Out and About: Freeport, Portland, Cape Elizabeth

Possibly the best photo I've ever taken?
Possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken?

This blog has been extremely clear over the past few months that I’m an enormous procrastinator. So it’ll come as absolutely no surprise to anyone reading this that despite having great intentions of exploring Portland, the larger, more cosmopolitan city an hour south of Augusta, I had only been down twice, both times for brief work meetings.

That was, until this weekend past. And now I feel like a complete idiot for not doing it way sooner.

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I’d initially planned to stay in Portland overnight a couple of Fridays ago when work had me scheduled for a training session down there. I had hoped I’d be able to work my shift remotely at a spare desk in the newsroom there after training finished, then knock off at 10 p.m. as usual, then head out to explore Portland’s night life (of which there seems to be a great deal).

Unfortunately that plan fell in a heap due to staffing shortages back at the KJ, so I ended up working my shift in Augusta and then continuing regular service by having five pints at the Liberal Cup instead. No one can ever accuse me of inconsistency.

That day, during the training session, I’d sent my pal Bonnie a text bemoaning the fact that I was cooped up in the office when there were so many great restaurants and bars taunting me from just outside the window. She told me not to worry, we could go back next weekend, and the kicker? She’d drive! YES. That means I get to drink enjoy adult beverages responsibly.

So I asked a couple of my coworkers if they had any recommendations for places to check out – including both sightseeing spots and establishments in which to gorge on seafood and stare at the inside bottom of pint glasses – and got a couple of nice suggestions. Meanwhile, Bonnie was getting extra creative and discovered that the outdoor retailer Patagonia offers lessons on different fresh-air pursuits, and the weekend’s activity was a free introduction to fly fishing.  And since we thought we may actually catch a fish, we had to apply online for a Maine fishing license, good for a year. To someone who’s been fishing twice in his life, and actually caught a boot once (like in the cartoons), this was brave new territory.

ANYWAY. I am an unstoppable rambler aren’t I? Bonnie and I hit the road around 10:30am headed for Freeport, our first destination and the site of L.L. Bean’s “campus” (!), a whole bunch of other shopping outlets, and of course my date with fly fishing destiny. We killed about 40 minutes before our scheduled midday lesson by wandering through the Bean superstore sampling waffles with blueberry syrup, ogling huge racks of rifles and shotguns, cringing at price tags, and being accosted by young children hawking for a Thai restaurant. Just before noon we signed waivers at Patagonia and got pumped up to maybe catch a fish or two.

There was just one problem: there was a distinct absence of marine life.

The fly fishing instruction was in a park, with no body of water in sight. We arrived a couple of minutes late, so we caught the end of a demonstration for a group of three others before our instructor took us aside and showed us the ropes. Or lines. Or…I don’t know, I’m no fisherman. I was totally interested in trying it out, even though I knew I was going to be completely hopeless at it. I grew up very much an indoors kid, and my few attempts at fishing have been utterly fruitless. And sure enough, my technique with the fishing pole was miserable. I got the line stuck in a tree branch 10 feet off the ground, used too much wrist (minds out of the gutter), had woeful aim and generally looked like an idiot. But that’s okay: that’s what getting out of your comfort zone is about sometimes.

Since there were no fish to be caught, we figured we’d get back onto I-95 and find some seafood in Portland. And boy, did we ever. Bonnie managed to avoid having to partake in the nightmare of parallel parking, and we tracked down the place that my workmates had suggested to me, J’s Oyster on Portland Pier in the part of town known as the Old Port. It was a divey looking shack inside and out, but that’s just my kind of place. We had to wait awhile for a table but it only served to get us more excited about what was to come, because the scents coming from the kitchen smelled phenomenal.

By the time we sat down, both of us knew what we wanted, so it wasn’t hard to get straight into proceedings. We split a dozen fresh oysters, one of which was as big as my shoe, and each had a lobster roll. The lobster meat was fat and juicy and I could probably write 400 words about it, but I’ll spare you the eye-rolling. If it’s any indication of how good it was … I had two. Yeah. I’m a fat kid. Bonnie decided she wanted to dabble in lunch-dessert (or Midday Delicacy, as it’s become known), so I threw caution and financial sensibility to the wind, rolled up my sleeves and got into another pile of lobster. And it was worth every inch of distended belly.

After that mountain of incredible food (and, y’know, a couple of Geary’s Summer Ales to wash it all down), I needed a digestive walk of at least three to four miles. That was never going to happen though, because it was Sunday and I’m a lazy jerk, so instead we jumped back into the car and headed for Cape Elizabeth, a spot south of Portland which I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about. And sure enough, it was absolutely gorgeous.

The weather had been kinda drizzly and sad earlier, but the minute we arrived at Fort Williams Park the sky cleared and turned the ocean a beautiful blue. The main highlight was a very postcard-like lighthouse called the Portland Head Light, which made for absolutely incredible photography even for an idiot like me equipped with only a shoddy iPhone. We walked a trail around the cliff faces for a bit then ventured down onto the rocks near the water, which was out for low tide. Of course I had to stick my hand in the Atlantic Ocean, but nearly finished up on my ass more than once as I failed to safely navigate algae-covered rocks.

But no sooner had the weather become nice did it go back to dreary again, and a few raindrops signaled the end of our outdoors adventure, so we headed to Trader Joe’s for a look at all the wonderful delicacies that don’t tend to be on supermarket shelves at Shaw’s in Augusta for some reason. I managed to avoid blowing my whole weekly grocery budget on cheese and beer (and “three-buck chuck” store-label red wine), and it was probably the lingering sluggishness from lunch that kept me from wanting to buy foodstuffs.

So in keeping with my excessive weekend eating habits, we had one final stop to make before we headed back to Augusta: sushi. Obviously. Bonnie navigated us to Yosaku, also in the Old Port and her go-to sushi place. I had to exercise extreme self-control because I have zero willpower in the face of Japanese food, but I managed to restrict it to a salmon avocado roll and a tempura shrimp roll. And while there may be an element of “I haven’t had it in so long, of course it’s going to taste good” (see: Eddie Murphy’s “Saltines” bit in Raw), it was genuinely excellent. I really miss raw salmon and avocado, you guys. Like…a great deal.

After all that rice, and with a food coma looming, we figured it was time to make our way back to Augusta. Some of us had to work Monday morning, of course (not me!). The thing about weekend day trips is that all the boring chores that one plans to do on a Sunday get utterly ignored. I came home to a sink full of dishes, a stack of recycling (which totally didn’t consist solely of empty beer cans) and an empty refrigerator. But I was crashing from the 17 pounds of food I’d consumed over the course of six hours and could barely lift myself from the couch, where I half-heartedly pecked away at the book for a couple of hours before passing out.

So, in summary: I suck at fly fishing in parks, but I’m really really good at eating lobster rolls, oysters, sushi and pointing my phone at already picturesque landmarks to take beautiful photos. I wonder if I can make a career out of that somehow.

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