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With the price of gasoline in Maine near $4 a gallon – if it hasn't busted through that ceiling by the time this gets in print – folks around here who depend on plastic-toting, cash-laden tourists for a good chunk of their annual income are concerned about this summer's tourist business and you can't blame them.
If fuel is too expensive, our summer visitors might decide to skip a trip to Maine and just stay home and use the lawn sprinkler to cool off when the weather to our south gets hazy, hot and humid. They might figure it's not worth it to fight the traffic, crawling through New Hampshire's Hampton tolls just to have the privilege of crawling at a snail's pace through our own York tolls, all the time burning $4-a-gallon gasoline. It's not something we Mainers want our summer visitors going through just before they arrive here for a period of rest and relaxation.
Why? Because after going through all that aggravation on the highways, it's likely they’d be short-tempered and difficult to deal with once they arrive. And, after paying record prices for fuel and everything else along the way they'd have little extra cash or credit to buy all the things we've been planning to sell them this summer – all that cheap, questionable stuff we've imported from China just for the benefit of summer complaints.
For those of you saying: But John, the summer complaints have always been short-tempered and difficult to deal with no matter how much – if any -- aggravation they've gone through to get here, and no matter how much they had to pay for fuel. They could get a free ride to Maine and most of them would still be difficult when they arrived. Well, that may be true, but it doesn't answer the question of what we're going to do with the tourists we were hoping to make money off of when they all show up all aggravated and/or broke or worse -- they never show up at all.
Maine used to be famous for low-budget vacations and some of us might have to go back to those days just to survive the current economic slump. When I was a kid I remember restaurants that served things like cream cheese sandwiches. I can't remember how much they were but I remember they were awfully cheap.
I also remember there were folks in town with large farmhouses who would rent out rooms to summer people. The cost for a room would be a few bucks per-person per night and would often include your breakfast and your dinner. You were on your own for the noon meal.
If the guests didn't want to join the family in the field for a day of back-breaking work they could choose from a short list of activities. Rather than have a “recreation director” to plan all kinds of foolishness for visitors, the farm family would rattle off a list of things the guests could do during the day: take a walk, go for a swim, row the skiff around the cove, drive to town, read a good book, take a nap. Nothing fancy, but it didn't cost anything, so you couldn't complain.
All this talk of economical vacations has made me think. Excuse me while I go clean out the spare room and see if our skiff is seaworthy enough to row around the cove.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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