Christmas in a BoxDo they ship the tinsel, too?
As much as we may complain about shelling out $30 for a Christmas tree from the Rotary Club lot down by the supermarket, there are folks for whom a genuine Maine holiday tree is worth any price. And Jim Corliss has met some of them.
Corliss owns and operates Piper Mountain Christmas Trees in Newburgh, near Hampden, and he ships Christmas trees all over the country. "I have regular customers in Alaska who order a tree every year," he notes, "and each year I get orders from Hawaii.There are two sisters who live there who always order a tree from me. Plus, I send a lot to Florida."
When Corliss says a "lot," he's talking fairly low numbers. "We ship maybe seventy-five or eighty trees a year," he allows. Shippers package the trees in special wax-lined cardboard boxes that prevent the greenery from drying out. The mail-order (or increasingly, Internet-order) Christmas tree business isn't as big as it used to be as shipping costs climb, although Sunrise Evergreens in Milbridge still sends out about 1,000 trees a year, Corliss notes.
"Mail order really isn't a big overall part of the Christmas tree business in Maine anymore," explains Calvin Luther, owner of Penobscot Christmas Trees in Bucksport and president of the Maine Christmas Tree Growers Association. "I know several folks who got out of the business because shipping costs got so high. Even L.L. Bean stopped carrying trees in its catalog three years ago."
Nonetheless, authenticity still counts among some customers, and Corliss sends trees second-day air freight to Honolulu for about $115 in shipping charges, plus $59.95 for the tree itself. For some Aloha State residents, even that's a bargain. A Christmas tree shortage last year sent prices as high as $200 for trees brought in from the mainland by ship.
"Probably the strangest place I ever sent a tree was Singapore, and it wasn't even for Christmas," Corliss recalls. One of the largest advertising agencies in Asia, Monsoon Advertising, ordered the tree for an advertising layout. "I don't have a clue how they found me," Corliss says, "but they didn't blink at spending $445 for a six-foot, eight-inch tree sent overnight air by way of Delta and Singapore Airlines."
For some people, obviously, a true Christmas tree — from Maine — is worth any price.Speaking FranklyA town Down East practices truth in advertising.
Municipal Web sites are usually rather, well, boring. Dog license fees, hours at the transfer station, the agenda of the upcoming planning board meeting, all with a dash of local boosterism. Informative perhaps, but hardly entertaining.
Someone forgot to pass on that mundane formula to the town of Franklin. The tiny community on Route 182 between Ellsworth and Cherryfield has a Web site that puts the "frank" in Franklin. "Today most folks who visit Franklin are on their way to somewhere else," admits www.franklinmaine.net
, which also declares the town the Daylight Saving Time Capital of the World. "Franklin is off the beaten path, on the edge of civilization."
The Web site proudly notes that Franklin High School won the state basketball championship — in 1930. Today the town has no schools of its own — "we farm all our kids out to other towns" — along with no traffic lights, no McDonald's, and no bars, although the Franklin Trading Post does have the complete Toxic Avenger movie series on DVD. In case the casual reader misses the message, the site also notes: "This Web site is not brought to you by the Franklin Chamber of Commerce because we don't have one."
Nor is it brought to you by the town of Franklin.
"I got bored" is the best explanation Franklin resident Mike Heyden can give for his witty take on his adopted hometown. "I had no knowledge of how to do a Web site," he adds, "and I thought the best way to learn was to do one. I decided I had a lot of material right here in Franklin."
Heyden, a navy veteran who married a local woman while stationed at an eight-man satellite-tracking station in Prospect Harbor, has lived in Franklin since 1998 and has the dry humor of a native. "This town is kind of unique," he observes. "Answering machines around here are considered voodoo, or at least rude. We're near sophisticated Hancock County without being contaminated by it, you know?"
Heyden admits local folks were a tad suspicious when the site first appeared last year. "Then people started sending in information," he recalls. "Then when I didn't update the site soon enough, I began getting complaints." These days Heyden is logging visits from at least 3,000 separate computers each month, and town residents are asking him when he's going to add more photographs.
In fact, Heyden is starting to suspect he may have created a monster, one that he has tried to fob off on town selectmen without success. "I've offered them their own page, and they haven't taken me up on it," he says. So he has comforted fans with promises to get back to work on the Web site just as soon as he finishes closing the camp he and his wife recently bought, gets his wood stacked, and returns to the days when he had too much time on his hands. Meanwhile, he warns readers:
"By clicking the 'Next' button in your unquenchable thirst for the latest gossip, dirt, and rumors circulating in and about the town of Franklin, Maine, you acknowledge your awareness of the fact that what you are about to read probably isn't completely true. In fact, it might not be true at all."
