Toll Hike, Ticks and Tattoos
The Maine Turnpike Authority is raising tolls on the highway an average of 23 percent next year because … well, because it can.
For the first time in the history of the pike, traffic is down, which means revenue is down, which means – if you were Wal-Mart or L.L. Bean – you’d cut prices and boost advertising. Have a sale. Attract some bargain hunters. Improve the bottom line.
Starting in February, you’ll have to pay more (toll increases for specific trips haven’t yet been calculated), or use another highway.
Such as Interstate 295. It’s free and can take you a lot of the same places the pike does. But enjoy it while you can. The Lewiston Sun Journal editorial page and other killjoys are already talking about charging for that road, too.
Route 1, anyone?
Worst job of the week? No, not apologist for the Maine Turnpike Authority. Or editorial writer for the Lewiston Sun Journal.
It’s tick counter.
That’s tick as in little bloodsucking bug. Not to be confused with the Maine Turnpike Authority, which is a much larger bloodsucking bug.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the University of Maine are studying how ticks affect the health of the state’s moose population.
To do that, they need to know how many ticks there are on the average moose. So, they gave UM wildlife ecology major Katelyn Andrle of Clifton the job of counting them.
All she has to do is wait around at the weighing station in Eustis until somebody brings in a moose to be tagged. Then, she measures off four 10-centimeter squares on the animal and counts all the ticks. Based on that information, she can estimate the total tick population per moose, which can range as high as 50,000.
Moose should start charging tolls.
If there are any ticks on Meghan McCain, a licensed tattoo artist may be able to alert her as to their location. McCain. daughter of the Republican presidential candidate, was in Maine on Oct. 17, but failed to repeat the pledge she made in neighboring New Hampshire, where she promised to have the state’s motto – “Live Free Or Die” – tattooed on some unspecified part of her body if her dad carries the Granite State on election night.
Seems as if there ought to be plenty of room for a discreetly placed “Dirigo” tat somewhere. It’s not like we’re excessively long like North Dakota (“Liberty And Union, Now And Forever, One And Inseparable”) or boring like Tennessee (“Agriculture And Commerce”) or, like South Carolina, kind of insulting to a disgraced former GOP vice president (“Dum Spiro Spero”).
Regardless of who wins the presidential race, I doubt many Mainers will be baring skin for body art this winter. That’s just asking for a tick bite. Also, it’s likely to be chilly, particularly if you’re planning to heat with wood pellets. Dealers say pellets are in short supply, and many retail outlets are limiting the amount each customer can buy.
This can’t be blamed on OWPEC (the Organization of Wood Pellet Exporting Countries). It’s mostly caused by people trying to buy an entire winter’s supply all at once, which creates more demand than the three manufacturers in Maine can meet.
Heating oil is plentiful in the state, and the cost has declined sharply since last summer. Good news? Not for the residential and commercial customers who locked in earlier at higher prices.
With oil going for less than $3.00 a gallon in parts of the state, Lewiston, Auburn and Androscoggin County are stuck with a contract they signed in August (when prices were north of four bucks a gallon) that calls for them to pay $3.45. Some consumers have called the state to see if they could legally break their deals with oil companies, but have been told the contracts are as binding as a tick.
Is the state providing its piping plover population with Viagra? It would appear so. Although the number of breeding pairs of the endangered coastal birds has declined sharply this year, the number of chicks has increased.
Twenty-two mating plover couples produced 42 little bundles of feathery joy, leading this observer to conclude the birds are breeding like ticks.
Not all matings have produced such acclaim from the public. Take, for instance, the new state law requiring local school districts to consolidate to save money. Opponents have argued the statute usurps local control and fails to reduce budgets. On Oct. 17, those against consolidation turned in over 61,000 signatures (a registered tick counter certified the total was far more than the 55,000 required) on petitions calling for a referendum on repealing the merger measure.
Once the petitions are cleared by the secretary of state (“This batch is tick-free”), the issue goes to the Legislature, which will likely place the question on the 2009 ballot.
That’s good news for those of you who were worried there wouldn’t be any more political ads once the November election was over.
In Maine, getting a bridge named after somebody is a long and complicated process. It’s not enough to have performed an important public service, which is probably why you don’t see many bridges named for tick counters. There has to be broad public consensus that the person being honored has done something of enduring value, which is probably why you don’t see many bridges named for Maine Turnpike Authority members. To get your name on a bridge, you’d have to … I don’t know … prevent nuclear war or invent a life-saving medical device or something.
Which is just what Dr. Bernard Lown did. As a founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Lown shared in the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. Just in case that’s not enough, the Lewiston native was also one of the developers of the defibrillator.
If this guy ever turns his attention to ticks, every moose in the state will be forever in his gratitude. They’ll probably name a mud hole after him. Bridge, schmidge. Who else could say they’d received that honor?
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.