I received one particularly negative comment on my very first blog posting. But don’t bother to go and look for it — the poster deleted it. The poster is actually a friend of mine — we met via Facebook, maybe about a year ago – hopefully some day we’ll meet in person. The deleted comment read, “Sorry, Maria LaBarbera Lamb, Maine sucks”. Wow. Harsh. What a statement. But I know that this person is not alone in her feelings. Maine is a beautiful, beautiful place – it has some of the most scenic and breathtaking vistas in the world. But Maine, like many coastal locales, also can be a very hard place to make a living.
Visitors generally only see what they want to see – the beauty, the great food, the small town character. And that’s great. It’s the way it should be. But what visitors don’t often think about… everyday people work their jobs, live their lives here and often reality is gritty. Dirty.
When I moved to Cape Cod eighteen years ago (a similar coastal area where many livings are made either via tourist or sea), I moved to sweeping sand beaches, green and grassy marshes with herons and gulls. I had just received a graduate degree in psychology and quickly landed a job, only a few weeks after the move, as a family advocate for a local social services program. Up until my first week on the job, I guess I just hadn’t thought that there could be this level of struggling in such a beautiful place. After all, I had just moved to a vacation paradise. I soon learned that much of the population is considered to be in a lower income bracket. There is poverty and there is heartbreak, just like anywhere else. On Cape Cod, in particular, with so many homes being rented for top dollar as summer rentals, there is a lack of housing for young, struggling families. Much of the population there, like coastal Maine, make their living from the sea – a fickle industry, subject to weather, tides and pollution. There is no guaranteed paycheck. No money left to put into a retirement fund. No pension.
As I plan my full-time exodus from Massachusetts to Maine, I realize that I have it pretty good. I’ve been able to ride the real estate wave on the Cape, and when I finally cut the cord for good, I’ll most likely have three times what I paid for our house in the bank. But don’t let my sunny disposition fool you (okay… I know my husband is rolling his eyes at that one). I know that down east Maine is not all lobster rolls and whoopie pies. I’m heading to Maine with the knowledge that Washington County has the highest poverty rate in the state. But I’m moving with a plan this time. I won’t be taken aback and surprised. I will do what I can to improve things in this little corner of the world. (I’ll use my super powers for good, not evil – insert evil laugh here).
Does this mean that you shouldn’t include Washington County on your short list for vacation spots? Certainly not. While the weather may not be warm far often enough, most of the people are warm – warm and friendly. Just remember when you go (and this includes all vacation spots – whether it be Maine or Cape Cod or Jamaica or Thailand), that the gas station cashier may be feeding a family on $7.50/hour minimum wage. Remember that those ‘colorful fishermen characters’ may have had no income for an entire month due to red tide. So maybe leave a little bigger tip than you usually do to the server who provides you with excellent service – perhaps this is her second or third job of the day. Have leftover unopened food at the end of your vacation? Donate it to the local food pantry (I have an upcoming plan for this, too – more to come in a later entry). Enjoy. Soak up the good times and the summer sun while you can. But be aware. Be understanding. Those local curmudgeons are not on your vacation. They aren’t living your dream. They may be seeing life through very different eyes.