The woman in front of me in the supermarket line was wearing a beach coverup over a bathing suit. She was buying snack foods and cold drinks. It looked like she was planning a fun afternoon. Sure enough, she began telling the cashier all about it as soon as it was her turn to check out.

This customer wanted to do her grocery run before she went out on the water. Wasn’t it a beautiful day to get out there? She couldn’t wait. She’d had a wonderful time in Maine so far. Oh, she was so lucky to have her patch of land on …

At that point, the customer realized she should stop. She said something to the effect of, “I’m just happy to be part of the universe!”

For nine months of the year, we are just Maine. Then, in summer, we are Vacationland.

The transformation is notable, even in central Maine. We may not be well-known as a tourist mecca, but we get our fair share. Or, depending on my mood, more than that.

I am a creature of habit, so I notice that day in June when it takes me 10 minutes longer to get to my destination. Five minutes longer to get out into the Cony roundabout.

Not to mention the day my husband, Paul, sees somebody driving the wrong way around the rotary.

I see people in the supermarket wandering with dazed expressions, as they look for items that could be anywhere, like bread crumbs. I walk frequently on the Kennebec River Rail Trail and start spotting the out-of-state license plates in the parking lots.

In myriad places from here to the coast, I find myself one in a crowd. In places where, in April, there were a few people. In January, no one.

I noticed the dramatic seasonal shift to Vacationland when I first moved to Maine 33 years ago. I grew up in Massachusetts between two tourist hotspots: Newport, over the border in Rhode Island, and Cape Cod. So I was no stranger to the phenomenon of the summer influx. I guess it was just that, as a kid, it didn’t spill over into my sleepy little town.

Here, I had the sensation that the tourist thing affected the whole state. A small state, in population, with one major interstate highway.

Ah, that was a learning experience. We’d go down to Massachusetts to fetch our parents for their summer visits here. We’d try to time these trips to avoid the worst of the traffic, but it wasn’t always possible. So, often we’d get stuck in miles of traffic. We invariably had dogs with us, and I fretted that they would overheat or decide they’d have to do their business while we were stuck on the sweltering tarmac.

I easily identify tourists, and not usually in a negative way. Although I really dislike the ones who tailgate me on Route 3 and then take ridiculous risks to pass. I want to say, “You’re where life is the way it should be. Relax!”

Ironically, Paul was in a line of traffic recently, approaching a traffic light, and a car with New York plates was trying to enter the road from a parking lot. Paul gestured for the driver to pull out, but the man was looking everywhere but at us. Just as Paul was ready to give up, the tourist merged. I said, “That is the only New Yorker in Maine who is not in a hurry.”

This is not to say we Mainers are poky or even that we are more conscientious drivers. There are just more bad drivers on the road in the summer, and more roadkill too.

Tourists often travel in packs. They look determined to have a good time. Sometimes I sense they are doing something because someone told them they should, and now they are having second thoughts. As in, “I have to take this lobster apart?”

There used to be a more intense animosity toward the summer folk, in the days when more Mainers were in the “have-not” category. Observing that interaction in the supermarket, I could understand that such friction remains.

It was insensitive for the customer to describe her fun plans to someone who is working indoors, at a repetitive task, on a gorgeous July day. The cashier, to her credit, remained pleasant throughout.

A few weeks later, I was thinking about that while on my own vacation on the coast, when a cashier checked out my groceries at the market. I thanked her, and she smiled and wished me a good day. She was missing several teeth.

A lot of people still have trouble accessing dental care here in Maine. Even in summer, when we are Vacationland.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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