Hurry up and wait. It’s March in Maine, the nadir of my seasonal depression. The landscape is brown and bare, and I am burning for greens and summer. I feel like I’m stuck at the border in Portsmouth, waiting for the drawbridge and hurling oaths at I-95 traffic screaming across the Piscataqua River Bridge to the left. Come ON, let’s GO! Let’s put the top down and cruise! Rt. 1 is calling!
I can see the route in my mind’s eye. I breeze past the outlets in Kittery and crawl along York Beach, between dune grass and hardcore east coast surfers. I stop at the Nubble Light and inhale the warm Atlantic salt air like my life depends on it.
Traffic is stop-and-go through Ogunquit, Wells and Kennebunk, as the invading summer swells from Connecticut and New Jersey gawk and pillage antiques. But I love it: this is the quintessential Maine summer resort stretch. Salt water taffy and ice cream stands, vintage Gulf station signs, bronze weather vanes and lobster buoys for sale. I roll the window down and picture Sandra Dee on every corner.
All the way up, the Atlantic looms on the right, culminating in the magnificent sleaze that is Old Orchard Beach. Equal parts Jersey Shore, Southern California and French Riviera, OOB and Palace Playland are vestiges of past glamour and decay. The ocean is freezing, but the taste of Pier Fries gets me through the most brutal winter.
Industrial boom and bust and boutique renewal tell the tale of Biddeford/Saco and Scarborough. Next stop: Portland. The Forest City is an adventure for another day, though. I’ll be back.
North of Portland I find myself in Brunswick, my home town and home to Bowdoin College and Danny’s Hot Dogs on the mall. From here north, my parents and grandparents are with me. We have all driven these miles countless times, together and apart. They are in my soul and memory bank with every shift of the wheel, and every trip from Portland through Rockland is new and old alike.
Past Brunswick, Rt. 1 curves inland, through Bath and Wiscasset, the self-proclaimed Prettiest Village in Maine. And it just may be. Wiscasset is the home of Red’s Eats, which serves what may be the best Lobster Roll in the world. The lines form early in the morning and the wait can be an hour. Pretty compelling evidence of greatness.
At Rockland/Rockport and Camden, the Atlantic reappears. Rockland was once a rough, hardscrabble town, but it’s coming back. And Camden is white spire and windjammer perfection. One of my favorite towns in the world.
We can continue along the ocean to Bar Harbor and the indescribable beauty of Acadia National Park, and from there all the way to the farthest north of Maine and the Canadian border, but this is the stretch of Rt. 1 I know and love. It starts at the border in Portsmouth, and it ends at home, no matter which exit takes you there. And in between, Maine Rt. 1 will give you enough memories for a lifetime, even in a spring dream.