North by East
Even Google can't match a good Maine librarian.
In the Age of Google, Susan Wennrich should be obsolete. Wennrich is a reference librarian at the Bangor Public Library, but instead of being put out of business by search engines and the Internet, she and her fellow librarians are busier than ever.
Back in 1994, the Bangor library's information specialists fielded 29,111 reference questions [Down East, January 1996], queries ranging from the population of Chad to the Latin name for a little-known plant. In 2005 Mainers asked 30,800 questions of equal or greater obscurity. "The biggest difference is the way we receive them," says Wennrich. "We still get a large number by phone, but now we receive many inquiries by e-mail" — some 2,900 in 2005, compared to none eleven years earlier.
"Because we're a research library, many of the questions we receive are for information that can't be found through a search engine," Wennrich explains. "For example, a lot of Maine history information isn't online. Then there's information that was published before the Internet became common — after all, not everything is online, even today. And, of course, many people still don't have computers and Internet access, although those are becoming fewer and fewer."
The librarians aren't above using Google and other search engines themselves, of course, although they have to pay special attention to ensuring the credibility of the information they find. They're all well aware of the fallacies of the modern cliché, "It must be true; I read it on the Internet."
"We try to determine the agency that put the information online to make sure it's reputable," Wennrich explains. Wikipedia, the popular online reader-written encyclopedia, is not considered a high-value source, for example. "Anyone can put anything they want on that," Wennrich notes. "Or information about a disease might be based on personal stories. We prefer information from bona fide medical Web sites or medical journals."
It's that reputation for nailing down the definitive fact that keeps people coming back to Bangor's reference desk. "People contact a reference librarian knowing that we try to supply the most credible information possible," Wennrich says. And that makes them the most valuable search engine of all.
In forty years, a Kennebunk man has never missed a Super Bowl.
Pro football loves superlatives. As if the name "Super Bowl" lacked sufficient pomposity, the NFL counts its championship games in Roman numerals. The next, on February 4 in Miami, will be Super Bowl XLI (that's forty-one, for those to whom Roman is Greek).
Kennebunk's Don Crisman will be there — just as he has every year since 1967. Crisman, a retired executive, is one of only five fans who have attended every Super Bowl. Surely that achievement warrants an XL-size display of self-congratulation. But the best the self-effacing Crisman can offer is, "I guess we've become characters."
Crisman's first exercise in character building happened in 1968, en route to Super Bowl II in Miami. A business associate was supposed to fly him to a series of meetings during the week, then drop him off in Florida. Crisman realized that he might have to call an audible when the plane encountered freezing rain over South Carolina. As the storm worsened, the pilot tossed him a guidebook. "He says, 'This thing is icing up and we don't have heaters — we've got to put it down,' " Crisman recalls. "So I started flipping through this book of airports." They made an emergency landing at an abandoned air force base, then climbed a fence to find help. The storm paralyzed air travel across the Southeast for three days, but an eleventh-hour train ride kept Crisman's Super Bowl streak from going off the rails.
"It wasn't really a planned thing," Crisman says of his perfect Super Bowl attendance. "It just kept evolving." The same could be said of the Rhode Island native's life in Kennebunk. Crisman and his wife, Beverley, moved to Maine by way of Denver in 1967 — the same year as Super Bowl I. "We came for a three-year stopover," Crisman says, "and we're still here."
Sounds like he's already won the big game.
Only the Food and Drug Administration can turn a crab into a king.
We're all pretty sure what a lobster is — big claws, green, hard shell, one pound or more, the royalty of the crustacean family, found in the North Atlantic off the coast of Maine. Most everyone, when they see the word "lobster," has that image. But apparently the bureaucrats of the federal Food and Drug Administration wouldn't know a real lobster if it closed its claws on their collective . . . well, you know.
For some unknown reason, the FDA in its taxonomic wisdom has declared that the meat of the langostino, a tropical, commercially farmed, shrimp-like crustacean related to the porcelain crab, can be called lobster, as long as it's called "langostino lobster." Come again?
It all started two years ago when a West Coast restaurant chain named Rubio's advertised a lobster burrito — but made it with langostino meat. Disgruntled customers, who expected real lobster meat in their meal, filed a class-action lawsuit against the restaurant. Enter the FDA, which regulates the food industry and decides what the difference is between, say, a sirloin steak and a turkeyburger.
Apparently not much, because as part of the settlement with Rubio's, the agency allowed the creation of the term "langostino lobster."
"Right after that, I noticed that a couple of other restaurant chains suddenly had langostino lobster on their menus," explains Kristen Millar, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, the state office charged with defending the lobster's good name. "I contacted Long John Silver's and asked them to stop using the term. They said no. Really no."
Millar figures the use of the bogus "lobster" meat cost Maine lobstermen more than $46 million just between April and September last year. "It's a big deal," she insists. "This past year lobster prices at the boat were lower than normal, and absolutely one of the factors was this imposter lobster. For four dollars a pound you can put 'langostino lobster' on your menu, versus twenty-five dollars a pound for the real thing."
Millar has involved Maine Senator Olympia Snowe in appealing for a change by the FDA, but the agency is being pretty hard-shelled about the issue. The message from the bureaucrats is that langostino is pretty low on their priority list. "It was very easy for them to make the decision to change langostino to lobster," Millar says. "I don't know what kind of brain boil they'll need to change it back."
Meanwhile, we would suggest that any restaurant desperate enough to call a three-inch crab a lobster isn't deserving of our business. And we really don't want to eat at any place that thinks we're too stupid to know the difference.
A Portland nonprofit helps rock stars go green.
If you happened by the Cumberland County Civic Center during the Ray LaMontagne and Guster concert last summer, you might have seen a curious sight: rather than heading to a local filling station to gas up, the tour buses were being filled on-site with biodiesel trucked in by China-based Frontier Energy. In fact, during the acts' entire summer tour, the buses used biodiesel and the bands offset the impact of their carbon dioxide emissions by buying wind power credits.
LaMontagne, a Wilton resident whose throaty acoustic rock has taken off nationally, isn't the only musician paying attention to the environmental implications of his concert tour. Recording artists ranging from Jack Johnson to Avril Lavigne to Bonnie Raitt are buying carbon offsets, educating fans about conservation measures, and running their buses on biodiesel, all courtesy of a Portland nonprofit called Reverb. The brainchild of Lauren Sullivan, a Wells native whose husband, Adam Gardner, is Guster's guitar player, Reverb helps musicians "green up" their tours.
Sullivan has a background in environmental activism, with previous stints at the Rainforest Action Network and New York City's Partnerships for Parks. Having noticed the impact celebrities like Raitt can have on serious issues — Raitt spent years advocating against logging in old-growth forests — Sullivan figured she could combine her expertise with Gardner's music industry connections and really get some results. Getting big names like Dave Matthews involved creates "a sexier platform," she says, to talk about potentially dry subjects like global warming and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
So far, Reverb has brought its "green is good" message to 1.5 million concertgoers, with plans to branch out this year to college campuses and the rock and roll cruises that have become increasingly popular with affluent music fans. Though all that touring means Sullivan and Gardner don't spend as much time at their Portland home as they'd like, Sullivan says Maine serves as an anchor for their conservation efforts. "We're not the experts," she says. "We're just trying to share how people like us can do these simple things, and so can you."
If you ask us, that's a message worth spreading.