I just got back from a very long weekend in Maine, visiting my daughters at their idyllic summer camp. As a student of the Mark Steyn school of bumper sticker sociology, I have some bad news for those, like me, who continue to think of Maine as a bastion of hardscrabble Yankee self-sufficiency — and, therefore, GOP loyalty. In four days, I saw a fair number of Obama bumper stickers — frequently surrounded by several other left wing exhortations, like “US out of Iraq” or “Crucify Bush” (kidding) or “I hated Bush before it was popular,” (when was that?). In the same time period I saw precisely no McCain bumper stickers. I was forced to conclude that McCain voters are not the sort of people who need to impose their politics on others while driving on the nation’s highways. That would be the old, scarce Yankee reticence that is so attractive. Or, like me, they fear that the sticker might generate vandalism. Or there aren’t so many.
Parents’ weekend in Maine is a major event. There is not a hotel reservation to be had in the state after about March. It is an odd thing to see a Hampton Inn parking lot entirely filled with expensive German cars, the odd Lexus or two, and, in the case of our parking lot, a very ostentatious Bentley. It is an equally odd thing to pay $250 a night to stay in a Hampton Inn — the special, statewide, “Parents’ weekend” rate. So we know they still respect the market, and have a good enough sense of what it will bear.
Usually we stay in Auburn, an old mill town, but this year we stayed in Freeport, on the water. The last time I was in Freeport, which was shortly after my freshman year in college, about three decades ago, there was LL Bean and a lobster shack a couple of miles away. Now the place is one big outlet mall, though the nicer kind, which is set up to look like an organically occurring town. I guess it’s a fair trade, since back then the local rivers were so polluted from the still functioning paper mills, that, as someone said, their water could strip the paint off of a house. Now most of them are clean enough for water sports and swimming. The shift to the tourist industry seems to have brought in profits, though it may be part of the changed ethos as well.
LL Bean, which is a great American institution, manages to make me wish I had more need for rugged outdoor wear, let alone hunting equipment, not that I have any real aspirations to shoot animals before dawn in the cold woods. (Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the right of all Americans to own guns, why is it I can’t buy one? I await the court challenge in New York City.) Walking across the Bean’s parking lot late Saturday night I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said, “I work hard because millions on welfare depend on me.” I’m assuming that he is a McCain voter. And so must be all the people who were not hassling him. You sure couldn’t wear that shirt in New York, or even in the Hamptons.
I do have personal kayaking ambitions, which led me to spend much of yesterday in a sea kayak in Casco Bay. If there is a more beautiful spot on the East Coast I have never seen it. I’m sure that it, too, has been cleaned up. But right now it is so pristine that, paddling around some of the more than 300 islands, we saw a large number of bald eagles and ospreys in their nests, and, surprisingly, seals. Our guide, (a McCain voter), pointed out that you can’t get too close to the seals in a kayak because to a seal a kayak with a person in it looks like a dorsal fin — an appendage found on all of their predators. When it comes to being confused with the backside of an animal, I suppose looking like a dorsal fin beats the usual images.