Down East 2013 ©
By Kristen Andresen Lainsbury
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I always figured I’d end up in the city. It just never occurred to me that “the city” would be Bangor. Sure, I went to the University of Maine, but as a true-blue southern Maine gal, I figured that life north of Augusta was a four-year fling. Fun while it lasted? Yeah. A lifelong commitment? Um, no.
But sometimes, life has other plans. For me, those plans involved falling in love. With a man. A job. And finally, a place.
I met that man, who is now my husband, during a chance encounter at Parks Hardware in Orono. I was a recent journalism grad, and I awoke one morning to find my apartment overrun with ants. Horrified, and in desperate need of ant traps, I trudged to Parks in the pouring rain. Jason was the new guy. It was his first day. He was very helpful. I was very smitten.
But I wasn’t exactly in love with life in Greater Bangor. All of my friends had graduated and moved on, and, at the time, there weren’t many young professionals in the area. I spent almost every weekend traveling south. I figured I’d bolt as soon as the right job came around.
It did. At the Bangor Daily News.
In fact, it was the perfect job. The kind of job that made staying put feel right. At least for a little while. And so I became a lifestyle feature writer, and, later, a columnist.
That’s where my love affair with Bangor began. And for the first time, I understood why it is called the Queen City. That job took me into elegant homes built during the city’s heyday — the lumber boom of the 1800s. It took me backstage at the Bangor Opera House, where I got to meet actors from the Penobscot Theatre Company. It took me to artist studios high above downtown. And I still remember the exhilaration I felt the first summer the National Folk Festival rolled into town.
The city was going through a renaissance of sorts, and it was happening under my watch.
Suddenly, we had a martini bar, a sushi bar, a hip little women’s boutique — one that catered to women under forty — and a handful of really good restaurants.
Life was good. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and Jason and I had moved into an apartment together in one of those gorgeous lumber-boom Victorians. We were going out every night — an art opening here, sushi there, shooting pool at our favorite dive bar. Gradually, more young people started sticking around after college or moving back home. The city stopped rolling up the sidewalks at six. My trips south became less frequent.
If Bangor was changing, then so was I. I began to embrace things that I previously hated. Like Sorel boots, which now share a doormat with my stilettos in the winter months. And swimming in lakes rather than the ocean. And bagels from Bagel Central, which defy explanation, but are best toasted twice and served with a schmear of scallion cream cheese.
The love affair — with the man and the place — had become serious. One night, while walking our dog in Chapin Park, a block away from our apartment, Jason proposed. I said yes, once I figured out what he was asking, and the rest, as they say, is history. We bought a house in nearby Orono, and I’ve since changed jobs, but Bangor still holds a special place in my heart.
The city has continued to grow — and grow on me. These days, the scene downtown is fabulous. A bunch of new restaurants and bars have turned West Market Square into a nightlife destination, and a hip young crowd of recent college grads has taken over. When you walk through town on a summer night, when the outdoor movies are playing, the restaurants are serving food on the sidewalks, and the sounds of jazz or Irish music are tumbling out the open doors of pubs, you truly feel like you’re in a city.
It seems like the rest of Maine has begun to realize what longtime residents have known all along: Bangor has the best of Maine in one place — yes, we have all the amenities of city life (including the state’s best T.J. Maxx), but there’s no attitude here, no pretense. The people who call Bangor home are incredibly kind, generous, and laid-back. And the location couldn’t be better — we’re close to the Great North Woods, Katahdin, Bar Harbor, and Moosehead Lake, but outside the tourist fray. And the housing continues to be affordable. Even if you’re just starting out.
Last fall, friends who live in Portland came to visit us for a night. Jason and I cooked them dinner with ingredients from the local farmer’s market — lamb burgers, organic greens, homemade bread. They stayed in the guest room of the old farmhouse we’ve been restoring for the last six years. As we were sitting around after dinner, having a glass of wine, our friend Frank looked around and said, “You guys are living the dream.”
Maybe it was supposed to be this way, after all.