Route 1 Culprits
So it's not the tourists' fault after all.
For decades, the conventional wisdom has held that summer tourists are the root of all evil when it comes to traffic congestion on Route 1 in midcoast Maine. Now comes heresy. A survey last summer of some eight-hundred drivers and passengers on Route 1 between Brunswick and Searsport has concluded that most of the blame lies with the people who live there, not the people who visit.
"What is eye-opening for us is that such a strong majority of the traffic is made up of local people doing their day-to-day activities," remarks Evan Richert, former director of the Maine State Planning Office and a consultant on the Gateway 1 project, a Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) program that's trying to find solutions to the coastal arterial's problems. With few exceptions, the survey found that local drivers made up 70 to 85 percent of Route 1 travelers even at the height of the tourist season. Only in Camden did out-of-state travelers comprise a sizeable portion — 43 percent — of the survey.
The results ran counter to a lot of expectations, according to Kathy Fuller, director of MDOT's environmental office and a Gateway 1 project leader. "We'd been hearing people in the Route 1 corridor telling us that tourists were causing the problems," she explains. "Our sense is that tourists are certainly a factor, but more is happening in the corridor than simply that."
The survey findings are no surprise to anyone who travels Route 1 on a regular basis. Veteran commuters have long noted that summer and off-season traffic flows no longer vary as dramatically as they once did. The past decade has seen considerable year-round business and residential development throughout the midcoast, and all of it has funneled more vehicles onto the highway.
"Route 1 is Main Street, shopping mall, commuter route, and regional arterial all at once," Richert notes. "It carries local traffic, freight, and tourists. That's an awful lot to ask of one two-lane road."
Meanwhile, the only goal of most Route 1 travelers this summer will be reaching their destinations without blowing a gasket.
Wes Shaw has seen it all in thirty years of running a Northeast Harbor taxi.
Not everybody gets to read their obituary while they're still alive," says Wes Shaw with a chuckle. He's talking about a lengthy profile of him that appeared in the Mount Desert Islander and the Ellsworth American a while back, on the occasion of his announcement that he's looking for a buyer for MDI Water Taxi and Launch Service. But don't let the name of his business fool you into thinking Shaw runs a rinky-dink operation. In the nearly thirty years since he started the Northeast Harbor boat service, Shaw has picked up some of Maine's best-known summer visitors as regular passengers.
And while at first the Massachusetts native is reluctant to discuss his famous cargo, it doesn't take long to get him talking, as any of his passengers know. For example, there's the story about Martha Stewart, who Shaw picked up in Seal Harbor a few days after she walked out of a contentious interview with Katie Couric over the allegations of insider trading for which Stewart was later convicted. "She looked terrible," Shaw says. "Later, she just curled up like a fetus on top of the engine blocks in an L.L. Bean blanket and slept all the way back to Seal Harbor."
The years Shaw has spent ferrying the likes of Stewart, Walter Cronkite, various Rockefellers, and Judge Robert Bork are a consequence, he says, of the fact that many of Northeast Harbor's longtime summer residents no longer have boats and captains of their own. That makes MDI Water Taxi a lucrative operation; a late-night ride out to the Cranberry Isles, for example, could run as much as $300 or $400 if Shaw has to wait a few hours for his passenger to arrive from Bar Harbor's frequently fog-bound airport.
Shaw says the publicity surrounding the announcement of his retirement has unearthed a few good prospects. "It takes a verbose person like me to make it work," he says. "You've got to have good energy and strength and stick-to-itiveness." And if they don't work out? Failing health or not, Shaw says he'll try to keep Ripples, his Webber Cove 22, up and running for one more year. "I don't want to see it die," he says. And, it's safe to say, neither do Wes Shaw's many fans.
A Campus whodunit
A prized bell was lost in plain sight.
It sounds like a Hardy Boys title: The Mystery of the Missing Bell. Or perhaps Sherlock Holmes: The Bell That Didn't Ring. Chet Rock, associate dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Maine in Orono, spent six years sleuthing around the campus for a missing seven-hundred-pound bronze bell whose chimes had sent students to classes morning and afternoon for almost fifty years.
Rock made finding the old bell a personal quest because it had formerly hung in Wingate Hall, built in 1894 and originally the home of UMaine's highly respected engineering department. There the bell had rung each morning and afternoon to mark the beginning of daily classes. In 1943 a fire destroyed the bell tower and the third-floor offices of legendary engineering dean Paul Cloke, who served from 1926 to 1950.
"Students ran into the building and saved his desk and papers," Rock says. "The bell was removed and placed in front of Oak Hall for a while, then it just disappeared."
Six years ago the engineering department began planning construction of a plaza and walkway named for Cloke, and Rock thought that finding the bell and installing it in a Wingate Hall-inspired tower on the plaza would be a fitting tribute. He combed through old documents and newspapers, talked with alumni, and heard all the stories about how the bell had figured prominently in various campus high jinks. But no one seemed to know the bell's location, although everyone seemed to agree that it hadn't been discarded.
