The trailer on Route 1 in Wiscasset lacks pretension. But it doesn't lack for attention. Red's Eats has been the focus of local and national news stories for more than 30 years
. In part, that's due to the excellent lobster rolls and fried clams. But a lot of it had to do with Red, himself. Allen "Red" Gagnon liked to talk to people. He made his customers feel like they were more than a potential revenue source. He made waiting in line at Red's - and there's almost always a line - an event.
Red died June 13 of respiratory failure at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
He was 71. News of his passing was slow to leak out, but the first question everyone who heard it asked was: What's going to happen to Red's? The good news: The place survives under the management of his daughter, Debbie Cronk.
Simple, unpresuming names like Red's Eats work well. Most of the time. But if you happen to belong to a species called the hagfish, you've got to accept the fact that simplicity of name isn't going to be enough to make you popular, no matter how unpresuming you are. So, maybe it's time for an extreme makeover. Goodbye hagfish, hello slime eel. As unlikely as it seems, that name shift seems to be working. Several Maine fishing boats are doing big business harvesting slime eels
, which are de-slimed and shipped to Korea to be made into wallets.
It's not a huge industry, yet. A few processors, a handful of jobs, mostly filled by immigrants willing to put up with the distinctive stench ("That smells like death," according to one witness). But some experts are already worried the hagfi - sorry, slime eel stock in the Gulf of Maine could be depleted by over-fishing, just like sea urchins and other species with cooler names.
Having your name on a public building can improve your image, without the danger of being fished to extinction. So, don't be surprised if one of these days you notice the Augusta Civic Center has been renamed the Hagfish Civic Center. The Augusta City Council is considering a proposal to sell naming rights to the auditorium, after a consultant determined such a deal could earn the city $100,000 to $130,000 in fees each year.
Councilors are insistent, however, that the city name remain in the title, so I guess it would have to be the Augusta Hagfish Civic Center.
If you visit the state capital to see the new sign on the civic center, keep in mind that if you head south afterwards, Interstate 295 from Gardiner to Topsham is closed in that direction all summer for repaving. As an alternative, you could take the Maine Turnpike (the state's official Hagfish Highway) or the more leisurely Route 201 (leisurely mostly because it's clogged with traffic trying to avoid tolls on the pike). While you're crawling along, you'll have time to contemplate the future of transportation in Maine. Which is looking sort of grim. State officials say declines in federal gasoline tax revenues will mean sharp cuts in the amount of money available for road and bridge repairs starting next year.
Because people are driving less and using more fuel-efficient vehicles, tax collections are falling, which will cost Maine $54 million in federal funds in 2009. Congress is considering making up some of that shortfall through a one-time revenue transfer, but unless new highway funding sources are found, the long-term prospects are for bumpier roads ahead.
One positive effect of higher gas prices has been increased ridership on public transportation.
The Zoom Turnpike Express bus between Biddeford and Portland has seen its average daily passenger count jump from 20 or 30 to more than 100 in recent weeks. And the Amtrak Downeaster reports 50 percent more commuters using the train to Boston over the same period last year.Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein came to Portland (although not on the Downeaster) for a couple of days to watch Sox prospects playing for the Sea Dog
s, including pitcher Michael Bowden (6-3, 2.20 ERA).
After seeing Bowden battle through 5 2/3 innings on June 19 (two runs, one earned, a walk and five strikeouts), Epstein said, "He's on a mission to become a difference-making big-league starter, and I wouldn't bet against him."
Bet against another vote on gay rights next year. The Christian Civic League of Maine announced on June 19 that it had collected barely 5,000 of the more than 55,000 signatures needed t
o put a repeal of the state civil rights law and a ban on civil unions and same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2009.
League officials said they were ending the referendum drive because it had failed to attract enough volunteers and contributions.
Also dropped: the federal probe of Maine Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan for allegedly using his plane to locate moose for on-the-ground hunters last September in northern Maine.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigators found "no credible evidence of wrongdoing" on McGowan's part.
Good thing for the commissioner that he isn't facing legal action, because he might have trouble getting a lawyer.
Maine has delayed payments to court-appointed attorneys for the rest of June to cover a $1.5-million budget shortfall
this fiscal year.
Another reason the commish should be happy he's not likely to be convicted of anything: The state is setting up a computer system to allow police to check whether people they stop are on probation.
Amazingly, the current system is one that relies on the probationer to tell the cop if he or she is under some court-imposed sanction. This "honor system" has led to at least one instance in which a man on probation was released by police and later was involved in a confrontation that resulted in his death.
Finally, the Maine School of Masonry in Avon held its first graduation on June 21.
I'll bet you didn't even know there was a Maine School of Masonry
. Me neither.
The initial class was only one person strong, but the fledgling institution is expecting 12 students this fall and has a waiting list.
The one-year course is taught by Steve Mitchell of Phillips, who said he started the school because, "I had to do something more than build stuff."
Also, it beats cleaning slime eels.Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.