Just when you begin thinking that this "Two Maines" thing is overblown, that maybe we're not such a divided state after all and perhaps Maine's affluent coast might find common cause with the hardscrabble hinterlands of the north and west — just when you begin thinking these things, an ATV collides with a commuter train in Biddeford. That's what happened in April when a judgmentally impaired man from Arundel decided to play chicken with the Amtrak Downeaster. The rider escaped with his hide intact, but his four-wheeler was tossed more than fifty feet into a watery ditch.
My first reaction to this story — combining, as it did, two of the subjects in this month's issue: ATVs and the city of Biddeford — was that it should have come gift wrapped with a bow. We'd been having a spirited discussion in our offices about the distinctive characters of the so-called Two Maines and how you might go about drawing a line between them. Maine's income and cultural gap is usually seen as a north-south divide with the well-to-do coast pitted against the economically beset interior. But the line might just as easily be drawn through Maine's southernmost city. After all, Biddeford is home to some of the state's poorest tenements (ten went up in flames this winter), as well as some of its poshest beachfront properties. So the issue isn't easily resolved by geography.
A better test might be how you feel about all-terrain vehicles. Mainers who abhor ATVs as environmental blights, built for nothing but vandalism, tend to live differently from those who embrace wheelers as supercharged fun machines. Put another way, you know you're in one Maine when you stroll through the Meditation Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. And you know you're in another when you roll up to the White Wolf in Eustis and see a line of Ford F-150s, each with a mud-splattered ATV in its bed.
The reality, of course, is that both of these "Maines" are Maine. One doesn't exist without the other. As Mainers, we can wallow in our divisions, which will only worsen as change comes speeding at us along the rails. Or we can follow the city of Biddeford's example and set aside old grudges to work together. We don't always have to agree — about ATVs or anything else — but we do have to understand each other if Maine wants to avoid a future train wreck.