I spent Saturday morning wearing a red bandana wrapped around my head and an eye patch that had me walking into walls. Now this, I should point out, is not my usual attire. But I was way Down East for the second annual Eastport Pirate Festival and dressing like Captain Jack Sparrow was the order of the day. The Pirate Festival is a sort of adjunct to Eastport's annual Salmon Festival. I guess civic boosters found dressing up like fish a bit daunting. Hence the pirate theme.
Eastport is the easternmost city in the United States. This is the first thing you always read about Eastport. The second thing is: what a potential goldmine this place could be! Geographically, architecturally, and sociologically, Eastport is an especially cool corner of the planet. Perched at the end of Moose Island, connected by a causeway to the mainland, the city is almost entirely surrounded by saltwater and islands. Its hilly streets mean that just about every shack, as well as every splendid Victorian, has a stunning view of Passamaquoddy Bay. The local crowd includes artists, inventors, writers, and layabouts who seemed to have washed in on the powerful tides that churn offshore. Downtown bears an uncanny resemblance to Portland's Old Port, complete with empty storefronts begging to be converted into microbreweries and coffeehouses. It's no wonder speculators routinely wander into town, see all those cheap homes, and potential shops, and find themselves going on spending sprees. You can't help getting visions of dancing dollar signs.
But here's the secret: Eastport doesn't play by your rules. I've been visiting the city for close to ten years now, which isn't long in the scheme of things, but has proven time enough to witness several cycles in which Eastport has gotten discovered, then forgotten, then discovered again. And so far, the potential boomtown has not boomed. Maybe it's the distance from everywhere else (and yes, I understand that New Brunswick is within shouting distance, but you know what I mean). Maybe it's a border mentality that comes from living on the ragged edge. I suspect that Eastport will prosper after a fashion, but in a way that bears no resemblance to what happened in Portland in the 1980s.
In the meantime, travelers will stumble into town, be charmed silly by all that is strange and beautiful about the place, and leave missing quantities of gold. Which makes me think Eastport's pirate theme is right on the mark.
PAUL "PEG-LEG" DOIRON
Ed in Chief