Alien AdventuresFor one cartoonist, life in Bucksport really is out of this world.
Maine often seems an alien place for some folks. But it has taken a Toronto-based cartoonist to discover that it's really the Mainers who are aliens. Literally.
Ted Bastien is using his memories of idyllic vacations along the Maine coast as the inspiration for a wacky online comic strip Bugsport
Devoted to the premise that all those Roswell aliens now live Down East. A thinly disguised Bucksport, "Bugsport" follows the travails of a human character named Ted who moves to Bugsport to run his grandfather's old radio station. But Granddad never told him that the town is also the home of aliens resettled there by the military to protect them from the villainous FUBAR, an organization devoted to rooting out the aliens among us.
Ted discovers all this when his new neighbors introduce themselves over a house-warming casserole — Don and June Nelson look and act like Bing Crosby and June Cleaver, except they're gray-skinned, bald, and drive a Studebaker flying saucer with a Perry's Nut House bumper sticker. "Don Nelson is the name of the fellow who owns Shady Oaks Campground [in nearby Orland], where we stayed when we vacationed there," explains Bastien.
Bastien discovered Bucksport by accident when his wife decided that the Maritime Canada coastline was too dull for future vacations. "We were interested in Maine, so we looked up information on the Web, found a campground to visit, and liked it so much we kept coming back," he explains. "Bucksport is such a perfect little town, with all the shops downtown and friendly people."
The entire strip is populated with homages to Bucksport and its residents, from the bow-tied bookstore owner, who could be a dead ringer for Bookstacks owner Andy Lacher (if he had gray skin and no hair), to the alien paper mill workers who hang out at McBugs tavern, a take-off on the real-life MacLeod's restaurant and pub. "I put in as much recognizable stuff as possible because the people there like it, and it adds a certain authenticity," Bastien explains. The strip is a hobby he fits into his work as a director of animated cartoons, most recently a series on Playhouse Disney.
"Bugsport," which Bastien started about two years ago, has attracted considerable local attention, all of it good. "The people from the Bucksport Chamber of Commerce called and asked me to be grand marshal for the Bucksport Bay Festival parade," a delighted Bastien notes. The only negative comment has come from an "anti-alien group called Alien Resistance, who said I was doing the world a great disservice by portraying the aliens as good instead of evil," he says.
Apparently, the truth is out there — on the banks of the Penobscot River in Bucksport.A Yard Sale CrackdownScarborough takes a hard line on rummagers.
Just like the return of peepers and the opening of your favorite ice- cream place, yard sales are an annual rite of spring in Maine. They also offer a rare chance to peek at your neighbors' lives: the pile of yarn and knitting needles evidence of a hobby discarded, the kids' toys and dusty highchair proof that, no, they're not thinking of having another.
Last year, though, Ginn Bellino's neighbors thought they saw a bit too much of her life. Over the course of the summer, the Scarborough woman held — count 'em — nine yard sales. "I did it so I could park my car in the garage," Bellino says. "It was just full of junk that needed to get out of there, and I thought that was the perfect way to get rid of it."
Far be it from us to cast aspersions on a garage overflowing with the detritus of household life — a problem which with more than a few Mainers are familiar. Still, Bellino's neighbors were concerned about traffic on their residential street, and about the safety of their children. Eventually, a group of them sent a letter to Scarborough's town manager requesting that Maine's fastest growing town adopt an ordinance, based on one in South Portland, that restricts residents to two, three-day yard sales within a six-month period.
Eventually, Scarborough's town council adopted the ordinance. Bellino, who's lived in town for twenty-six years, isn't a fan of the new rule — "I don't think it's enough," she says of the two-sale limit.
Whether nine yard sales were, in fact, excessive remains up for debate. But one thing is undisputable: "I can fit my car in the garage now," she says, laughing.The Other ShoeDexter Shoe's log cabins have taken on new lives.
You know the former Dexter Shoe stores when you see them: low, log-cabin-like structures painted a dark chocolate brown and set back from the road a bit, with plenty of room for parking in front. Dexter Shoe, of course, is no more, having stopped manufacturing in 2001, a casualty of overseas competition.
