The Maine Reason to Take Off for a Weekend--Or Where Did Dickie Go?
I’m actually pretty skinny, but this hasn’t affected my appetite any. I’ve amazed even myself (along with whoever shared my table and witnessed this sporty event). My friends used to kid me and make jokes, but now they’re used to my gorging and just make sure to keep their fingers away from my mouth while I chow down.
Some have suggested that I should eat competitively like at the annual hot dog eating competition on Coney Island and make a name for myself, but this was never my goal. Hot dogs just aren’t my thing, but if they ever throw a lobster eating tourney, the gold is mine. I wouldn’t even see this as a contest. I’d clean my plate so quick I’d be motioning to the contestants beside me if they were “gonna finish that?” before they'’d even cracked the first shell. If they had a belching contest afterward, I’d be a contender in that too.
When I go camping or traveling, my ability to ‘store food like a camel' sometimes comes in handy. I've been known to eat a gigantic meal on Friday night after work, get up early, take off and sometimes make it past noon before the sweats would break out and I’d start shaking. My weekend trips begin with cameras, landmarks, and nature’s wonders but inevitably wind up in a restaurant. Pasta is the only thing that fills me up. I’ve been able to survive as long as a day and a half after a refreshing double-sized spaghetti and meatball dinner with a half pound of buttered asparagus. (I always eat my green veggies.)
I love the state of Maine - and Maine loves me! The land of clams and lobster! I made an agreement with Maine; they provide me with lobster and I will keep their economy going. I have spent many a weekend driving around there for hours – starting with the major highways and then randomly taking off onto secondary roads, sometimes along the coast, sometimes into the wild interior, and never with a planned destination – as long as it ends at a seafood eatery.
My roomy old Chevy Suburban comfortably holds a 50 quart cooler, all my camp-out equipment, at least six of my buddies, and Svetlana, my Belgian Shepherd. Svetlana would get her choice of lounging areas but generally rides shotgun up front with me. She likes to hang her head out the window, tongue lolling, which nearly caused an accident once when a startled driver in the next lane swerved off the interstate. Apparently he never saw a dog wearing goggles before. I felt I would let her sit this trip out with my family – she never really liked lobster.
Most summers I take my entourage of friends to several or all of the many Maine lobster festivals held from Augusta to Yarmouth. Of course, the name of the game is always eating. And when it comes to lobster, I think you’ll agree, the sky is the limit. That’s the only time I break my rule of eating very little while traveling - and limited only by my budget - probably also the only time I get close to showing my potential for competitive eating! Yeah, it crosses my mind now and again.
Just to be clear, I'm not only not overweight. I work out. I climb mountains. I bowl. And I have a buff bod of rippling muscles. That's another reason I love Maine. I get to show it all off. We stay at local campgrounds and often get up and go swimming in the frothy Maine surf first thing in the morning and then head for downtown in our bathing suits and dry off in the sun. And I get my share of stares from beautiful women (although someone mentioned that was possibly enhanced by always wearing my red, white, and blue Stars 'n Stripes bathing suit my mom made me out of an American Flag when I was 18. But hey, it still fits! Nonetheless, I could see where having to follow someone with a bright blue butt covered with stars could overstimulate some people.
Once we get on the Fair Grounds during the day where all the food tents are set up, we usually comb the area methodically like a group of black birds on a newly mowed lawn. We walk in a wide line, side by side, scoping out the food layouts and whooping like Banshees whenever we locate a cauldron of boiled lobsters or Maine clam chowder. Then we gather and descend on it like a pack of vultures led by a T-Rex and everyone else clears the way for us. Nobody wants to get hurt and all we want is the food!
Well, on one particular occasion, I wanted to make it a Surf n’ Turf weekend and swing down through northern Maine to the campground at Wolfneck State Park near Freeport. If we stayed the night there, we could get some dynamite-tender organic Angus steaks for supper, sold by the Angus cattle farm nearby. All we needed was a campfire, a frying pan, and an appetite. Then Saturday morning when we got up, we’d just sashay over to the Lobster Festival at Yarmouth about 10 miles northeast of Portland, and we’d be manning the nut crackers and enjoying fresh lobster, corn on the cob, blueberry pies, and lots of other local treats. The social activities ran all weekend long and well into Sunday night.