As the town's namesake, Benjamin Franklin, might have said: Honesty is the best policy.Whatever WorksDesperate times call for desperate measures for Maine drivers.
It's difficult to tell if folks should take Frank Norman and his "fuel maximizer" seriously. On the one hand, soaring gasoline prices have brought all sorts of miracle fuel additives out of the woodwork, each of them guaranteed to increase a vehicle's miles per gallon. On the other, Norman does have that report from the University of Southern Maine's industrial testing laboratory. And Maine has a long history of garage inventors who have made automotive history, starting with the Stanley brothers of Stanley Steamer fame.
When Norman tells people that his fuel additive can give them 10 to 30 percent more miles per gallon in their vehicles, he expects them to be skeptical. He wants them to be. He recalls that Steve Klein at Mermaid Transportation in Portland was skeptical, too, when he was asked to participate in a University of Southern Maine study of Norman's product with his fleet of fifteen limousines and vans.
Klein's letter reporting fuel savings of $7,000 to $8,000 a year is now posted on the Web site of Norman's company, Future Fuel Technologies, Inc. So is the 2003 report from the university's Manufacturing Applications Center showing an average increase of 9.8 percent in miles per gallon among the gasoline-powered vehicles tested and almost 8 percent increase in diesel engines when added at the rate of one ounce per ten gallons of fuel, as well as testimonials from other customers who report even better results.
Norman, of Lewiston, knows the casual observer will lump him and his product, FFT, in with all those other magic elixirs and fuel additives that litter the back pages of popular science magazines, at least until they try it. And with gasoline prices soaring to new heights, a lot of people are trying Norman's product.
"One night last September we were featured on WCSH Channel 6 on the six o'clock news, and by 6:30 our phone company's voicemail server had crashed," Norman recalls. "Our phone rang continuously for days. We sold out in forty-eight hours, and I was working for days to get the new product on line."
Norman says FFT grew out of his earlier career as a chemical salesman. The current formulation has been on the market since December 2000, when it won EPA registration. He describes it as a catalyst that acts somewhat like the catalytic converter in a car's exhaust system. "I've moved it into the engine to produce more power," he offers, without giving any specifics about FFT's ingredients.
The chemical solution — Norman hates the word "additive" because of the snake-oil implications — contains both a detergent and a solvent. "If the engine is cruddy, this will clean it out," he explains, adding that consumers can also use FFT in their home heating oil to increase furnace output.
Norman has been selling FFT through the Internet and at Radio City stores in Auburn, Bangor, Manchester, and Topsham, plus Forest City Chevrolet in Portland. Now, with production facilities in Lisbon Falls and distribution based in South Portland and, most recently, a warehouse outside London, England, he says he's ready to go international. If current fuel prices are any indication, it appears the road is wide open.Name GameMainers can suggest, but politicians get the last word.
Naming the new bridge across the Penobscot River between Prospect and Verona Island is turning into a job almost as daunting as building the span itself. This fall a trio of legislators from the Prospect-Bucksport area are culling through hundreds of suggestions submitted by the public through the Internet, e-mail, and regular mail. They hope to present a final list of half a dozen possibilities to the legislative session that begins in January, when a special committee will have the final word.
The names run the gamut, from historical (three Maine Civil War regiments have been nominated) to the obvious (Penobscot Bridge) to the sublime (the Hancock-Waldo Bridge, as opposed to the span it replaces, the Waldo-Hancock Bridge). Army Ranger and Medal of Honor winner Gary Gordon, of Lincoln, who was killed in Somalia in 1993, has received far and away the most votes, but Mainers ranging from Percival Baxter to John Gould have also been suggested — along with, for some reason, actor Donald Sutherland. Nor has the famous Maine sense of humor been ignored, with one wag even suggesting the Where's Waldo? Bridge.
Some of the other nominations are: Wicked High Bridge, Penobscot Narrows Bridge, Northern Skyway, Jeremiah Pecker Memorial Bridge (for the first settler of Bucksport), Penobscot Gateway, Downeast Gateway, Norumbega Bridge, The YEE HA Bridge, Dawnland Bridge (for the People of the Dawn, the native Wabanaki), Dirigo Bridge, Down East Golden Gate Bridge, Samantha Smith Peace Bridge, Tower Bridge, Ohmigosh! Bridge, Acadia Gateway Bridge, Fort Knox Bridge, Spandarivah Bridge.