Finally, while going through the 1953 campus yearbook, Rock found a tiny photograph of the bell being hoisted into its new home. As it happened, the bell had been hidden in plain sight all along — inside a clapboarded cupola on top of the Fogler Library in the center of the campus. "Even the librarian didn't know it was up there," Rock recalls.
After breaking the rusted locks on the access door, Rock found the bell encrusted with decades of pigeon droppings.
In May a crew from Roof Systems of Maine lifted the bell off the library roof.
Now that the bell is found, Rock is turning in his snap-brim fedora and trench coat. He knows for whom the bell tolls.
A Second Look
Harpswell's Causeway Lady had the right idea about that bridge.
Back in the summer of 2003 Elsa Martz's dream came true — she watched as construction crews tore open the causeway linking Cundys Harbor in Harpswell and Dingley Island and installed a bridge that, for the first time in more than half a century, allowed the tide to flow across the mudflats between the two shores [Down East, May 2004]. The idea was to clean out the silt that had built up and ruined one of Harpswell's most productive clam flats.
Martz had worked since 1996 to persuade townsfolk the change was needed and to raise the $225,000 in cash and donated goods and services to finance the project. She was that confident that it would work. And she was right.
A recent study has shown that the shellfish population has soared in the flats south of the restored bridge. These days Elsa Martz has become know along the Maine coast as the Causeway Lady, and several other towns with similar situations have contacted her for advice. "It's worked out quite well," the retired Bowdoin College office manager allows. "The residents of Dingley Island are pleased, the clam diggers are pleased, and I'm pleased."
And so are we. Good job, Elsa.
Portland's Woodfords Club ponders expanding its membership.
While Bill Kenny certainly doesn't have anything against service organizations like Rotary or the Lions Club, he's a much bigger fan of private social clubs like Portland's Woodfords Club. Kenny, a retired air force officer who now teaches at Southern New Hampshire University's Brunswick campus, joined the Woodfords Club about eight years ago, looking for a place where he could unwind without any obligations other than throwing on a white waiter's jacket and serving dinner twice a year to the other members.
These days, as the club's vice president, Kenny is helping oversee an ambitious effort to revitalize it and attract new members. That may seem a tall order when you realize that the club's rules, which date back to its 1913 founding, forbid gambling, alcohol, and any talk of politics. What's more, its Friday night entertainments, which feature what Kenny describes as a "handmade dinner" served family-style by members in those white jackets, along with a speaker and after-dinner activities including pool, bowling, bridge, and cribbage, are only open to men. At present, women may only join the club through its ladies' auxiliary — and only then if a male relative is already a member. And female members aren't welcome on Friday nights.
Kenny sees that last point as a serious obstacle to the club's growth. "The whole social atmosphere has changed," he says. "With both members of a couple at work now, the last thing they want to do is go their separate ways on Friday nights."
While Kenny admits that four or five "hangers-on" are resistant to the idea of admitting women as full members, he says that number represents a considerable decrease since he joined the club in the late 1990s. So over the next several months he anticipates the Woodfords Club following in the footsteps of the Cumberland Club, the Portland Club, and, most recently, Le Club Calumet by inviting women to join him and his compatriots in a good meal and a friendly Friday-night discussion of reverse mortgages or local history.
And, it seems, it's about time that women can do the same.
Redrawing the Map
Will a new name draw crowds to Portland's Studio District?
Like many cities, Portland is a collection of tiny neighborhoods whose names go unnoticed by everyone except long-time residents. But if Ronnie Wilson has her way, a triangular section of the city's downtown recently dubbed the Studio District will not only become widely known but will also draw crowds to the artists' studios and shops in the area.
Wilson, a landscape painter, opened her Sirens Studio/Gallery on Pleasant Street about a year ago. Though she was happy to find the location on the western edge of the Old Port, she was dismayed when she began to realize that friends and colleagues were never quite sure how to find her. "This side of town didn't have a delineation or separate identity from the Old Port," she says.
Thus, the new name. Wilson queried her neighbors, ranging from the home décor shop Holly Stone to the funky eatery Artemisia to the Whitney Art Works gallery, to see if they shared her interest in drawing more foot traffic to the area. By and large, the reaction was positive, as was the response from Portland's Downtown District, which agreed to designate the area as the Studio District on the maps it provides for residents and tourists.
The only concern for residents? That Wilson's plan will work too well, following the well-worn path of the Old Port and even the city's Arts District. Artists were drawn to those neighborhoods by low rents and interesting studio spaces, but were followed by the seemingly inevitable march of gentrification: more people, higher rents, and what some see as a slackening commitment to the artists who kicked the whole thing off. To some extent, that's already happened in the Studio District. One of its highest profile residents, the Bakery Photographic Collective, recently vacated its space on Pleasant Street for larger — and cheaper — digs in Westbrook.
"It's a very sticky wicket," admits Wilson. "You have to be careful what you wish for."
Trustafarian: A spoiled young person whose bohemian lifestyle belies the trust fund that makes it all possible. As in, "Well, he calls himself an artist, but really he's just another one of those trustafarians you see along the coast."