A few months ago, I purchased a pre-order copy of a book by one of my favorite sports and pop culture columnists. He was running a little social media promotional blitz where, if you sent him a screenshot on Twitter of your order confirmation, he’d reply with some sort of outlandish praise, compliment or promise for returning the good will.
Upon seeing my tweeted screenshot, including my shipping address, his response was, “I for real asked Wife if Maine was a state or a city cuz I didn’t know.” He was joking. I’m pretty sure, anyway.
I got a laugh out of it, because it struck me as reasonably familiar. During the first few months after my move to the central Maine, I had my fair share of buddies from back home (and my dad, once) asking me when I was going to get the opportunity to check out the famed golf course. They had innocently assumed that I’d moved to the Augusta in Georgia, rather than the capital city of Vacationland.
For this, I couldn’t really fault them. On the list of U.S. destinations recognizable to Australians, I don’t think Maine is all that high. For those who haven’t visited this great nation, geographical knowledge can typically extend to “Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York,” which is obviously a very incomplete picture. To my recollection, the Pine Tree State doesn’t get a ton of international press attention (save for the infamous Norridgewock gun tattoo man, which was shared on Facebook just as much by my former coworkers Down Under as it was here), so Aussies don’t have much to go on when it comes to points of reference north of Boston.
Whether it’s fate or coincidence, I actually had a couple of bits of trivia up my sleeve about Maine, long before I arrived here. As I’ve surely mentioned before, I grew up a voracious reader and have read practically everything Stephen King has ever published. I blew through the 900-plus-page uncut edition of The Stand when I was 13 and really haven’t looked back. With so many of King’s tomes taking place in either fictional or real-life locations in Maine (“We all float down here, Henry!”), I was exposed to this state in my formative years.
I also grew up on a diet of the TV show M*A*S*H, which my father watched religiously and collected on VHS tapes. For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, set at an American medical camp during the Korean War, one of the central characters was Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, a wise-cracking surgeon who hailed from the fictional Maine town of Crabapple Cove, somewhere supposedly near Penobscot Bay. One of the first things I did upon settling in Augusta was Google to check and see whether Crabapple Cove was a place I could visit and/or pose for a photo in front of a sign, for my dad’s mantelpiece.
So that was the extent of my knowledge about this great state. For Americans, though, it seems to be completely the opposite. In the 18 or so months that I’ve lived here, I’ve heard plenty of good-natured, self-deprecating humor from Mainers about their own home. So in the instances when I’ve visited friends elsewhere – Massachussetts, Rhode Island, Nebraska, California – I’ve braced myself to hear similar jibes about bearded lumberjacks, moose on the highways and bear attacks, but it’s exactly the opposite.
I’ve been regaled with multiple tales of family camping vacations in the Maine woods, and trips to Old Orchard Beach (of course.) One guy I met was surprised to hear I lived right in Augusta, and told me all about the time he dated a girl who lived in Belgrade that he would drive up from New Hampshire to visit with. Most of my friends and acquaintances who’ve been here have fond memories of a particular ice cream stand, or lobster pound on the coast, or stocking up on heavy weather gear at L.L. Bean in Freeport.
I can’t blame a single one of them for the happy nostalgia, either. Sometimes it isn’t perfect – checking for ticks, anyone? – but this is a wonderful place to live. Now that my weekly schedule doesn’t include an office job, I’ve had a bit of a different perspective of Maine’s summertime as it comes into bloom than I did last year.
The girlfriend has taken me on a couple of adventures to places I hadn’t yet seen. We spent July 5th on the beach at Fort Popham with some friends, grilling bratwurst and watching the dogs wear themselves out in the freezing water. I gathered up every ounce of courage I had (all three ounces of it) and rode the rickety rollercoaster and log flume at Funtown Splashtown USA, despite being decidedly more comfortable on terra firma. I still marvel at just how blue the sky can get here, and the incredible contrast with the bright green of the foliage continues to knock my proverbial socks off.
But in saying all that, and singing the state’s praises, I’m not really telling you long-suffering readers anything you didn’t already know. Perhaps I should pitch this particular column to newspapers in other states, and create myself a new role as an unofficial ambassador for Maine.
At least for all those Aussies who only know about one Augusta.