Tips For Visiting Maine

by John McDonald

Author photo by Kevin Bennett

AAs everyone knows, Maine is known as Vacationland. It’s written right on the state-issued license plates, so it must be true. Given all that, I know that many, many people will visit the Pine Tree State this summer. And I am here to help.

Your first question is probably: What do I pack when I choose to visit Maine?

Well, cash and credit cards, period. We prefer that you bring almost nothing with you to Maine, and while you’re here buy everything you need and lots of stuff that you don’t. We spend a lot of time in the winter thinking up things to sell to tourists, and come spring we mortgage the trailer, the snowmobile, the pickup, the dog, the cat, and anything else we can find to get enough money to buy things to sell. We fully expect you folks to snap up all our stuff and cram it into your vehicles and haul it to hell out of here.

Not only is this process good for the state’s economy, but it is also critical to our entire trash-removal infrastructure. Our system is predicated on tourists loading their cars with trinkets and perceived treasures and hauling them across state lines. If this doesn’t happen, our dumps and backyards soon will be overwhelmed, leaving no room for more important items such as broken-down refrigerators and junk cars. It would be akin to an environmental disaster.

Here are some other basic tips for Maine visitors.

Author John McDonald
  • The more fishing nets, wooden traps, barnacle-covered buoys, and other flotsam and jetsam hanging outside a Down East establishment, the less genuine the enterprise will be inside.

  • When you discover an ideal spot while vacationing in Maine, don’t be a knucklehead and tell all your friends about it as soon as you return home.

  • Don’t sit at a table in the middle of a local restaurant and talk real loud about how cheap everything is here. We can arrange to charge you more if you like.

  • Don’t ask someone if they were the inspiration for a Stephen King novel. They probably don’t like to talk about it.

  • There are such things as dumb questions. Keep them to yourself.

  • Do drive safely on our roads; don’t drive on things like our fancy lawns. Years ago most Maine homes didn’t have lawns. You could drive your car right into someone’s dooryard and park wherever. Some of Maine’s homeowners still observe this tradition and have large, mostly level yards of mostly gravel where a lawn might be expected.Elsewhere around the main house—in keeping with the old ways—they’ll also have a tasteful mix of weeds, puckerbrush, dead flowers, and a few neatly arranged stored items like cinder blocks, tripods, engine blocks, appliances, car, truck and snowmobile parts, sinks and—of course—a few satellite dishes.

  • Do enjoy our way of speaking; don’t try it yourself.

  • Do ask what people in a town do for excitement; don’t laugh at the answer.

  • Don’t complain about the weather.

  • Do stop and ask folks for directions; don’t take those directions too seriously.

Mainers don’t just give out information to tourists; we try to get a little information in return. Which brings to mind the time I was sitting on Dickey Merrill’s front porch and a couple from Massachusetts stopped their Volvo and asked for directions to Bangor. Dickey, a direction-giver of world-class standing, started right off giving one direction after another. The wife, on the passenger side, wrote it all down. When Dickey was done, her window went up and off they went. Fifteen minutes later, the same couple in the same car stopped in front of the house again. You see, Dickey had directed them up one side of town, across the river, back down the other side of town, and back across the river again—a complete circle. When the wife saw Dickey she realized what he’d done. She put her window down again and proceeded to give Dickey a tongue-lashing so severe I swear it started to blister the paint right off the front of his house. Dickey claims he hadn’t heard such strong language since the last church social. When the woman was done with her tirade, she demanded an apology. But Dickey, not a man to get flustered easily, was cool as a cucumber. “Listen, deah,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you could follow directions before I wasted my time directing you all the way to Bangor.”

— Excerpted from Down the Road a Piece.

John McDonald, now regarded as a dean of Maine storytelling, got his start as a performer playing at local Downeast Maine events in the 1970s before catching his first big break when he was asked to perform on stage with the legendary Marshall Dodge and Kendall Morse at Ellsworth’s Strand Theater in 1980. In the years since that event, McDonald has performed for audiences across New England, released two audio recordings, and written four books, including the now-classic, A Moose and a Lobster Walk into Bar