But its stores, or at least its buildings, live on. A handful have been taken over by Super Shoes, a discount retailer that surely benefits from the association passersby have with the shoe company founded by Harold Alfond and later owned by Warren Buffet. Other former Dexter Shoe locations now host companies entirely unrelated to footwear, although the memories are hard to shake.
Last summer Conrad Thibeault picked up the Brunswick store, on Route 1 south, for what he says was an "unbelievable" price. Now it's home to Thibeault Energy, the oil company his father founded in 1927. "In the first couple months, we had people come in and open the door; they'd see my nine girls working in their cubicles and say, 'Where's the shoe store?' " Thibeault says. Though none of those visitors walked away with a new pair of brogans, Thibeault does note that "foot" traffic to his business has increased 75 percent since the move.
Eric Burkhardt experiences a similar phenomenon in South Portland, where Dexter's shoe racks have been replaced by the Annie Oakley and Bubba BBQ varieties of his Wild Willy's Burgers. If you ask Burkhardt if people still refer to his location, hard by Interstate 295, as "the old Dexter Shoe," he says "yes" with a hint of resignation in his voice. "I guess it's just part of their culture," he notes, before adding that Mainers have, by and large, accepted his burger-and-shake shop. "They say, well, it's no longer Dexter, but it's still a Maine company, run by Maine people."
So while the Dexter Shoe buildings may no longer be walking the Maine walk, it's certain that they're talking the Maine talk.Registered TrademarkIs a town's good name worth protecting?
When domestic diva and media mogul Martha Stewart bought the 152-acre Cantitoe Corners estate in Katonah, New York, in 2000, townsfolk expressed relief that the property wouldn't be developed into another McMansion subdivision, as had been feared. But residents were surprised and angered to learn a few months ago that Stewart likes the town so much she wants to trademark its name to promote a line of her home furnishings.
Which begs the question: If Katonah, why not Seal Harbor, where Stewart also has a home, or any other town on tony Mount Desert Island that might project the image of expensive exclusivity sought by promoters? "I was thinking about that just the other day," says Dana Reed, Bar Harbor's veteran town manager. "We haven't trademarked the name Bar Harbor. If we did, though, what are the ramifications? If someone wants to open the Bar Harbor Five and Dime, can we stop them?"
Protecting a name by registering it as a trademark is common business practice. (Down East, for example.) In the 1980s Gimbels Country Store in Boothbay Harbor was the target of a highly publicized trademark battle with Gimbels department store in New York City. The Maine Gimbel family now owns the name outright since the demise of the New York store, and through a twist of fate they now regularly earn fees by licensing their name to various enterprises, according to media reports.
The issue is troubling enough that Mount Desert town manager Michael MacDonald ran the idea past the town attorney. "No one can prevent us from using our [town] names even if someone else registers them," notes MacDonald. Mount Desert encompasses Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor. MacDonald says a Web search turned up three trademarks for Seal Harbor, all of them for shoes by a company in New York, and a lapsed attempt to trademark Northeast Harbor by a food company.
Ken Minier, town manager of Southwest Harbor, confesses that trademarking the town's name "is something we never thought about before. I've never heard of doing this. But with all that's going on, maybe it's something we should look into."
"I wonder, if we trademarked the name, could we charge a franchise fee?" Bar Harbor's Reed muses. "The extra income could lower our property taxes."
Maybe the folks in Katonah should be talking to him.Good GovernmentIf you want something done, go to the top.
Kelley Angers walked into the Secretary of State's offices in Augusta last winter with an unusual problem. Angers, 19, of Gardiner, wanted a driver's license. Nothing unusual about that. But Maine law requires that license applicants between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one have thirty-five hours of practice driving certified by a parent, guardian, stepparent, spouse, or employer. Angers, however, grew up as a ward of the state and was self-employed. As a result she had no one in her life who met the state's requirements.
Her dilemma was immediately kicked upstairs to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who has a policy of handling the tough cases himself. (During the Bureau of Motor Vehicles computer fiasco in 2005, he personally fielded hundreds of the worst phone calls from irate residents.) "I figured I could just sign off on [Angers' license] personally, but I found out the law even prohibits me from doing that," Dunlap recalls. "Kelley represented a distinct subset of individuals who were outside the boundaries of the existing law. We had to find a way to fix this."
