Ezy Reading: Postcard From Portland, Maine

Evan Kanarakis

It had been raining non-stop for almost a week since I moved into my new home — at least for the next twelve months — of Portland, Maine, and by the time the sun had cleared on Sunday a decent bout of cabin fever was settling in. Sure, there was plenty of unpacking of boxes to be done, but I was keen to take in my new surrounds and ever mindful that the year was zipping past at an alarming rate. The miseries of another New England winter would no doubt soon be upon us…

Even with the benefit of a recently added new chain, my mountain-bike was looking a little worse for wear, and every bit the sixty dollar budget purchase I’d made some two years earlier. Still, I’m not about to embark on the Tour de France anytime soon so, flimsy frame and wretched gears in tow, I took off exploring down Congress, the main street that intersects the heart of Portland.

Clearly the locals and tourists alike were just as eager as I to take in the first glimpse of summer sunshine in days. The streets and sidewalks of the Arts District were packed. Even though it was barely 6pm, a restaurant already teeming with diners indicated that a place called Local 188 was a popular destination. Further down, a pack of scruffy musicians were busy loading their equipment into Geno’s, presumably for a gig later that night. Two old timers watched on, cigars in hand, and as I rode past I heard one remark to the other that the musicians weren’t bending at the knees enough when lifting their heavy amps. A few moments later I watched as a speeding skateboarder barely avoided toppling a pedestrian who was headed into the White Heart cocktail lounge. Lots of yelling and gesticulation ensued, and from both sides. No, things were a bit too congested up here at the moment, and so I opted instead to explore the heart of Portland and her Old Port area on another day. Veering off into Preble Street, I left behind the shop-fronts and grand facades of Congress Street’s older buildings and headed for the Back Cove inlet.

A 5km loop rings the Cove and offers scenic views back toward the Portland skyline, but the people-watching is just as intriguing as the grand vistas on this day. As expected there are plenty of folks out exercising, to be sure, but it’s hard not to chuckle at the young couple arguing over whether or not taking a romantic stroll was a better idea than going to see The Dark Knight at the cinemas (the boyfriend — on the receiving end of a torrent of angry abuse — had clearly been hoping to spend his afternoon with Batman).

At its north-western end the Back Cove almost resembles a stretch of marshland, and here I pass two Somali women dressed in traditional Muslim garb seated on a bench, fanning themselves. Though Baxter Boulevard, which also circles the inlet, is a relatively busy road, the noisy hum of traffic doesn’t truly settle back in until I approach the stretch of path that runs alongside the I-295 freeway. I pause a moment on narrow Tukey’s Bridge as the pedestrian traffic becomes clogged. Out on the freeway the summer traffic whips past — kayaks, canoes and camping gear strapped to every second or third vehicle — and near every one of them bearing out of state license plates. Evidently Maine is indeed the ‘Vacationland State’ as the tourism signs have suggested.

Now chugging up-hill and headed back for home in the West End I almost run over an especially daft bunch of seagulls fighting over scraps in the street. Nearby, a hungry alley cat eyes the scene with interest, and I wonder if he’s more interested in the scraps or in the sea gulls. Perhaps both.

Finally pulling into my apartment block at sunset I turn for the sound of a fast-approaching fire truck. Across the road, three girls squeal in fright before continuing on their way, buzzing together in the excitement of an evening out. I think of Springsteen and his ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’.

Tomorrow I’ll explore a little more.

Ezy Reading is out every month. Send your comments to feedback@thecud.com.au