The six of us on this expedition worked for the phone company up in Spotted Horse, Canada, and we frequently headed south into the states for entertainment. In our youth, the mysterious call of the wild beckoned, but once we could drive, this annoyance was silenced and our spirit was captured by the haunting allure of what seemed like free-thinking Americans. Richard St. John was the new guy in our group and seemed at first to mesh well. Lately, he tried to mesh a little too well, especially after he changed his “crankcase” with a six pack or two of carbonated social lubricant.
Richard wasn’t usually invited on our weekend events because he was a heavy drinker from the get-go. By that, I mean he couldn’t do anything that didn’t involve some form of high octane libation. Further, his winks and lewd remarks at unsuspecting waitresses, barmaids, and sometimes just passing townspeople made us all uncomfortable. But this turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Getting the same weekend off for me and my five buddies was no easy task and took a lot of finagling and a little whining before the boss came around. OT (overtime) was always expected and asking for time off was frowned upon. When asked if you could work on weekends you weren’t supposed to say No.
One of my regular travel pals, Bobby, decided to skip this trip and actually work, so we promised to bring him back a lobster. But that was a hollow promise because our funds always seemed to dry up as the social activities organized around the seafood festivals wound down. Besides, Maine lobsters are actually more expensive than staying up north or going just a little further south to any ordinary eatery away from the tourism. Canadian lobster tasted just as good and cost less, we rationalized. We'd get him a lobster at a local seafood restaurant when we got back home.
So without Bobby we had extra room in the truck, and when Richard got wind of this, he somehow ended up tagging along. Charley and Bobo were assigned to watch out for him because he was known to get feisty and downright ornery when he drank, even with easy-going folks like “down Mainers”. And in Yarmouth, an area about 6+ hours south of our home town, there were plenty of taprooms, bars, and taverns whose interiors looked just like those frequented locally, and we didn’t want to lose our new guy on his maiden voyage. Mainers have good memories. We knew we’d return some day and we wanted to leave things the way we found them—in one piece.
We were all social drinkers and tipped a glass or two with our meals, but on this trip I was the designated driver, so I was free to enjoy lobster to my heart’s content. My lobster cocktail was followed by a steamed lobster which was accompanied by a lobster casserole and that was followed by whatever my friends couldn’t finish. It worked for all of us!
All was going smoothly as we headed out Friday night. Richard was at least one sheet to the wind, jovial, and feeling no pain when we picked him up. He brought a heavy knapsack with an uncertain number of beers clanking around inside to help him work on his second sheet during the drive, but since I was driving and the guys in the back were enjoying his antics, there was no problem. We knew things would escalate once Richard was officially three sheets to the wind, when we'd have to watch him to prevent him from drowning.
I always brought my big tent and the guys all had sleeping bags, except Richard, and he didn't care. Turns out he thought 'camping' included queen sized beds, cable television, air conditioning, and buckets of ice. But he usually ended up sleeping on the floor in the corner of some bar anyway. No matter where Dickie was, it seemed he just drank until things got fuzzy and then fell asleep, so we figured a sleeping bag would be wasted on him. The closest he ever came to camping out was when he passed out on a pool table at Moe’s Dew Drop In and lost his wallet in the corner pocket.
We kept the truck windows wide open for Maine's fresh night air so no one in the back seat would get asphyxiated. When he was well lubricated, Dickie passed gas that could knock a buzzard off a compost wagon at twenty yards. It was pretty clear to all of us that spending the night in a tent with him could be certain death. I had a 6-man tent, but I knew by the time the sun came up that flimsy refuge would resemble a pregnant watermelon and those canvas walls would be stretched to the breaking point. And if we survived the noxious gas, it would still take only a spark to put us all on the six o’clock news. I tried to remember if he smoked...
We ultimately decided he had to go it alone - outside the tent. I figured he'd be fine unless a bear tripped over him, and that would be the bear’s problem. Besides, a smart bear trained in survival techniques should know that with that level of alcohol and methane in the immediate environment (assuming the bear wasn’t a smoker) it would be best for the beast to play dead until a breeze came along and then crawl along the ground to safety once the smoke cleared.
We got to the state park well after dark and were directed to our campsite down a long winding heavily wooded trail. Other campers had their campfires burning every so far along the bumpy dirt road, so that helped our navigation as we wound around the curves. I had reserved a bunch of Angus steaks, which we picked up at the check-in building and the minute we located our lot, I parked, lowered the tailgate, and everyone tumbled out of the back of the truck. From there on we operated like a well-oiled machine. Well, most of us.
