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No Vacancy

August 8, 2013

There’s a saying that any trip to Maine has to include the four L’s: lighthouses, lobster, and L.L. Bean. Today’s plan was to hit all four. It didn’t quite work out that way.

With a light schedule we woke up late this morning and immediately realized that today is the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, which is also Sam’s Hebrew birthday. And what better way to turn 12 Hebraically than with chocolate? Just a few miles from our motel outside of Portland is one of Maine’s odder attractions (and an additional L), Len Libby’s Candies, a regionally famous chocolatier known more for its moose than for its chocolate. That’s not a typo; the store sells all sorts of chocolate confections but it also houses a life-size moose made out of chocolate. (Yes, a chocolate moose. Wakka wakka!)

Chocolate moose

His name is Lenny. He’s made out of 1,700 lbs of milk chocolate. You can imagine what this sight did for Sam’s appetite. We had slept passed the end of the motel’s breakfast, so at Len Libby’s Sam got ice cream for breakfast.

With the moose behind us it was time for the final lighthouse of our trip: the Portland Head Light, which is not only the oldest lighthouse in Maine but is situated in such a place that on a clear day you can stand at its base and see four other lighthouses in the distance. And today was a clear day. The four other lighthouses were cute but they were minor leaguers compared to the Portland Head Light. It was beautiful, majestic, stately, and tall. If lighthouses dated, you would want to set this one up with all of your single friends.

Portland Head Light

After a quick lunch at the lighthouse, the plan was to go lobstering: specifically, a working cruise in which we’d help the crew of a lobster boat pull up their traps from all over beautiful Casco Bay and then rubber-band the claws and measure the lobsters to see what could be kept and what had to be thrown back. But something happened.

I’m quickly learning that the biggest difference between this year’s trip and the previous two is that this time everyone else in America is coming along with us. Everywhere we go is packed to capacity, and all the hotels and motels on our route are either full or priced double what they should be or both. It’s kind of our own fault; we’re touring summer resort town after summer resort town, and we’re doing it in the peak of the peak season. Just looking for a place to stay for last night, for example, we spent hours looking online for anything within 45 minutes of Portland, ME. Any place that had a vacancy either didn’t serve breakfast (a big inconvenience for us), didn’t have fridges available (a dealbreaker), or cost a ridiculous amount for a musty, dumpy place far away from where we wanted to be. There was a Days Inn in the middle of nowhere that wanted $160/night. For a Days Inn! We ended up “lucking” into the last room in a Super 8 for a mere $93 plus tax. On previous trips a place like this would’ve been more like $60 and we would’ve passed it up for a similar place down the street that was charging only $55. In general I’m paying much more for motels this time around, which isn’t horrible because this trip is shorter than the others so it all evens out, I guess.

Anyway, this trend worsened this morning when I called the lobstering cruise company to make reservations and I was told that all five of their cruises for the day were fully booked and had people on waiting lists, and the same was true for tomorrow’s cruises as well. And this one company is the only one like it in Portland. Sam was bummed. I was extremely bummed. Our disappointment at not going lobstering sunk in just deep enough to paralyze us for a little while in terms of finding something else to do to fill the sudden gaping hole in our day.

Portland is a decent-size city but there’s just not a whole lot to do there that’s of interest to an 11-year old. I looked up Trip Advisor’s list of 63 attractions in Portland, and the only one Sam found enticing was bowling. I didn’t drive 900 miles to go bowling. We would’ve just left town and moved on, but we had tickets to the Portland Sea Dogs game at 7p.m., so we were anchored in Portland.

Ultimately I decided to drive through downtown Portland to get a peek at the heart of the city. It was cute and pleasant, but just a few blocks outside of the downtown area was a real gem: the Eastern Promenade, a thin strip of a public park that runs along the waterfront with fantastic views of the bay. We parked, we explored, we evaded joggers, we saw a regatta off shore, and we found memorials to Portlanders who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and to the USS Portland, a highly decorated battleship from WWII. We also saw large swaths of perfectly trimmed grass, and on Sam’s suggestion we got our baseball mitts out of the car and had a catch until our arms got tired. Suddenly we felt a lot better. There’s just something about having a catch that makes every trouble and problem just melt away. It wasn’t the most exciting thing we’ve done this week, but it was deeply enjoyable. Hours later, when I was putting Sam to bed and we were reminiscing about the day, he mentioned our catch as a highlight, explaining: “It was son bond-y. So father-son-y.” Agreed.

