Tuesday, August 4, 2009

This morning began with us making up for our overly instrumental focus (researching a new camera) the previous night. While Vienna caught up on her sleep, Jenny and I strolled around Bethel, enjoying the brisk morning air and sharing breakfast at a pleasant coffee shop in town (with one of those "how to build community" plaques on display). Gathering up our stuff and waking up our daughter we then drove east to Bryant Pond to photograph a giant hand-cranked "magneto" phone, which was built to celebrate how the village was the last to use those devices as late as 1983 (even inspiring a short-lived "Don't Yank the Crank" t-shirt craze).

Then it was off to business, returning our crappy camera to a nearby Wal-Mart and laying down the plastic for our first decent digital SLR. I won't go through wonky technical details but suffice to say that the debate was between Nikon and Canon for "prosumer" models at the sub-$1000 range. A brief Facebook conversation with some photo-serious pals garnered many plaudits for the newest Canon Rebel but we went with the Nikon D5000 anyway; Jenny just liked the controls more. At last she has her beloved "bulb feature" while I dream of taking more neon photos with less risk of "noise" from low-light situations.

Buzzing from the thrill of our excessive purchase we then asked around for a decent lobster roll, having finally started to see signs for the sublime delectables. Hearing that Larochelle's Seafood was the place to go ("If we were any fresher, you'd have to slap us") we managed to take every wrong-turn possible until we finally arrived and ordered, taking our seats at a table out back. How can piles of pink lobster mixed with mayo and placed in a bun taste so heavenly? I decided to try every kind of lobster roll I can while in Maine to find out.

Later we stopped in Gardiner to photograph the A1 Diner. My plan was to try the new camera but we learned that the battery must be charged first. Curses! That hassle aside, we settled in for some dessert and conversation with the guy working the counter. I recognized a poster of Guy Fieri, the dude from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and asked my typical question, "Is he as obnoxious as I hear?" Most folks we met on this trip sniffed dismissively at the mere mention of Fieri's name, but this guy was more diplomatic: "He's passionate."

Afternoon returned us to our game of Stars and Eagles, where we call out houses boasting those common New England ornaments. At one point I proposed that we add "Suns" to the list, seeing as we'd seen a lot of stylizing sols hanging over doorways in the past couple days, but Vienna, ever the purist, blackballed the idea. We concluded that a unanimous vote was required to change the rules of the game (this being serious stuff on our roadtrip) so Stars and Eagles it remains, the ultimate goal of which is to find a house with both an eagle and a star. Vienna is more eagle-eyed than us but I managed to lure Jenny's attention from the houses from time to time ("Wow, look at that lake!") to keep my second-place status safely secure. Before too long we reached Skowhegan and grabbed a room at the scrupulously clean Belmont Motel. As Vienna enjoyed the pool Jenny and I tore into the camera manual and began to fall in love with our newest family member.

Dinner was at the Empire Grill (lobster rolls on special!), which was made up to resemble an old-school diner from an HBO mini-series Empire Falls that we committed to watch upon our return. A pal from work recommended this spot and we agreed that the food and ambiance are perfect to end a long driving-day. At dusk we wandered around town, stopping to pet a firehouse cat who seemed intent on following us home until we left her territory. By nightfall we decided to turn in, watching our first couple hours of television in more than a week. It was strange seeing something so much a part of our lives as new and slightly odd. Nice too, imagining a life where television is a rarity and travel to wonderful places may become a regular part of our lives.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.