We organized our duffles and sleeping bags, grabbed the tent and tent stakes, and got our sleeping quarters set up while Al started the campfire for the steaks. A small camp oven went right on the grill beside the steaks to bake the potatoes we’d brought and we were in camping heaven. We all sat back and relaxed.
Less than an hour later, the steaks were blackening on the grill and Chef Al was busy with his barbecue pinchers and sprinkling them with garlic, hot sauce, and A-1, Then he tossed everyone their foil-wrapped baked potatoes, plastic plates, and paper towels. There’s no better aroma than steaks grilling on an open fire and we were soon hypnotized by the smell of steak-charring in the campfire smoke.
Salivating noticeably, we were all ready to eat when we spotted Dicky stumbling out of the truck for the first time -- with a beer can in his hand. “Hey,” he slurred through nearly closed eyes, “I woke up and thought you’d left me somewhere.” We looked at each other and wondered for a second if this might not have been a good idea.
He thoughtfully worked on his beer without saying much as we ate, and shortly fell asleep against a tree. I realized I’d forgotten to get an extra steak for him, but he obviously never missed it, so we moved on with our plan. No one wanted the extra baked potato, so Al pitched it far into the woods while gathering up the remains of dinner. We knew it wouldn’t go to waste.
It had been a hot summer day, but the cool of the Maine woods always took over in the evening. We crawled into the tent and settled into our sleeping bags on happy steak-and-potato filled bellies – everyone except Dickie, that is. He was already out for the night, as well as outside for the night, which promised to be a dry one. Up North, the worst danger a drunk might encounter (if he woke up) would be getting scared by the distant howl of a wolf, but this far south, wolves were scarce, so we let him sleep.
The bright morning sun and the characteristically cool crisp air woke us early, even Dickie, and it was the closest any of us had come to seeing him sober. He even seemed a little shocked himself.
After pulling ourselves together, we got moving and threw everything back in the truck. We had done this so often we all knew the drill, and in less than 20 minutes we were ready to roll. We tossed around the idea of stopping for breakfast in town or just grabbing coffee and donuts somewhere and driving the next hour and a half straight to Yarmouth. Dickie favored stopping anywhere he could get another six-pack, which he did when we stopped for coffee and gas at a convenience store. We sipped coffee and Dickie kept guzzling beer as we headed on in the early morning sun and what promised to be a fun adventure. Exactly what kind of fun adventure was still a little uncertain.
We arrived at the festival parking and decided to see what was going on and maybe get some food right away. I saw this as “priming the pump” or a preparation for the evening’s future gastronomic events. There was plenty of time to locate a campground for Saturday night. We did this weekend thing so often we had it down to a science. If we found a camping place close to the festival grounds, we could park there free for Sunday and walk into town both days. If not, we would just re-pack our limited gear Sunday morning and use the festival parking areas until we left later on Sunday, when we would head back up north for home. Either way, I saw lobster rolls in my near future.
The activities were in full swing by the time we arrived, with seafood-hungry crowds taking over the sidewalks, the fair grounds, and every available restaurant. All we could think of was ‘Man, it was good to be a lobster-lover in Maine on days like this!’
The fair grounds were a short walk from the center of town and everywhere you looked were tents with brightly striped tent roofs selling everything under the sun from key chains to small stuffed toy lobsters. (I could hear the festival music clearly… You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant…)
A carnival and its associated rides, games, and fun houses took up the entire end of the field and about half that area again was clogged with parked cars. Carloads of cute girls crowded on elaborately decorated "Lobster Floats" were dressed up in red satin lobster-gowns with elbow-high “pincher” gloves, all sailing slowly down Main Street. How hot is that? We piled out of the truck, locked up, and began goofing around as we hit the ground running, all six of us smelling the salty sea air and hot melted butter. This was Maine at its best.
We began to split up, heading off in separate directions to scope things out. Dickie wasn’t sure what to do or where to go so I grabbed him and dragged him along with me. Some time later, though, when I looked around, he had pulled his famous vanishing act. But heck, Houdini was over 30, not too stoned, and sober enough to walk and talk, he’d be okay. What trouble could he possibly get into?
