The Last Of The Little Bottles

Once, not too long ago, I had an extensive bathroom collection of little bottles — the kind that hotels give (or used to give) to guests that contained small portions of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and hand lotion.

I had dozens and dozens of the little bottles stored in various places in our bathroom.  I would go on trips for work and faithfully bring the unused bottles back from from my travels so I could use them at home.  Waste not, want not, my grandparents taught, so why go out and spend good money on a bottle of shampoo when you can supply your needs through the little bottles the hotels hand out?  It’s not like my grizzled mane needs the kind of luxurious concoctions featured on shampoo commercials, anyway.

When I was traveling regularly, bringing home more bottles every week and month, it seemed like the vast collection of little bottles would supply my shampoo and body wash needs forever.  But over time the little bottle collection shrank a bit, as hotels transitioned to big push dispensers of shampoo and conditioner to protect the environment from plastic bottle waste, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit, all business travel vanished in the blink of an eye, and the opportunities for replenishment of the little bottle collection abruptly ceased.  And now, after going almost half a year without any business travel of any kind, we’re down to only a few of the little bottles left — a mere fraction of what the collection once was.

This coronavirus period has been strange, for sure, but one of the interesting things about it is how quickly we can adjust to and accept the “new normal” of masks, and spending more time at home, and steering wide of people on the street, and the other changes in behavior that become accepted.  You’re going along, living your life in the new way, and then something — like some little bottles in your shower stall — reminds you of just how much things have really changed.

The Lone Dory

Coastal Maine is a scenic place, and Stonington has its fair share of photo opportunities. Sometimes, if you keep your eyes open, they just appear in front of you, the result of a combination of weather, viewpoint, circumstance, and just plain luck.

I caught this picture of a lone boat at anchor just off the shoreline east of the mail boat dock during my early morning walk yesterday. The calm waters allowed for a clear view of the floating seaweed and the huge rocks just below the water’s surface.  At the same time, the fog in the distance left the boats farther out in the harbor shrouded in mist. while totally obscuring the islands beyond, making the top of the picture look like a kind of unfinished artist’s canvas. The colors are subtle and subdued.

Against that backdrop, I was struck by the sharp image of the lone boat — which I am pretty sure is called a dory — all by itself on the placid water.  The scene seemed to perfectly capture an almost mystical feeling of calmness, and solitude, and quiet.   

The Lure Of Lobstering

The official welcome sign outside of Stonington says the town is Maine’s largest lobster port, and the visual evidence around here supports that assertion. You see the paraphernalia of the lobster business pretty much everywhere, from the lobster boats at anchor in the harbor to the brightly colored buoys, coiled ropes, and stacked rows of lobster traps seen on the properties around town. Especially traps. More traps than you can imagine!

And it appears that the younger generation is embracing Stonington’s traditional occupation. According to statements from this year’s graduates published in the local newspaper, a number of the 2020 graduates of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School — both male and female — are planning on “lobstering” as their career. It’s the kind of future plan you wouldn’t see from a student in, say, Columbus, Ohio.

My hat is off to the kids who are going into the lobster trade. It’s a tough, physically demanding job that requires you to get up before dawn and spend your days on the water, going from buoy to buoy, hauling traps up from the ocean floor, removing any catch, rebaiting the traps with yukky objects that lobsters like, and winching the traps back down again. But it makes a living, and you get to be your own boss. From the decisions of the local high school kids, that’s still an attractive option.

Masked Market

Stonington holds a farmers’ market in the parking lot of the community center every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.  Last Friday we paid our first visit to the market during the COVID-19 era.

There’s no doubt the coronavirus has had an impact on the market.  For starters, there were fewer tents and tables set up by sellers, and they all were all distanced from each other, which gave the market a more spread-out feel.  There were fewer people walking around, too — and of course everyone was masked.  There was a pleasant young woman at the entrance to the market who was the designated “masking enforcer,” tasked with keeping the unmasked from entering.  She reminded us of the need to be masked and had hand sanitizer that she was ready to share with anyone who wanted to scrub up.  The potential customers weren’t supposed to touch or handle anything and also were supposed to keep their distance from each other — as the posted signs indicated.  As a result of all of these factors, the market didn’t have the bustling, crowded atmosphere that you associate with a good farmers’ market and that we saw at this market last year.

Still, in a weird year where all kinds of performances and events and community gathering opportunities are being cancelled outright, it was encouraging that the Stonington farmers’ market was being held at all.  And my sense from interacting with them was that the artisanal farmers who were participating definitely appreciated just having the opportunity to sell their vegetables and fruits and smoked meats and farm fresh eggs directly to the public.  If you are a small-business owner who is counting on different farmers’ markets as venues to sell your products, outright cancellation of all of your sales outlets would be devastating.  If the economy is truly going to recover, and the recovery is going to small-business owners like artisanal farmers, it is crucial to have events like farmers’ markets.