Creativity seems to be in good supply Down East.A Touch of GeniusJust imagine the wisecracks down at the lobster pound.
Ted Ames, Stonington lobsterman and marine biologist, inventor and researcher, still doesn't know who nominated him for a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." He doesn't know who or how or when the background research was done. He has no clue who is on the committee that chooses the twenty-five annual recipients. "Maybe 'genius grant' is a misnomer in my case," he quips mischievously.
What Ames does know is that he will be able to use the $500,000 unrestricted award to continue the research he has been doing for the past several decades, without worrying about how he is going to scrape up the funding to underwrite it. "I've always lobstered during the warm weather months to feed my research habit," he explains. "But at sixty-six years old, my body is wearing out. This summer it became very clear that I was burning too many candles at both ends."
The MacArthur Foundation chooses its recipients for their "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," according to the foundation's Web site. The grant, doled out in quarterly installments over five years, comes without strings, and the foundation does not require an accounting of how it is spent. This year's winners range from a laser physicist to a sculptor.
Ames is known and highly respected in both academia and boatsheds the length of the Maine coast, thanks in no small part to his willingness to bring both scientific rigor and respect to the observations of the men and women of the working waterfront who are on the water year-round. It was Ames who combined fishermen's anecdotal accounts of the inshore cod fishery in Maine with computer mapping techniques and accepted scientific research to come up with a comprehensive picture of how and why cod fishing collapsed. "I've found past hints of a correlation between inshore stocks of cod and disappearing alewife runs," he notes. "It's very interesting, and I'm hoping to pursue that work with this grant."
Ames is also the designer of a revolutionary new lobster hatchery system [Down East, September] that will claim a good deal of his attention this winter and next spring. "And I have a whole stream of data on groundfish, examining the interrelationships of cod, hake, cusk, and other species to see if there is some synergy in the way they moved and behaved historically," Ames adds. "I can then plot that information on [a computer mapping system] and correlate it with movement patterns of forage stock and. . . . "
Genius grant is definitely not a misnomer in Ted Ames' case.Wanna Be a Zombie?A guy in Florida says yes, courtesy of Stephen King.
So far as we know, Ray Huizenga, of Florida, is not a flesh-eating zombie controlled by a cell phone. But Stephen King is about to make him one.
Huizenga's name will be attached to a monster in King's forthcoming novel, CELL, and not only is the Fort Lauderdale resident unlikely to sue the well-known Bangor horror writer for the act, he'll probably be out buying extra copies of the book to pass around to his friends. And it's all thanks to a sister who was willing to pay a lofty price to help a California organization that defends free speech.
Last September King and eighteen other authors sold naming rights to characters in upcoming novels on eBay, the online auction house, to benefit the First Amendment Project, based in Oakland, California. The King character was bought by Huizenga's sister, Pam Huizenga Alexander, for $25,100 in a hard-fought bidding battle that saw her chief rival, Papillion, Nebraska, resident Paul Stegman, ready to take out a line of credit on his house to continue the fight. (It wouldn't have helped; Huizenga Alexander is the daughter of billionaire Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga.) Huizenga Alexander said she would use the prize as a Christmas present for her brother.
In all, the auction raised more than $90,000, according to David Greene, executive director of the First Amendment Project. "We were in pretty desperate financial shape before the auction," Greene admits. "We almost closed because we had run out of money." The auction will allow the nonprofit organization to pay off its debt and keep operating for at least another two years.
The First Amendment Project is a law firm that provides legal services on free speech and free press issues, explains Greene. "Our main constituencies are activists, journalists, and artists, plus a lot of nonprofits," he says. For example, Greene just defended an activist in a small California town who had been sued by a developer in an attempt to stop her opposition to a major condominium project that would have tripled the town's population and endangered a condor-nesting site.
Greene says the auction was the brainchild of author and board member Michael Chabon and reflected payback of sorts for a case the organization worked on several years ago. "We filed a [friend of the court] brief with the California Supreme Court on behalf of Michael Chabon, Stephen King, and many other authors in a case involving a fourteen-year-old charged with making terrorist threats to his classmates by passing out a poem he wrote," Greene explains. The organization argued that the charge was a direct threat to the First Amendment and placed authors and publishers in jeopardy. "The court agreed with us and relied on our brief for much of its decision," Greene notes.
And now thanks to Stephen King and a zombie named Ray Huizenga, he can continue fighting the good fight.