We had a great time and ate ourselves silly on every form of lobster known to man. We had lobster omelet, lobster bisque, baked lobster, crabmeat-stuffed lobster, Lobster Thermidor, Lobster Newberg, lobster salad, lobster and scallops, pan-seared lobster, Cajun lobster, garlic lobster, sautéed lobster, breaded lobster, boiled lobster, lobster rolls, pickled lobster, lobster dumplings, surf `n turf lobster, lobster & clams, and my favorite, steamed lobster with drawn butter and lemon. Hot baked rolls and corn-on-the-cob drenched in butter and salt followed, and were topped with dessert of homemade blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream and a tall iced coffee.
It took immense will power, but we felt it prudent to limit the pie a la mode with just a few mountains of real whipped cream on top. Oh, and another small one on the ice coffee. After a meal like this, good `ole Maine spring water is the best in the world and thanks to Poland Spring’s generosity, drinks were on the house. The water tanker they provided was full when it arrived but, optimist or not, after I'd had my fill I knew the truck would be half empty.
Life was good, we were full, thoroughly water logged, and without a care in the world-- until Carl mentioned “Dicky”. It was like a bomb had dropped. We had forgotten all about him. No one recalled having seen him for several hours now and we wondered if he were up to no good. We figured he’d be banged up pretty bad by now and wearing out his welcome wherever he was. A tinge of responsibility shot through the five of us as we began talking about maybe heading out to secure a camp site for the night. And although we were genuinely concerned about him, we dismissed it, thinking he was bound to turn up at some point.
Just for kicks, I went up to the Comm Tent where they had loudspeakers to help mothers locate missing toddlers (or toddlers locate missing mothers) and asked them to broadcast his name to meet us there—it was the only tent with a bright solid red roof, so it was easy to find. About then we decided a little snack would be in order so we went back to our two-fisted gorging for another half hour or so until someone pointed out that with the size of the turnout that year, we should look for our campsite soon. A couple of the guys came with me, while Al had found a lovely “lobster lady” to talk with and volunteered on the spot to hang around the Comm Tent in case our missing Dicky showed up.
We were gone a little over an hour. When asking directions to the nearest campground, we had spoken with a friendly farmer who said we could camp in his field, a mere five-minute jog from town. He could use the cash, he’d provide water, and the nearby bushes would do for our bathroom as long as we didn’t annoy his farm dogs. We thanked him, followed him home, and offered him $25 ‘site rental’, Then we locked up the truck and headed back into town. We hoped to pick up Al and “Pickled Pete” at some point, and then return to our new campsite and call it a night. But no such luck...
When we got back down to the Comm Tent, “lobster lady” was gone and Al was waiting impatiently and said Dicky never showed. We were a little surprised, but decided to watch the night's fireworks before sending out a search party. Sometimes procrastination pays off and we all hoped this would be the case.
By the time the fireworks ended around 10 p.m. the bright full moon was winking through the clouds and the cool night air came drifting in off the ocean across the treetops. Not one of us felt like being a posse but we knew we had to.
We headed off to the police station to be sure nothing bad had happened. The jail cells were filled with tenants but Dicky wasn’t one of them. We left our names and jokingly told the officer we hoped we wouldn’t be back. We called the hospital, and after spending several minutes on hold, we realized we were barking up another wrong tree. There was nothing left to do but search the fair grounds, the fun house, the rides, and then begin turning over rocks and tree stumps.
By 11:30 pm we’d still had no luck and faced the fact we really needed to search the bars. By midnight we had visited four bars within staggering distance and were fresh out of ideas. We dropped back by the Police station and left Dicky’s name and my cell phone number, said we were camping out at Hanson’s and that we’d be back early Sunday and staying for the day. The seasoned Desk Sergeant smiled wryly and said he was 'sure Dicky would turn up—bad pennies always do’.
Another night was spent under a brilliant Aurora Borealis and we all dropped off right away and slept like babies. The next morning we hoofed it back to town and this time decided we should give Dicky a little more priority before just settling in to gorging on the tasty local fare. If nothing else, we wanted to get our alibi straight so when he finally did turn up we could say “we looked for you” with a clear conscience.