As has been the case throughout the coronavirus reopening period, Kish and I spent more than we really needed to, just to try to help the sellers get back on their feet and recover from a challenging time.  We bought eggs and cheese and smoked meat from multiple stands, and it all was great.

We’ll be going back to the farmers’ market on Friday, and will try to pay the market a visit on every Friday when we are here.  And I bet that we’re going to see a definite pick-up in the number of people selling and the number of people buying, as the word gets out that you can do so safely and people decide they are willing to accept the risk.  While appropriately masked and distanced, of course.

Wildflower Maine

I’ll be happy if the flowers I planted over the weekend do well, but if that does happen It probably won’t have much to do with my gardening abilities.  The summer in coastal Maine is just about the perfect climate for growing flowers and other plants:  it’s not too hot, so the soil doesn’t dry out like it often does during a broiling Midwestern summer, it rains every few days (and often with real gullywashers) so there’s lots of water for the plants, heavy morning dews are commonplace, too, and there’s plenty of sunshine.  Basically, Maine supplies everything the native flowers need — if you just leave them be.

As a result, flowers seem to grow pretty much everywhere, on their own.  The lupines that are framing the harbor in the picture above are thriving In an untended area off the berm of a very busy street.  And the lupines and the other wildflowers in the photo below are growing in profusion in a huge area that presumably isn’t being actively weeded and watered by a human gardening crew.

So what does it all mean?  It means that if I can’t grow flowers here, I’m undoubtedly the world’s worst gardener.

F and F vs. S and S

If you’re ever going to visit Maine during the summer, especially if you’re going to head up north of the southern coastal areas, plan on checking your smartphone weather app regularly.

5e217fada5253478210383b5395ca68d-thermometer-vintage-sIn fact, plan on consciously rooting for specific weather developments — like increases in the daily high and low temperatures — even though you are well aware that puny humans have no ability to change the weather that’s heading your way.  You’ll be hoping to see temperatures in the sixties and seventies (S and S) rather than temperatures in the forties and fifties (F and F).

You would think that, by the middle of June, the F and F squad would have been chased off the field, but you would be wrong.  Even now, when the Midwest is getting slapped with temperatures that are in the upper 80s and even hitting 90, the low temperatures in Stonington on many days stubbornly remain in the 40s, and it’s a desperate, furious battle to get the high temperature out of the 50s.  Even now, looking at the weather app and its forecast for the next 10 days, we still see only one day where the high temperature is in the upper 60s.  (Brace yourself: a week from tomorrow the temperature is supposed to reach a scalding 66.)  And days in the 70s in June in Stonington are apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.

It’s weird to pay so much attention to your weather app, but there’s a significant difference between temperatures in the 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s.  In the 40s and 50s, you’re still donning coats and sweaters.  When you reach the upper 60s and — God forbid! — the 70s, the air has that sultry, summer feel that is simply absent when the F and F squad is in command.

None of this is a surprise.  In fact, many people come to Maine specifically to escape the broiling summer heat — and Maine doesn’t disappoint in that regard.  The temperature will warm up, and we’ll be in the toasty 70s when the rest of the country is groaning about the intense heat.  It will be nice to the S and S team prevail.

Coronavirus And Commerce: One Town’s Story

The coronavirus pandemic, and the shutdown orders issued in response to it, have affected pretty much everything, and everywhere, over the past few months. Stonington, Maine is no different.

There’s no doubt that there has been a huge economic impact on this beautiful little town and the surrounding community. Stonington’s economy has two primary engines — the lobster trade, and tourism. Tourism clearly has been affected by Maine Governor Janet Mills’ orders closing hotels until June 1, and requiring visitors to Maine to quarantine for 14 days before interacting with locals. There aren’t many visitors to the town, and the businesses that depend on tourists have felt the resulting pinch. Three of the tourist-type shops in town are closed, and it isn’t clear whether they will open at s as you time this summer. One restaurant has announced it won’t be operating at all this year, another is running at dramatically reduced hours, and a third isn’t nearly as busy as it normally would be. There isn’t much foot traffic in town, either.

The lobster trade has been affected, too. The word is that prices are low, due in part to reduced demand caused by restaurant shutdown orders. The locals are hoping that prices increase when the Canadian lobster fishing season ends and only the U.S. supply is affecting the market.

