Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard folks say Portland isn’t Maine, or that Portland is more like Boston than Maine. I’ve always resented that sentiment quite a bit. But I was sitting in a pottery class the other day at Portland Pottery (and this is not sponsored but, dear reader, it was a blast and very much worth the dough) and there were about 10 of us, talking about where we were all from. I was the only person in the class who was from Maine. Actually, the only person who hadn’t moved to Portland within the last five years from Massachusetts or New York.
There’s not so much to say except it was unsettling, like it’s unsettling to come back from a semester at school and see more steel and glass. I can’t make any strong, decisive statement about the validity of in-movers and their effect on the city and the community. I know I don’t like it. I don’t like out-of-staters coming in and snatching up real estate in Portland and the rest of Maine. I don’t like that most Portlanders are out-of-staters (it feels like that, anyway). But that might just be my traditional Yankee xenophobia.
So I’ve never agreed that Portland isn’t Maine, because Portland has been pretty much the only Maine I’ve known. And I do always introduce myself as being from Portland, but I inevitably have to clarify, No, Maine, not Oregon. But if Portland is full of wealthy folks (mostly wealthy out-of-staters), and even the geography and built environment are very different from the rest of this rural state, we must admit that folks who live in Greater Portland do experience a very different version of Maine than those who live in the poorer, rural, inland areas.
I was helping our old comrades Crash and Shana up in Central Maine on their farmstead this month. I’ve been going up there for a couple years now, and certainly I’ve ventured into other places in the state. I have lots of family in those areas. When we’d go see my cousins or they’d come see us, it always struck me how different our experiences were. They couldn’t, for example, walk around the corner to a coffee shop, or go downtown to a movie theather. The only thing really walkable to them was a bike trail, or maybe the library. And my queer cousins were always more intrigued by seeing visibly queer people than I was. For my part, I was jealous that they got to ride their neighbors’ dirt bikes or ATVs. All that’s to say I’m certainly no stranger to rural Maine. But I don’t know that I’ve ever much considered the poverty in the state beyond the decaying houses on state routes, the ones with peeling paint and sagging boards, the groups of homes with at least a few old rusted cars in their front yard. It’s very easy to write those off as old homes of old, poor Republicans. But I don’t know that I ever really humanzied those folks.
Up in Crash and Shana’s Central Maine town, the wealth distribution was extremely unequal. Down by the town pond, wealthier summer folk had beautiful homes, but just up the street lived families with no running water. Maybe I’m giving away my naivete, but I truly hadn’t realized how common a lack of access to running water was among poor rural Mainers.
“What do they do?” I’d asked my hosts.
“They get their drinking water from the town well,” they told me. We drove past one. It was a PVC pipe off the side of the road, a constant stream of water flowing forth.
“What about the winter?” I asked.
“It still flows.”
“How do they shower?”
“They don’t, often. They sponge-bathe themselves. Our kid neighbor takes a bath once a week in the school year. It’s some real Little House on the Prairie–type living.”
It’s funny in some ways that poorer, inland Maine is more conservative, while coastal, wealthier Maine is, at least ostensibly, more liberal. I count us lucky in Maine for many reasons, not least of all that abortion will remain legal here. But if you look at a map of clinics (the National Abortion Federation is a good resource), it does tell a tale of two Maines. The vast majority of clinics are in the lower half of the state, and there are three along the northern coast and border. Luckily, there are few places in the state where you’d have to drive more than an hour to have the medical procedure done, and for the time being I’ll be thankful enough for that.