As nice as it was, we still had a few hours to kill before the ballgame, so we starting tackling tomorrow’s to-do list and headed north. First we drove a few miles up I-95 to the DeLorme Publishing Company, a map publisher with a large map store at the front of the building. But the real attraction there is Eartha, a massive, four-story, working, spinning globe that is the world’s largest. If you look closely at the bottom of the photo, Sam is there to provide context of size.

It is NOT a small world after all.

It is NOT a small world after all.

In the map store we bought Sam a new U.S. Map to put on his bedroom wall to replace the one that still hangs there with the route of our first road trip drawn in marker. I hate to replace such a treasure but it’s badly frayed and ripped in a few spots, so it’s time.

Anyway, we jumped back onto I-95 and checked off our final L’s for the day: L.L. Bean’s flagship store. It’s really more of a sprawling complex than a store, with separate buildings for clothing, outdoor sports equipment, home goods, and camping gear. We posed for pictures at the giant fiberglass duck boot outside the main entrance and at the real trout pond that was inside the store. I bought a couple pairs of pants and Sam got a wooden L.L. Bean yoyo and laughed at the newfound knowledge that the L.L. stands for Leon Leonwood. I couldn’t blame him–it’s a pretty ludicrous name.

L.L. Bean Flagship Store

We even had time to do a little grocery shopping, which is good because we’re OK on protein but we had run out of vegetables. For a trip like this, normal veggies don’t work. Lucky for us, Americans are extremely lazy, so there’s a huge variety of little bags of prewashed and precut veggies, which are perfect for eating with lunch or dinner in the car or at a random rest stop. And the supermarket we found made me very happy by avoiding the grammar mistake that so many other stores make: the express lane sign properly said “10 items or fewer.”

Finally it was time for the ballgame. The Sea Dogs are the double-A team for the Red Sox, which means we’ve now been to three baseball games on this trip and they all featured teams at different levels of the Red Sox organization. The weather was great once again, the game was both brisk and dramatic, Sam spent some quality time with the team mascot (Slugger the Sea Dog), and in honor of Sam’s Hebrew birthday I made a last-minute phone call to the team office that resulted in this sight during the sixth inning:

Happy birthday

One odd thing about the Sea Dogs as an organization is that they’re clearly very uptight. No food or drink is allowed in the stadium, so we had to wolf down dinner before entering. Hawkeyed ushers spend the entire game kicking people out of good (empty) seats they don’t have tickets for, even in the ninth inning. And instead of having everyone drop their garbage under their seats like they do in pretty much every other stadium in America, there are repeated announcements to please put your trash in trash cans. On top of this they twice sent out two garbage mascots called the garbage monsters, who look like freaky aliens with trash cans for mouths, and suddenly hundreds of people were getting out of their seats to put their garbage into the mouths of the garbage monsters.

Portland Garbage Monster

It made for a clean ballpark but it made me feel guilty for eating peanuts. And Sam and I could think of whenever the garbage monsters came out was the line from near the end of Superman II: “I’ve never seen garbage eat garbage before.”

In the top of the eighth inning the Sea Dogs coughed up their slim lead but they scored in the bottom of the eighth to go on top. But the Dogs’ closer gave up a towering two-run homer in the ninth, followed immediately by another homer, and Portland lost, 5-3, to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Yes, they lost to the Flying Squirrels. After the game, Sam ran down to the Portland dugout and told the bat boy that it as his birthday, so the bat boy grabbed a ball and tossed it to him, which means that Sam has ended up with at least one game-used baseball at every single minor league game he’s ever been to (and he’s been to several).

I’m still a little sore that we got shut out of lobstering today, but we had a fun day anyway, and we still have severalmore days in Maine, so maybe we’ll get that last L after all.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    August 11, 2013 10:59 pm

    Given that I’m basically your only single friend, did you give the lighthouse my number? (No? Whatever–it’s geographically undeisreabl anyway.) 🙂

    Thanks for the earlier shout-out–really glad you enjoyed Good Hahbah!

  2. Amy permalink
    August 11, 2013 11:01 pm

    Undesirable.* My phone, gah! I miss buttons.

  3. ABH permalink*
    August 16, 2013 3:44 pm

    Amy, you mean lighthouse hasn’t called you yet?! Thanks again for all your travel advice.

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