Maine, chummy. Only in Maine!
Tim Sample's classic Maine humor is available via Down East.com; see more here.