Friday, August 21, 2015

August 21, 2105--Friday at the Bristol Diner: Volvos

“We sure can use this rain,” an old-timer said, not looking up from his coffee. “If it keeps up this way for a few more hours it will do us a lot of good.”

“True,” I said. “We haven’t had any for, how long has it been now?”

“’Bout 16 days by my count. The last one we had was the first of the month. Everything‘s sort of parched.”

“Compared to last year, things have been real dry,” Rona recalled.

“True enough. One thing that makes no sense is . . .”

“The weather,” Rona said, completing his sentence.

“That too,” he said with a smile and a wink, though clearly not liking having his thought appropriated. “But don’t tell me about global warming.”

“We weren’t going to,” I said to assure him that things weren’t going to turn political so early in the morning.

Ignoring me, he said, “I know it’s going on and it isn’t any good, but not when it comes to the day-to-day.”

“I’m not sure you’re right about that,” I said in spite of knowing that I might be entering tender territory, “Just the other day I was reading in the Times that . . .”

Rona was poking me under the counter and so instead of hurtling forward I took a big gulp of coffee.

“Read that too he said,” surprising me. I wouldn’t have taken him for a New York Times reader. “They did make a case for that. That some of the weather we’ve been experiencing lately—the storm and floods and in other places the droughts—might be caused by that. But not that it hasn’t rained here, in how long has it been?” He smiled at Rona.

“I think 16 days,” I said, also smiling, relieved not to have to get myself all riled up so early in the morning.

“Quite something,” he said, nodding toward the window, “Where the sun is low in the sky is over Monhegan Island. Lots of artists made their way there. The Wyeths and Winslow Homer and even old Ed Hopper. Did I tell you I knew him?” We shook our heads. “Not all that well, but well enough to run him back and forth when I had my boat. I did some line fishing in my day. Lots of cod out there then. Pretty much all fished out by now. Sort of like what’s happenin’ with global warming when you think about it.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I stammered.

“That’s OK,” he said. “You and I are pretty much on the same page about that.” And with that, with some difficulty, he lifted himself from the stool. “That arthritis gets me every time,” he chuckled, “But got to get going anyway. Too much to do to linger with you folks. Though I enjoyed talking with you. Have as nice a day as you can.” And with that he was gone.

“I like him,” Rona said. “A little cranky but that’s how I generally am before I’ve had my coffee.”

“I agree,” I said, “We’ve been running into so many people like him up here. Friendly, but they also keep a bit of a distance.”

“As I would,” Rona said, “If I was a ‘native,’ so to speak. They have a long history here of having mixed feelings about people like us. ‘Cottage people,’ is how they refer to us. They depend upon us for the money we bring to the local economy but see them, or truthfully us, as also not always respecting their way of life. Wanting to do things our way.”

“Too often insensitively. I was reading the other day that along the coast here in many towns, including ours, there are now more outsiders than local people. And that this is even changing some town governments. Seasonable people register to vote here and manage to get recent residents elected to town boards and things like that.”

“Which often means,” Rona said, “that they want to keep things the way they are—rural and rustic and ‘charming’—while some who have been here for generations want to see the economy modernize so their children can find good jobs and be able to buy houses and stay here rather than feeling they have to leave and go to Portland or out of state to find work. It’s complicated.”

“True enough. On the way here this morning I saw a car in the parking lot with a bumper sticker that said:

Save A Lobster
Boil A Tourist.

"A little hostile but I guess it captures what some feel.” Rona nodded as she paid the check.

Back in the parking lot, based on our conversation about local people and outsiders, I said, “Let’s look at license plates to see who’s here.”

Even a quick survey revealed mainly Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey cars.

“And look,” Rona said, “Look at the kinds of cars.”

I glanced around. “Mainly Subarus and Volvos and various kinds of SUVs and pickup trucks. But Subarus are clearly the vehicle of choice. Everyone seems to need, or want, four-wheel drive. It’s better in the snow.”

“How many of these people do you think are here in the winter? Who from New York is going to trek up here at that time? I’ll bet none. I think it’s an affectation.”

“An affectation?”

“Yeah, as a way of seeming intrepid. You know, ‘We have this place up in Maine and it’s so rural and remote and rugged that we need a 4WD to get up the road that leads to our place.’ I can just hear that.”

“Probably true. Look, even when we were looking for a car last year a Subaru was on my list of ones to consider. But then we reminded ourselves that we’ll never be here in the winter and though our cottage is on a dirt road we hardly need four-wheel drive.”

“So, what did we consider? Volvos of course. The other car of choice. And the one we finally bought, the Volkswagon.”

“Didn’t we agree at the time that we didn’t want to look like flatlanders? Folks from out of state? Or too yuppified? So that took Volvos off the list.”

“We even debated getting an American car. A Ford, which most of the locals drive.”

“But I said, we’re not locals and shouldn’t even think of trying to pass ourselves off as that. And I think American cars still have a ways to go before they’re as reliable as European or Japanese cars.”

“So we got the VW, which is working out well.”

Feeling good about ourselves we headed toward our Passat. “Look,” I said. “See how it’s getting all muddy. Talk about fitting in. Which cars here aren’t a mess? Interesting how when we’re other places we can’t wait to get it washed and detailed but up here the muddier the better.”

While I was opining about the virtues of mud, Rona whispered to me, “Look at that. Over there. Look what’s going on in that Volvo. The one between the two Subarus.”

I assumed she was pointing out a summer-peoples’ vehicular trifecta—a massing of Subarus and Volvos. “No, not the kind of cars but what that women from New York is doing on the back of her Volvo wagon.”

The hatch was up and from what I could see she was trying to load something into it. “I should go and help her. It looks as if she’s alone and struggling with something.”

“Not with what you think. Decidedly not an antique chair, if that's what you're thinking.” In fact that’s what I thought was going on. “Take a closer look. She’s far from alone and I don’t think she’d welcome your help.”

I moved past Rona so I could get a better look and saw that on the floor of the open hatch she had set up a changing mat, and wiggling on it was an infant whose soiled diaper she had just expertly removed.

“How clever,” I said. Rona nodded in agreement and I sensed she was tempted to go over to help or take a closer look. “If you’re going to have one of these kind of cars put it to good use.”

“And she surely is,” Rona added.

“But still,” I said, “I’m glad we didn’t get one of them.”

“A baby?” Rona was not understanding me as she was so engrossed in what was going on.

“You’re being silly,” I said. “Of course not. I mean a Volvo. Though I can now see its virtues.”

First posted August 18, 2010

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