2020 is going to be a tough year for all of these businesses. Stonington doesn’t have big box stores, chain restaurants, or franchises — it’s a small business haven where all of the businesses are locally owned, and the summer tourism provides a huge chunk of their annual cash flow.

The real estate market, on the other hand, is reportedly very strong, with places going on the market and being sold promptly — in some instances, solely on the basis of a video tour. Realtors are attributing the strong market to East Coast residents who want to establish a second home far away from the overcrowded cities where “social distancing “ is a challenge.

So, the coronavirus giveth, but the coronavirus mostly taketh away. It’s sad to see businesses closed and favorite restaurants going unopened this summer. We’re just hoping that the businesses can ride out 2020 and will be back in full swing in 2021, when things get back to normal — hopefully.

At Quarantine’s End

Some time ago, earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Maine’s Governor imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all “non-essential” people entering the state. We’re deemed non-essential — which delivers a severe blow to my sense of self-worth, incidentally — so we’ve been complying with the order and have kept to the footprint of our little place for the last fortnight. We understand and respect why the Governor issued the order, and we want our neighbors here to see that we do. It’s important for “summer people” like us to acknowledge and abide by the sensitivities of the year-round residents.

Some time last night the quarantine period ended, so this morning I seized the opportunity and took an early walk to experience the newfound freedom and get some fresh air. It’s hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to stretch your legs and get some exercise after two weeks of being cooped up, and to see some different scenery, too. I enjoyed the flowers, the abandoned boats, the deep whiffs of harbor air, and just about everything I saw.

You can’t fully appreciate the simple pleasures of a walk until you’ve been deprived of one for days on end.

Flower And Stone

If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.

The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.

These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.

Masked Driving

We took a long drive this week.  It was our first extended road trip in a while, but it also was interesting in other ways as well.  In fact, I would say it was one of the more memorable drives I’ve ever taken.

b3effd_ltptolls020411It’s as if the country is reawakening from a long sleep.  Some people are up and wide awake, some are groggy from the long slumber, and some are still snoring.  As a result, the roads weren’t nearly as busy as you would normally expect on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend.  In the early morning hours in Ohio, we saw lots of trucks on the road — a good sign, incidentally, for a resurgence in the nation’s economy — but virtually no cars.  By mid-morning, as we rolled through northern Pennsylvania on I-80, the trucks still dominated the road and cars remained few and far between.  The traffic picked up as we skirted New York City and Boston, but we didn’t hit any stoppages, even with lots of road construction.  As a result, we made excellent time.

The lack of traffic is one reason why the Cannonball Run record — the wholly illegal effort to make the fastest drive from the Red Ball garage in New York City to the Portofini Inn in Redondo Beach, California — has been broken repeatedly during this national shutdown period.  The new record now stands at less than 26 hours, which is mind-boggling and makes you wonder about the top speed reached as the cars zipped through the wide-open western states.

But the lack of traffic wasn’t the only reminder of the coronavirus.  As has now become the norm, for me at least, once you are out of your personal space you become acutely conscious of every common surface you touch.  Refueling means touching buttons on the gas pump and holding the nozzle.  You don your mask as you enter gas stations — some stations have signs saying that masks are mandatory — and think about the safest way to open the bathroom door, flip up the toilet seat, and flush the commode if you need to use the facilities.  (Your prim and proper grandmother was never more worried about the cleanliness of rest stops than you are right now.)  At one stop, as I stood masked and trying to do my 20 seconds of vigorous, soapy hand-washing, a trucker stood next to me and brushed his teeth, which was a bit unnerving.

You put your mask on, again, as you pay at toll booths, which is probably the best argument ever for getting EZ Pass and just rolling on through.  Every toll booth worker was wearing masks and gloves, and at the I-84 toll booth in New York City the attendant applied some kind of disinfectant to the dollar that I handed her.  It makes me wonder if COVID-19 will drive another nail in the coffin of cash and spur faster adoption of contactless payment card technology.  For that matter, it makes me wonder if toll booths where you can actually use the nation’s currency also aren’t going to be around for long.

In all, a very memorable trip.  The coronavirus continues to affect just about everything.

Clear As A Bell

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in Stonington, Maine, as we prepare to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. It’s cooler here than in Columbus, but the sunshine is much appreciated after days of rain in Columbus.

The sun officially rose at 5 a.m. today, but at 4:30 it was bright enough to wake me up. The lobster captains like that, because they like to get an early start. When I arose at 4:30, I could hear the throaty thrum of marine engines starting up in the harbor as they headed out to sea for their daily tour of their traps.