We decided on a plan to cover the whole area, split up into three groups, and began checking out every drinking establishment and water hole, eatery, farm, barn, yard, whorehouse, outhouse, any place else we could think of where he might be holed up. We started again with the Police station and hospital, then asked the Comm Tent dude to broadcast DIcky's name over the loudspeaker every half hour until he showed up, and to tell him one of us would be back every hour or so until we could get a leash on him.
I grabbed Al and we headed off to check the hotels and motels just in case Dicky had gotten lucky. A few hours later, with no luck, we started on the finer restaurants. Most were sufficiently upscale that we doubted he’d even try to gain access in his usual condition. Then we checked the entire fair grounds, carnival rides, and any other places someone could hide (or pass out). Nothing.
We went back to the police station and now we were a little concerned. This meant filling out a missing persons report. After that, we split up again and began another canvas of the bars and any other place with a liquor license. We agreed to meet up at 1 p.m. for lunch and compare notes. That time came and went and after eating (more lobster, of course!) we headed out with the remaining ‘search co-ordinates’ to cover the rest of the small town.
As Al and I left the fair grounds and started down Main Street, we were a bit discouraged and going a little slower than before. We gazed around trying to pick up on anything we might have missed and I visualized Dicky in my mind’s eye washing up on a deserted beach, or having wandered off some distance and slipping off one of the high rocky crags onto the rocks below, or even on a bus headed for home. I scratched that last one off the list since I doubted he had enough money, because I had lifted his credit card the first night to be sure he didn’t empty his bank account there on my watch. He never noticed and I felt I’d done him a favor since it also meant he might not get as sloshed as usual or have his pocket picked by some nefarious stranger.
As we walked down Main Street, Al was scanning the area across the street as I checked out our side, when I glanced down a crusty little alley between two old buildings. I hadn’t really noticed before that halfway down the alley was a little sign sticking out over a barely visible nondescript doorway. The sign read SUDS in crooked letters. The other end of the alley opened out into a little dirt parking lot. If I had seen it before I probably thought it was a laundromat. Now, considering the clientele were mostly male and the interesting frequency of their coming and going, I had to rethink that and decided we should give it a visit.
I grabbed the shoulder of Al’s jersey and yanked him after me and when he saw where I was headed I wasn’t sure he was going to come along, but he did. We wandered in behind someone who looked homeless and suddenly we were pretty sure we might have found the right place. Dicky would be right at home in a place like this.
Through the smoke, it appeared to be a horseshoe bar with wall-to-wall bar stools and the only light in the place came from the four TVs facing in every direction with all the Sunday games going on at once. The beer was flowing and the crowd was cheering noisily.
It was only after our eyes became accustomed to the dim atmosphere that we could begin to see what the inside looked like. Odd the police hadn’t mentioned to check this place, but it had escaped our notice even with our search party mentality. Could it be they didn’t know about it? Or maybe if you were in uniform, your presence triggered the false walls that flipped around to hide the TVs and display only washers and dryers. We wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been a bookie cave behind the bar somewhere. All the place was missing was muffled speakeasy-style piano sounds tinkling in the background.
Eventually we thought we could see through the haze and began meandering slowly around the place when we heard a familiar monotone groan that sounded fairly close by. We tried to focus on hearing above the TV dialogue and the local crowd conversation and continued casting about. I felt a hand on my knee and thought I was about to get into a fight–was this a gay bar? But when I looked down, there was a body in sort of a sitting position under the edge of the bar, with back to the bar, wedged between two occupied bar stools. A hand was extended from it that had gripped my jeans to try to either pull itself out forward, or up into a standing position.
One of the bar flies laughed loudly and said “Don’t mind him, he’s been here for a couple of days. We just slap him for grabbing and somebody buys him another beer and he settles down again. His old lady will come find him one of these days.” Al and I leaned down to examine this phenomenon, and yep, it was Dicky. He was in his element, stoned nearly blind and had been drinking for free for two whole days. Down Mainers are some good folks!
We compassionately gathered him up and managed to help him outside, despite his protests that he wanted to stay. Once back on Main Street, we saw two other members of the search party and began to pull together a plan to notify the rest of the gang, the police, and the patient dude at the Comm Tent that all was well and we would now be heading on home.
We sadly said goodbye to beautiful Yarmouth-by-the-sea until next year, vowing to come back when the moon was again bright, the tide was high, and the lobsters were again in bloom--and definitely when Dicky was tied up working overtime.