Dear Summer Tourists,

We need to talk. We all know this is the time of year when you – and we – start getting giddy about summer in Maine. Our collective hearts beat in anticipation of that brief but blissful season when we all scrunch together to bask in the clean air, green forests and oh-so-blue ocean horizons that make this place Vacationland.

We still love you – especially the bucks you bring in. It’s just that … how do I say this tactfully … we need some space.

It’s tempting to say it’s not you, it’s … it’s … it’s us! But that’s not really true. It is you. And it’s us. Let’s just say, for the sake of harmony, that it’s the whole planet.

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but we simply can’t see each other right now. First of all, the entire state of Maine is grounded at least until April 30, maybe longer if our governor decides in the next few days to extend our stay-at-home order.

Second of all, even if and when Gov. Janet Mills lifts that order, it probably won’t matter for you. For weeks, we’ve had another order that people from away – except for those who bring us food, masks, fuel (not so much) and other life essentials – need to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival.

Now seriously, does that sound like fun? I’m picturing one of those Chevy Chase movies where the Griswold family arrives at their cozy cabin on Lake Lookslikeamoosebutsoundslikealoon, only to find themselves chained inside the 20-by-15-foot space with nothing but board games and crossword puzzles to entertain themselves from dawn to dusk while cool lake waters beckon through the tightly sealed window.

Think I’m making this up? I spoke Friday with Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, who told me he knows of someone who traveled from out of state all the way to Augusta just to stay in a hotel for 13 days.

“Why would someone do that in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic?” I asked him.

“Good question,” he replied.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Hewins. When you have the word “hospitality” in your organization’s name, it usually means a welcoming wave, maybe even a hug for those of you who’ve been heading north for years.

No hugs this year. Or handshakes. And if you try to give one of us a friendly peck on the cheek, we’ll have no choice but to call the sheriff.

“It’s hard to send a message out, ‘We’re closed,’ to people,” Hewins lamented. “That’s not a typical marketing campaign. I don’t know how to articulate that. I really don’t.”

Hewins told me that many of you are already making hotel reservations for May and beyond, hoping that the curves – ours, yours (I’m looking at you, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey) – will flatten sufficiently for you to feel safe leaving your homes and we’ll feel safe letting you across the Piscataqua River Bridge.

Here in Maine, you’ll be happy to know, we’ve been trying really, really hard to improve not only our COVID-19 numbers but also our overall appearance to the outside world.

To be honest, though, none of us feel ready to see you just yet. Between the closed hair salons and barbershops and the shuttered carwashes, we still have that mud season look that, if you ever came in March or April, would send you fleeing south vowing never to return.

And you! When was the last time you put on a clean sweatshirt, or shaved, or did any of the things you normally do to make yourself presentable for your summer hosts? And not to be too nosy, but have you checked your bank account balance lately? Will you still tip?

I read a story in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal about all the adjustments people are making to their vacation plans for what the headline dubbed this “Summer of Wait and See.”

One guy from Pennsylvania told the newspaper he’d planned to go fishing in the Bahamas with his buddies until, one by one, they backed out. So now he says he’ll come to Maine in July to fish with his son, son-in-law and four grandsons in tow.

“I’m an adventurer,” the guy said. “I want to be out.”

And what are we, Mr. Adventurer, your personal petri dish? If going to the Bahamas is too sketchy right now, what makes you think coming to Maine is a good alternative? OMG, do we really look that needy?

Actually, we are that needy. According to a story in last week’s Maine Sunday Telegram, 37 million visitors descend on The Pine Tree State each summer, spending $6.5 billion on lodging, lobsters and such. That’s 11 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product.

No matter what happens, few expect us to hit those numbers in 2020. Still, anything will be better than nothing, which is why HospitalityMaine’s Hewins is now promoting what he calls a new-and-improved Maine brand.

“For Maine, the opportunity is to get right quickly,” Hewins told me. “In other words, install … the type of training, the type of protocol, the cleaning aspects, so we can capitalize on a historic brand that has always featured these things, but now we’re taking it ahead to the next level.”

Sure, it will be different once things bend back toward the way life should be, even if it’s not the way life used to be. Who knows, maybe we can jury-rig a mask so you can leave it on while eating a lobster. At the same time, we’ll try to come up with a way to practice social distancing at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset without having the line back up all the way across the Route 1 bridge to Edgecomb.

But for now, summer friends, our relationship simply needs to be arm’s length. Sorry, I mean two arms’ length. Go ahead and make your reservations for July or August. (June? Still feels too soon.) But if I were you, I’d treat it like a blind date and make it refundable.

I know there’s always been a certain tension in our relationship, especially for those of us Mainers who don’t cater to you and love to give you dirty looks when you cut us off at an intersection and, sure enough, we see your out-of-state license plates.

But again, please don’t take this to mean we’re through. Nor, just yet, is it a new beginning.

It’s just … complicated.

With detached affection and dreams of seeing you again from no closer than 6 feet,

The Great State of Maine.

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