My Last Trip To NYC

I flew to New York City on February 19, 2020 on a business trip that would be just like a hundred business trips to Manhattan that I’ve taken before.  My flight arrived at a packed LaGuardia Airport, and I steered my roller bag through concourse traffic, trying to navigate past the slow movers and the gawkers.  I used the bathroom at the terminal, standing shoulder to shoulder with other random travelers needing to answer nature’s call, washed my hands without thinking about whether I was spending 20 seconds on that task, then moved with the flow of travelers down to the baggage claim level and outside the terminal.  

I stood in line at the taxi stand with perhaps 25 other people patiently waiting to get a ride into the City.  I took the cab that was next in line when my turn came, without giving a second thought to who might have sat in the passenger seat before me, or when the cab was last cleaned.  I arrived at my hotel, located about a block from Times Square, and waited in the crowded lobby to check in.  Because it was a nice night and I wanted to get some exercise before dinner, I walked over to Times Square, stood among hundreds of other residents and visitors moving through that NYC landmark, and took this picture of the heroic George M. Cohan statue in the middle of the Square like a true tourist.  I then walked around the area, thinking about how hard it is to take an enjoyable walk in New York City because of the crowded sidewalks.  I even wrote a blog post about it the next day.   

I ate at a random restaurant suggested by the hotel concierge, without thinking about how close the other patrons were, or noticing whether they were sneezing, coughing, or having trouble breathing.  I slept in my hotel room, made coffee the next morning using the coffeemaker in the room, plugged my computer cord and smartphone cord into the outlets, then spent the whole day in a conference room that was full to the brim with about 20 people sitting right next to each other.  We all got coffee from a shared coffee urn and poured cream from a common cream container.  At lunch we got sandwiches and cookies from a common tray.  At the end of the day I took another cab back to the airport, stood in the TSA pre-check line with other passengers breathing in that LaGuardia terminal indoor air, and then navigated through the crush to get to my gate.

I was aware of the coronavirus at that point, but the only time I thought about it during the whole trip was at the gate, when I sat in one of the common seats in the gate area and wondered about the people who had sat in the seat that day, and where they might have been traveling from.  But it was a fleeting thought that passed by, and I then concentrated on checking and answering the emails that had stacked up during the day.  My flight was called, I stood in line to board with my group, and then sat in close proximity to other weary travelers on the 90-minute flight home.  To my knowledge, no one on the flight was wearing a mask.

As I sit and think about what was a pretty routine, uneventful trip to Manhattan only two and a half months ago, it seems like a totally different world.  I don’t know if or when I’ll take another business trip to New York City, but I can be sure of one thing — it won’t happen with the kind of carefree nonchalance that I felt, without thinking about it, on that last trip, or during the hundred or so trips that preceded it.

No Trip On The Horizon

There have been so many things to adjust to, and so many changes have occurred, since the coronavirus pandemic invaded our existence and altered our routines.  Among other things, COVID-19 has caused me to violate a longstanding rule of personal conduct:  for the first time in I don’t know how long, I don’t have a vacation or interesting travel to a new place on the immediate horizon.

Global pandemics really have a way of messing with your plans, don’t they?

cases-packed-by-the-door-ready-to-travel_t20_4eowzaA decade or two ago I realized that I felt better about work if I had always a trip on the calendar for the near future.  Since that day, I’ve made sure that I have some impending travel to anticipate that will break up the daily routine.  I’ve tried to plan the trips so that they occur regularly at the intervals of a few months.  They don’t need to be big trips, either — maybe a weekend trip with a group to a new place, or a visit to see friends for a few days, or a wedding, mixed in with a longer vacation now and then.  I found that having something fun and different to look forward to allowed me to avoid getting stale and ground down by work and helped me to stay sharp and maintain a positive mental attitude.

But the coronavirus changed all that and scrubbed the social calendar clean, like a giant hand wiping off one of those dry erase boards.  A weekend trip to Austin earlier this month was the first casualty, followed quickly by the cancellation of a wedding in Chicago in May and an annual meeting in Asheville in June.  And even the plans that remain on the calendar are fraught with total uncertainty.  We’ve got a trip overseas planned for the fall that we hope will go forward, but who really knows?  With the predictions of a second round of COVID-19 and talk of potential foreign travel restrictions, I’m not betting my bottom dollar on anything travel-related right now.

I freely admit that, relatively speaking, this is a very minor thing, and one I will gladly accept in exchange for making sure that we and the friends we’d be seeing all stay safe and healthy.  But it’s another way that the pandemic has upset the apple cart and forced unwanted changes.  I’ll manage without a trip or two on the calendar, but I definitely look forward to the day when I can feel, once again, that I am working steadily toward some enjoyable travel on the horizon.