Opinions, Advisories, and Musings from Maine
In Camden, kids can always count on Santa.
The hardest question parents face around the holidays has to be why the Santa their children saw at the mall doesn't look the same as he did last year. In the midcoast, though, that's not a problem. For the past seventeen years Don Green, of Whiting, has been donning a red suit and mud boots and heading up the coast to greet Camden-area children.
The first weekend of December he rides on the back of a flatbed in Camden's "Christmas by the Sea" parade. The next morning in Rockport, he climbs aboard a fifteen-foot tender and makes the choppy crossing to the local marina. Later on, kids can catch him getting off a tugboat in Camden harbor and reading at the town library. They might even spot him around a beach bonfire in Lincolnville. But no matter where they spy the Big Guy, they can count on hearing the same throaty, "Ho-ho-ho!" as last year.
"The people really like it because it is the same Santa every year," says Green, who is always accompanied by his wife, Ellen the elf. "She's my icebreaker to get through the crowds. She hands out the candy canes and calms down the kids."
Green gets to know the throngs of kids and families who follow him around as well as they know him. "Every year a certain child will stand out," says Green. "This one year it was Helen. Every place I went, there was Helen. I was being attacked by Helen. Now she's about eleven years old, and I still see her."
Green has posed for pictures with everyone from the smallest children to giddy teenagers to little old ladies who never had a chance to sit on Santa's lap as a child. He's been handed Christmas wish lists on little slips of paper with nothing more than crayon scrawls, and L.L. Bean catalogs with particular items circled in pen.
In either case, he makes sure to get a nod from a nearby parent before guaranteeing the desired items will be under the tree. If he gets a subtle shake of the head instead, he apologizes and suggests the gift may be out of stock.
"They are all quite serious about what they want, everything from world peace to the traditional electric train set," says Green, with a hearty laugh. When he's not playing the jolly old elf, Green works as a massage therapist and captains his boat, the Miss TC, giving tours out of Machias. And if any suspicious children happen to remark on his trademark white hair and beard, he can chalk them up as those of a sea captain.
Holiday travelers better check their airline tickets.
We were sitting in the terminal at the Portland International Jetport recently when an announcement over the public address system asked for a ticket agent to help a newly arrived traveler get to Portland . . . Oregon. Stories of luggage showing up in the wrong airport are part of the joys of air travel, but people?
According to airport manager Jeff Schultes, that sort of thing isn't uncommon. "We don't keep records on it, but I can tell you it happens a lot, especially around the holidays," Schultes says with a chuckle. "You get people who don't travel very often, and they pick up the telephone and call a reservation center and ask for a ticket to Portland. They don't realize that the reservations people aren't local. If whoever they're talking to is on the East Coast, well, there's only one Portland in that world."
Schultes says the mix-up is more likely to happen with those who make reservations over the telephone rather than online because Web booking sites are careful to differentiate between the two cities. And it's more than just a Portland problem. "I heard recently of someone who wanted to go to Manchester, England, who ended up in Manchester, New Hampshire," he recalls.
Schultes' office doesn't get involved in sorting out wayward travelers. "That's up to the individual airlines," he explains. "But effectively, it's the passenger's fault. It can be an expensive mistake because you're paying the walk-up price for a ticket, rather than the discount you get by booking in advance. It can turn into several thousand dollars. The airlines try to be accommodating, but there's only so much they can do."
With business at the jetport booming, Schultes doesn't expect the problem to ease anytime soon. Traveler numbers are up 22 percent over last year - by some two hundred thousand people, Schultes estimates - and the addition of direct flights to Orlando by both AirTran and JetBlue late this year will push numbers even higher. Next May the old parking garage is being torn down to make way for a new, larger structure with room for an additional five hundred vehicles at a cost of $36 million.
The best advice Schultes can offer is to check and recheck every detail of a flight booking. "People who aren't paying attention end up in the wrong place," he observes.
"Things aren't local anymore."
Holiday lights go high-tech.
The dark days of late fall are, of course, the way we pay for all those lengthy June evenings we enjoyed this summer, but at least we have an abundance of Christmas lights to brighten our moods. Unfortunately, this bit of holiday cheer comes at a steep price - Central Maine Power estimates that a hundred-light string of Christmas lights costs $1.44 per month to operate. Consider that for many homeowners there's no such thing as too many holiday lights, and you see that such decorations can leave many Mainers with a bit of a hangover once their New Year's bill comes in the mail.
Which is why the folks over at Efficiency Maine, the statewide group operated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission that has been pushing the switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs, are now looking a bit like St. Nick. Through December 24 they're offering instant coupons that knock a buck and a half off the price of a string of LED Christmas lights. By using light-emitting diodes, these lights last a hundred thousand hours or more, use about a tenth of the energy of conventional holiday lights, and are less likely to break than the flickering sets many of us struggle with each year. They also give off far less heat and therefore represent less of a fire hazard.
