Stock traders were navigating Wall Street in high gear last week — selling, buying and selling again at breakneck speed. The pace along Route 1 from Ellsworth to Acadia National Park, meanwhile, was languid.

Traffic backed up for miles as tourists slowly made their way to Bar Harbor and the other famous harbors that dot the coast Down East. It was a rainy day but the thick midweek traffic was pouring shoppers into towns up and down the coast of Maine, producing crowded stores and jingling cash resisters.

Several boatyards throughout Maine have reported a run on inventory this summer and await some late shipments for still-eager buyers.

Worldwide, the Walt Disney Co. this week released quarterly earnings showing a sharp rise over the previous year. Company officials attributed much of the growth and positive financial news to increased business for its theme parks, cruises and hotels. Sure, they used some discounts to lure tourists but discounts or not, customers have been showing up and spending money.

Retailers such as Macy’s and Polo Ralph Lauren also delivered robust earnings reports. Macy’s earnings were up 64 percent in the second quarter. Polo had reported increased earnings of 52 percent in the first quarter and officials said this quarter’s earnings will show an increase that could amount to 20 percent or more.

Some of these examples occurred before Standard & Poor’s Aug. 5 downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, and some of them after. Either way, when you see the signs of consumer travel and increased spending you have to ask yourself: “What recession? What economic fears?”

Clearly, the world’s financial markets are roiling, but on the streets of America, in shopping malls, in retail stores and along the commercial corridors of coastal Maine, the evidence of financial panic is as hard to see as a distant shore in late-summer fog.

There is no shortage of theories about the cause of such rampant consumerism in the face of a struggling economy.

One is that doomsday economic forecasts cause Americans to spend out of fear that they will not be able to spend in the future. In a nutshell: Enjoy it while you can. It might seem shortsighted or even reckless, but financial uncertainty can do that to people.

Another theory is that families planned purchases and vacations in advance and decided to follow through on those plans, almost in defiance of the bleak economy. Are they motivated by denial, by the belief that things can’t possibly be as bad as they seem — or by hope that the worst may be over and better times are just around the corner?

And there are surely many Americans who simply can’t digest or won’t accept all the talk of burgeoning debt, crushing deficits, crippling spending cuts and debilitating tax increases — Americans who have heard it all before and have decided to write it off as fear-mongering served up by politicians and special-interest groups who have a political stake in the perpetuation of panic.

Perhaps the traffic jams on Interstate 95 and along Route 1, as well as the hustle and bustle we see in small boutiques, in mom-and-pop stores of every description, in Freeport’s outlets and Greater Portland’s big-name retailers have at their core a much simpler explanation.

Perhaps many among us have seen and considered the nightmarish financial news and made a conscious decision not to be defeated, to go on with our lives, to enjoy what is left of summer.

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler — as the inevitable harsh winter lurks on the horizon — we have chosen to devour our Maine lobsters and fried food of all kinds, savor August’s blueberry desserts, quaff our great Maine-brewed beers. And while we indulge ourselves, we’ll allow Congress and the president to enjoy their summer breaks, putting off the intimidating concerns of life and liberty until September, when we will start our diets at home — and hope that our leaders in Washington will put the nation on a strict one when they go back to work.

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:

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