Street Cred

I can’t believe I missed it.

The biggest blizzard in years (at least two), and I wasn’t there.  Oh, I know that there will be more; nor’easters and blizzards are a fact of life in Maine and the White Mountains.  But still.

Here’s what I missed:

On Sunday, according to the Portland Press Herald, “flights at the Portland International Jetport were canceled, commercial fishing boats raced to shore, and Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency.”  Where our house sits in the White Mountains, about 2 feet of snow fell.  Howling, furious winds that sounded like a freight train gusted to 50+ mph and felled trees, caused whiteouts, and towering drifts during heavy snowfall.  Now that the storm has abated, the sky is clear;  low temperatures remain.  With windchill, temperatures tonight will be -20.  Ice fishermen and snowmobilers rejoice!

There are different types of Mainers.  There are the rural natives, who have lived in their small towns for generations that go back to the Revolutionary War.  There are the very wealthy, old money elitists who hold political sway.  There are the tourists.  There are the Summer People, who have “camps” (rustic homes or cabins) on lake shorelines or in the woods.  There are the Flatlanders, who are “from away” – these are mostly the Summer People and tourists, but it also includes residents such as my husband and myself, who are “wannabes” who will never really be considered Mainers no matter how many years they live in Maine.  The degree to which they are accepted by locals in rural Maine (but never fully integrated) depends on a few factors:

1.  Flatlanders cannot be from Massachusetts, especially Boston.  For some reason, Mainers hold anything or anyone that has a  Massachusetts connection in contempt.  Partly this is historical (since Revolutionary times!).  Partly it’s cultural (urban vs. rural; liberal vs. conservative; rude vs. polite; hurried vs. taking one’s time; aggressive vs. reflective;  being whiny vs.  stoic;  ineptitude vs. self-reliance).

2.  Flatlanders must shop and hire craftsmen and contractors locally whenever possible (but they get a demerit if they can’t do a project by themselves in the first place).  They should be on a first-name basis with their town’s hardware store and lumberyard proprietors, and never admit to going to a Big Box home improvement store (but for some reason, WalMart is okay).

3. Flatlanders must not be afraid to admit they don’t know how to do something (i.e. drive a plow truck or use a chainsaw), as long as they are willing to ask advice and learn (and then they must do it themselves and not rely upon others to do it for them); and NEVER advise a local that there might be a better, more efficient way to do something.

4. To gain “street cred,” Flatlanders must remain in Maine throughout an entire winter, without complaining or histrionics.  This was explained to us by the “P’s,” who readers of this blog have met in an earlier post.

Winter in Maine is bad.  How bad?  It’s so bad that even proud native Mainers move to Florida  during  the relentless Maine winter when they hit old age.  It’s that bad.

Yep, #4  is the biggie.

Our flatlander neighbor 2 miles down the road has street cred.  He and his wife decided to retire to Maine from South Carolina.  True, it helps that he is a genuinely nice person, that he volunteers a lot of his time, money and energy to the local school, the library, the budget committee, and the local conservation group.  It also helps that his former occupation was in the construction industry – – that’s something locals can relate to.  But the real deal is that he stayed alone in his house all winter in 2008 (his wife, a Southern belle, fled to So. Carolina at the first snowflake and returned only in the spring)  – –  a year of numerous blizzards, nor’easters, and whiteouts when temperatures got to -40 with windchill.  He outlasted power outages of more than a week.  He only asked for help once, when snows were so deep and the ice so treacherous that his plow truck (he does all his own plowing, another brownie point) wasn’t powerful enough to handle the drifts on the mile-long dirt access road to his place. (It ended up costing $200 for  a monster excavation tractor to clear his road.)

But now, this flatlander neighbor “from away”  has genuine street cred here in these parts.  Natives practically doff their blaze-orange hunting caps when they see him at the general store.  After surviving the winter of 2008, he has arrived.

It looks like we may have to wait until 2011 to establish our credentials.  Fortunately, January awaits. . .

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