Be careful what you wish for

The open road is great. For, like, 20 minutes or so I guess,

The open road is great. For, like, 20 minutes or so I guess?

If you’re new to this little corner of the world-wide web (as the kids are calling it these days), or if you’ve just not trawled through five months of archives (and frankly, who can blame you), you might not be aware of how I spent my first couple of months in Maine.

To catch you up quickly, I spent them:

  • Walking mostly everywhere, and
  • Griping about the slow driver licensing wheels of bureaucracy.

And of course, I love a good gripe. But sure enough, about six weeks after I first arrived, I was finally qualified to drive in the Pine Tree State, and the U.S. at large. A couple days later I was the proud (half-)owner of my very own car.

And it’s just as well, too. Because Mainers love to drive.

Example: A few weekends ago, Bonnie and I took advantage of the nicest Saturday weather of the year so far (so, it was about 55 degrees and sunny) and went on a day trip to Brunswick, about 45 minutes south of Augusta. I didn’t write an Out and About post detailing our adventures because while it was a fun day out, it was uneventful. Y’know, except for when we arrived at Sea Dog Brewing Company in Topsham for a tour, only to find out brewery tours are only run in Bangor…two hours in the opposite direction. Oops.

Anyway we wandered around the beautiful campus at Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts school in Brunswick, and checked out the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum (free entry!) before grabbing lunch and a couple of beers along Maine Street (geddit?) and gelato before heading home. It was a pretty easy day out, and Brunswick seems to be a cool little town with a younger demographic, due to the college obviously, and somewhat more lively than, say, downtown Augusta.

At work the following Monday, my coworkers asked me what I did over the weekend, and I mentioned my opinion that Brunswick would be a cool little spot to live in. But then I added a disclaimer that had me shouted down from pillar to post:

“It’s just a shame that it’s too far to drive to work and back.”

With the reaction I received for that line, you’d have thought I’d told everyone I had spent my weekend mowing down grandmothers on the sidewalk.

Another example: Earlier in the year I went out a few times with a girl who lives in Bangor, about an hour and a quarter’s drive from Augusta up I-95. At the time, I’d literally just got my license and I was pretty excited be behind the wheel, regardless of the 150-mile round trip, so I didn’t mind driving up to hang out every now and then.

But when she would offer to come to Augusta to visit, I was always overcome by something resembling guilt. I mean, there’s a little bit less to do down here than there is in Bangor, being a smaller and older town, so I felt bad that she would have to drive over an hour to come down. Apparently I’m good enough company to balance that out (!), but she never had a qualm about jumping in the car. Driving for an hour and a quarter was a “short trip”, according to her.

You see, in a state like Maine where all sizable centers of population (let’s say Bangor, Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston-Auburn, Portland) are linked by stretches of highway with a LOT of scenery, small towns and not much else in between. People here grow up driving everywhere out of pure necessity, so it’s absolutely not a big deal to commute 45 minutes, or an hour, or an hour and a half, to work every day.

Hell, the new city editor at the Sentinel in Waterville is still commuting from NORTHERN MASSACHUSETTS every single day for work until he finds a place up here. That’s crossing two state lines, twice a day, to get to the office. I don’t have a geographical frame of reference, but according to my coworkers that’s a good three-hour trip each way.

For me? Nup, I couldn’t do it. Sure, highway driving is easier and Interstate 95 up here seems to be in pretty good shape. But the last thing I want to do at 10:00 p.m. on a weeknight is get in the car and drive for the best part of an hour to get home. I mean, I’d absolutely love to live in one of Maine’s other cities that has a little more going on after-hours, and a few more people my age around the place. But if it’s a choice between leaving 10 minutes before my shift starts or an hour and 10? It’s a no-brainer.

That’s not a product of me being not used to driving on the left-hand side of the car and right-hand side of the road, either. Even in Australia I disliked being behind the wheel for an hour or more at a time. My temperamental lower back starts to tighten up, I get edgy, I just want to get out. I worry I’m going to miss my exit, I get bugged by people riding on my ass even though I’m on cruise control five miles above the speed limit in the right lane.

I’m also still adjusting to living within my new means, a budget which is…slightly less roomy, shall I say, so I watch my fuel consumption and spending like a hawk. I already feel like I spend far too much per week on gas – more than I would have back in Australia, somehow, and gas is cheaper here – so I can’t fathom doing three or four times as many miles to get to work and back. So despite a desperate desire to want to get back on the road in the early parts of 2014, now I can’t be bothered driving at all.

This ended up sounding a lot more like a complaint than I intended it to, and it’s really not. It’s with almost morbid fascination that I hear coworkers and other friends talking about their long commutes to work or how far they drive seemingly on a whim or to eat somewhere great, when half the time I can’t even be bothered driving up the street to pick up a pizza so I have Domino’s deliver it for me.

But again, it’s a case of “adapt or perish”. I’m driving to Bar Harbor this weekend to catch up with my buddy Todd, who’s in town for Memorial Day weekend. Bar Harbor promises to be at least a two-hour journey, although since it’s a holiday there’s bound to be a ton of tourists on the road which will likely slow my progress down.

Lucky I’ve got heated seats to keep my back somewhat loose. Maybe I need to play some meditative music to keep me calm on the trip.

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