Down East 2013 ©
Here's the thing about Mainers. We live mostly in these small towns and villages and semi-rural enclaves, and in consequence we may be thought of as ... well, I don't know — insular, homogeneous, unselfconsciously retro, all-of-a-piece. The truth is, we're all jumbled up.
When you live in a fair-sized city, you tend to consort mainly with people like yourself: similar in age, education, cultural proclivities, career paths. We can't do that here in Maine; there aren't enough of us. We live and work and shop and — here I come to it — sit down for coffee among folks whom, in more populous places, we likely wouldn't even know. In any given Maine town, as in any big city, you find the whole range of social types. The difference is, here we all tend to know each other, at least by sight. There's nobody else to know.
Still ... birds of a feather and all. Even in the smallest town — the place where I live has about 2,000 souls — you stumble upon these social micro-habitats, singular spots that reflect some aspect of our cultural diversity, such as it is. In my town, you can sample the whole spectrum of life in contemporary Maine just by going out for a morning cup of java.
We've got three places to pop in for coffee these days, and each is quite distinct from the others. There's the Drake's Corner Market, an updated version of the old general store. There's the Beach Store, which caters both to locals and to visitors, purveying carry-out food and sundry necessities from tiny premises on the main tourist strip. And as of this year, there's Dot's, which is more of a stylish bistro kind of thing. All three seem to be thriving.
Now my thesis, which I will here present in bullet form, is that by visiting each of these places in turn, you discover that Mainers, and Maine life in general, are exactly (and then again, not at all) what you expect. And in a funny way you discover where you yourself might appear on the cultural map.
Here's a simple test. Your answers will not be made public.
How did you get here?
Prius = Dot's
Pickup truck = Drake's Corner
Strolled in off the sidewalk = Beach Store
What is your radio tuned to?
Country music = Drake's Corner
Classic rock = Beach Store
NPR = Dot's
What is your mood at this time of day?
Foggy-headed = Beach Store
Gregarious = Drake's Corner
Cautious = Dot's
What kind of coffee would you like?
Green Mountain House Blend = Drake's Corner
Green Mountain Dark Roast = Beach Store
Ultimate Buzz Fair Trade Certified Organic = Dot's
How would you like it served?
Paper cup = Beach Store
Recycled paper cup = Dot's
Styrofoam cup = Drake's Corner
What would you like to eat with your coffee?
Almond bear claw = Dot's
Home-baked chocolate-chip cookie = Beach Store
Bacon breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese = Drake's Corner
What would you like to read while sipping?
Bangor Daily News = Drake's Corner
New York Times = Beach Store
Maine Home + Design = Dot's
Need to pick up anything else while you're here?
Bag of chips = Beach Store
Bottle of wine = Dot's
Toilet paper = Drake's Corner
What are you wearing?
T-shirt, tucked in = Drake's Corner
T-shirt, hanging out = Beach Store
Polo shirt = Dot's
Do you have kids in tow?
No = Drake's Corner
No, thank God = Dot's
Yes = Beach Store
Do you need gas?
Yes = Drake's Corner
No = Beach Store
I get 80 miles per gallon = Dot's
Will you be coming back soon?
Oh yes! = Dot's
Yeah, probably = Beach Store
I live here = Drake's Corner
While I tabulate your results, let me just note that within my own three-person household, each of these important categories of Maine society is represented. My eighteen-year-old son is a solid Drake's Corner man. My twenty-year-old daughter loves loves loves Dot's. I personally feel an enduring loyalty to the Beach Store, which I've patronized through a series of owners for nearly two decades. But I think it's important that all three exist, and that by extension there's a place in this town for all these kinds of people.
Your mileage may vary.