Dunlap contacted Gardiner's state representative, Democrat Stephen Hanley, and explained Angers' situation. He also alerted legislative leadership that they might need to fast track a new bill. "We all got together, Democrats and Republicans, and worked out a solution, and off it went," Hanley says. In less than a week in mid-February, a bill was written allowing a designated adult to witness and certify the practice requirement for those in Angers' position. The measure passed both houses unanimously and flew under Governor John Baldacci's pen.
On March 9, Angers took her driver's test and passed.
"This is the way government is supposed to work," Dunlap says. "Someone like Kelley, who has fallen through the cracks, we're supposed to catch them."
"Every once in a while you get to do something nice," Hanley adds. "In how many other states could something like this happen so quickly, and for all the right reasons? It was such a no-brainer even we politicians could figure it out."Unneighborly LightsRural Mainers bless the darkness.
For many Mainers, it's a point of pride that those satellite photos of the East Coast at night show the urban flood of streetlights and neon signs fading as it crosses the border into Maine. We live here, for the most part, because Maine has no bright lights or big cities. So we could sympathize when a coworker came into the office recently and complained that some new residents were shining an unwelcome light on the neighborhood.
The problem was the blinding, unshaded, mercury-vapor streetlight, similar to those seen on freeways or city streets, that the new neighbors hung on their barn. "We live in the country to get away from streetlights," our coworker lamented. "We like to see the stars at night. Now it looks like the Mother Ship is coming in for a landing."
"People put up outside lights for a number of reasons, " notes Lisa Leighton, of 17-90 Lighting in Rockland. "They think they'll be safer or want to be able to see their cars, I suppose." Leighton says she doesn't sell many of the big mercury-vapor lamps "because most people are going for aesthetic values rather than flooding an area with light. We see a lot of people using old warehouse light shades or the radial shade lights you used to see on old streetlights. What's nice about them is that all the light is thrown down to the ground. They don't light up the whole neighborhood."
Some towns hand out brochures to newcomers advising them that life in rural Maine isn't the same as life in the cities, and they shouldn't expect it to be. There are different amenities and different rewards — such as being able to see the Milky Way without needing to visit a planetarium. So perhaps those brochures should add a clause: If you're concerned about robbers, do what Mainers who live beyond the sidewalks have always done. Get a dog.
Now about that barking. . . .Hard-Rocking BankersA savings bank gives Maine musicians a boost.
Phantom Buffalo. X-Ray Actress. The Frotus Caper. Not the kind of names you'd ordinarily associate with something as staid and conservative as your local savings bank. But Bangor Savings Bank is trying to rejuvenate its image with Maine Tracks, a CD of fifteen songs by Maine indie rockers it has distributed over the last few months.
Yes, you read correctly: You may now skip iTunes, Amazon, and even your beloved, if anachronistic, local music retailer. When you're in the mood for new tunes, Bangor Savings is the place to go. Not that the company has exactly left the banking biz behind. Quite the contrary: the largest Maine-owned bank is steadily expanding in southern Maine, with new branches opened recently in Portland, South Portland, and Scarborough.
Over the winter, bank executives were pondering how best to spread the word about the expansion. Its marketing agency set up a meeting with Charlie Gaylord, who hosts a local-music show on a Portland radio station and produces the Greetings From Area Code 207 CD series, to discuss whether the bank could use some tunes by local musicians in the radio and TV commercials it was planning. Then Gaylord sprang a question on them: would they want the rights to distribute his next collection of local music?
"We thought for a couple nanoseconds and said yes," recalls Yellow Light Breen (who sounds himself like he should be playing in a band), the bank's senior vice president and chief strategy officer. "It seemed like something that would be much more of an eye-opener and more fun to do than giving away an ice scraper or a raffle for a snowmobile."
Thus Maine Tracks, five thousand copies of which were distributed in the greater Portland area, with several thousand more to come. Bangor Savings is also using tracks from the CD as the hold music at its call center. It's a bold move, but so far it's paying off: Breen says reaction from customers has been uniformly positive.
Now, if only other Maine retailers would be so creative. L.L. Bean? There's a lobster at DiMillo's that would look awfully nice with your logo slapped across it. . . .Maine LingoSquaretail:
A brook trout. As in, "Those native squaretails in the Magalloway don't grow as big as they used to, but every once in a while you can still lay into a lunker."