Last year Efficiency Maine (www. efficiencymaine.com) helped provide LED lights for such high-profile municipal displays as those in Portland, Lewiston/Auburn, and Bangor, saving those communities a total of more than twelve thousand dollars in electricity bills. The payback was not only financial - the bulbs also prevented some 115,364 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
With statistics like that, we might just need to run another string of lights up the tree.
Up in Smoke
The price of home heating oil impacts more than just Mainers' budgets.
At about this time every year, Mainers start burning their houses down. Almost every evening the news seems to be filled with stories of people whose farmsteads and family heirlooms have gone up in smoke after a chimney fire escaped from its brick-and-mortar confines and ignited the surrounding wood.
You might suspect these tragedies would happen more during colder winters, when people use their woodstoves more, but the trend actually has more to do with the price of oil than the temperature outside. In 2006, for instance, when the price of heating oil hovered at times around $2.25 a gallon, Maine saw 399 chimney fires and 671 structure fires. (Although classified differently, many structure fires are caused by chimney fires that ignite a roof.) But in 2005, when Mainers might have shelled out around $2.50 for a gallon of heating oil, there were 461 chimney fires. Back in the relative bargain days of 2004, when oil was just $1.78 a gallon, there were only 409 such blazes. "Consistently, the trend follows the price of oil," says Assistant State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas. "If the price of oil goes up and people are using alternative heating methods, then the number of chimney fires goes up."
The fires are caused on the one hand by Mainers not having their chimneys cleaned often enough - the creosote that is a byproduct of a wood fire builds up on the sides of a chimney and eventually catches fire - but also happens when homeowners try to squeeze as much heat as they can out of a cord of wood. "In the old days, when a lot of people did burn with wood, you didn't see a lot of smoke coming out of the chimney because it was being burned up quickly," Thomas remarks. "Now people are cranking that damper down and trying to get eight hours' worth of heat from a four-foot section of wood, and that's generating a lot of heat and creosote." He says that while he's sensitive to the strain that an oil bill can put on a family - "I've seen where people were literally pulling the mopboards off their walls and sticking them in the stove" - it's essential that chimneys are cleaned regularly and wood fires are allowed to burn hot and fast.
That's sound advice. With the consequences so high and the price of fuel not looking like it's going to drop anytime soon, a little woodstove safety can go a long way to keeping the fire where it belongs.
Their Cheating Cars
Philanderers are safe on the Maine Turnpike, and that's a good thing.
The news that divorce attorneys in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere were using the electronic records of the E-ZPass toll collection system to prove spousal infidelity - or at least untruthfulness - may have sent a flutter of panic through some hearts in Maine. After all, who wants to have to admit that he was watching the game at a Portland sports bar instead of driving to that business meeting in Boston? Or whatever.
Not to worry, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority's Dan Paradee. Unlike many other states with the E-ZPass system, Maine law prohibits releasing the records except to law enforcement agencies and insurance companies. "The only way an attorney could get [the records] is through a court order," Paradee explains, "and that's tough as part of a civil proceeding."
Paradee credits the Maine legislature with acting quickly on the issue when the turnpike authority first started discussing installing a remote toll system back in the late 1990s. "There was a lot of discussion about privacy issues when we went to electronic toll collection," he recalls. "[Portland Representative] Herb Adams got right on it and got a confidentiality law passed that protected the records."
The first electronic toll system, called TransPass, was designed specifically for the Maine Turnpike and couldn't be used in other states. E-ZPass was adopted in 2005 because, among other reasons, it is accepted for toll collections throughout the upper East Coast and into the Midwest.
The authority receives several requests for toll records every year and refuses all of them. "We have granted access to law enforcement, of course," Paradee adds. "We had one case where one of our people had to testify in a court case in New Hampshire. It was a bank robbery, and they caught the guy."
Remote toll collection will account for more than half of the turnpike's revenue this year, he predicts. Turnpike traffic counts started the year fairly flat. "Some months were even below last year," Paradee says. But the summer did well, with both June and August showing healthy increases over 2006. "Overall, for the year as a whole we're looking at maybe 1 to 2 percent growth," he says.
The turnpike now has 120,000 E-ZPass subscribers in Maine, which is one of twelve states in the system. Of them, Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania release records only in criminal cases. "I think a lot of people would be reluctant to participate if they thought the records would be open," Paradee says.
And not just the philanderers.
Wristers: Knitted bands that covered the wrists and forearms. In the days of the horse and buggy, the wind would often blow up the sleeves of the driver's coat and make his arms cold. Still useful in modern times for fashionably daring snowmobilers and the Amish of Aroostook County.
Found in Uncle Henry's:
Free to good home, 1/3 Bob cat, 1/3 ME coon and 1/3 domestic cat, has had all his shots. very loving. 3 yr. old, he don't get along w/other cats very well, and doesn't like children. His name is Fur Ball he weighs around 20lbs. Poland, ME.