I lived in Brunswick for three years and worked there, off and on, for seven. Brunswick is where I met my wife. We had our first date at a Chinese restaurant on Maine Street.
But despite all the years I spent in Brunswick, I have always had a problem describing the town to people. Bowdoin is located there, yes, but Brunswick is not really a classic college town in the sense that, say, Orono is. Maine's largest employer — Bath Iron Works (BIW) — is a dominant presence but not so much, obviously, as in Bath. And then there is the navy, which has maintained an active-duty air station (BNAS) in Brunswick for decades. These forces all seem to offset each other, giving Brunswick a surprisingly polymorphous character for a town its size. The metaphor I use is that of a three-legged stool (Bowdoin, BIW, BNAS), on which the community has delicately balanced.
Now Brunswick is about to lose one of its legs. As Virginia Wright reports this month (see page 52), the town is grappling with the closing of its navy base in 2011. Readers occasionally ask me how Down East chooses to report on certain Maine places. In Brunswick we saw a unique community at a crucial time of change, and we wanted to go where the action was. On another occasion, we might choose to profile a location that seems to be defined by its enduring historicity (see the backwoods "ghost town" on page 74 for an eerie example). Always, we are committed to treating these Maine places fairly and understanding them as their residents do. (Sometimes we even are their residents.)
I feel a special attachment to Brunswick. My apartment was on Stetson Street, off Federal, and I could walk to work. At night, in the summer, Brunswick's downtown takes on an American Graffiti vibe, with teenagers cruising and flirting with each other over the sounds of car stereos. Some of that same fifties feel survives at the Fat Boy Drive In, near the base, where my wife and I used to go for burgers when we were dating.
About a year after I left Brunswick for a job at Down East, we took a drive down Maine Street and saw that the Chinese restaurant where we'd had our first date had closed. Matt & Dave's Video Venture was similarly gone. And Amato's had moved out to Route 1. We were saddened but not devastated. It was just change, neither good nor bad, and no different from what is happening in Brunswick today.
"At least, we'll always have Fat Boy," my wife joked.
We can only hope.