A Hurricane Straight From Stephen King

Trip Start Sep 06, 1999
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Trip End Sep 23, 1999


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Where I stayed
Evans Notch Motel

Flag of United States  , Maine
Thursday, September 16, 1999

I awoke to the sound of the rain that had been promised for the past two days. "So, this is what a hurricane sounds like," I thought. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The television weatherman informed me that Hurricane Floyd was somewhere over Virginia. The rain I was hearing at that moment came from a low-pressure system that was passing over New Brunswick. However, Floyd was coming and would be in Saint John by the evening. The weatherman said that travelers should avoid the coastline because of heavy surf and flooding conditions. That news changed the travel plans because we were hoping to go along the Maine coast on our way through New England. It was beginning to sound like this day was going to be full of surprises.

Breakfast turned out to be the exact same dish that we had the day before. I can appreciate the Savoies desire to keep things as efficient as possible. But, something is lost in doing so that distinguishes a B&B from a chain hotel. I should stress that there was nothing wrong with the breakfast other than my perception of it. However, it was yet another mark in my mind that reduced my impression of the establishment from “perfect” to “near-perfect.”

We paid our bill and drove out of Saint John. To be honest, we were glad to leave. While I'm not unhappy that we stopped in Saint John, it was just too boring a location to spend as much time there as we did. We were definitely ready to see new sights. Given our intention, it might be a surprise that the first leg of our trip involved us backtracking to Fredericton. Why would we go to somewhere where we had been before? Well, we wanted some souvenir of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Since we didn’t go to the concert the evening before, we needed to go back to Fredericton to get the souvenir, thereby lending legitimacy to the bragging about the festival that we would do with our acquaintances when we arrived home.

It was a strange feeling heading back to Fredericton during the daylight. The oppressive, claustrophobic nature of the forest that we had experienced in our nighttime drive from Fredericton to Saint John a few days earlier had vanished. Instead, we found the trees were set quite a distance from the road. I was reflecting on how severely one’s perceptions could get distorted at nighttime when we pulled into Fredericton. Fredericton seemed to be quite the contrast to Saint John. Perhaps it was the rain that was washing everything, but all the buildings and streets appeared to be very clean. In addition to the cleanliness, everything was also neatly organized. However, the rain prevented me from further exploring my impressions. We were content to simply park the car and find the Festival’s headquarters in order to get some souvenirs. We parked next to the large tent that had been erected for the festival’s concerts. The staff members at the tent gave us directions to the Festival’s offices. We walked to them and picked up a few t-shirts. Then it was back into the car to continue the trip into the United States.

The forest that filled the area between Saint John and Fredericton continued between Fredericton and the border. I suppose that someone who has lived there all their life wouldn’t think twice of the all the trees. But, Tom and I were amazed at the seemingly endless forest that blanketed New Brunswick and Maine. All I can say is that its beauty and bounty greatly impressed us.

We crossed the border at St. Croix, New Brunswick. A river marks the border between the United States and Canada. On one side of the river is a Canadian customs post; while on the other side is the United States customs post. It must be a pretty sleepy place, because there was only one agent there when we arrived. He looked at us suspiciously when we first pulled up and showed him our American passports. He started asking us questions about where we were from and what our destination was. I was actually a little surprised by the questions. You’d think that a couple of Californians with American passports driving a car with Quebec license plates trying to get to Montreal by driving across New England would be a common sight. Obviously, I was mistaken. Fortunately, the questioning didn’t last long and we were soon on our way across Maine.

It was something of a relief to get back into the United States. Our feelings weren’t the result of our dislike of Canada. They were instead simply the feelings of slightly weary travelers who are happy to be “home”, even if the actual home is still 3,000 miles away. However, our initial feelings were soon overshadowed by ones of disappointment. The Canadian side of the border was marked by homes that were neatly painted with manicured yards. The American side of the border (as personified by Vanceboro, Maine) was marked by trailer homes with rusted autos in the front yard. Even the wood houses were rather run down. It certainly was apparent that we were in a different country. It was also quite amazing that a line on a map could make that much difference.

We were also a little apprehensive about entering the States because we didn’t have any American currency between us. All we had were Canadian dollars and our credit cards. But, we figured this situation gave us the perfect opportunity to test the flexibility of the American economy. We decided to try to find out if a person could survive for two days in the United States using just credit cards.

There wasn’t much opportunity to test our theory in the first hour of our journey across Maine. We simply drove through mile after mile of forest. We began to notice that eastern Maine was much like northern New Brunswick, in that there were towns in the grassy clearings of the forest. We stopped at the edge of one such clearing in order for Tom to pick up some antiques at a dealer just outside of Carroll, Maine. After about an hour at that store, we continued on to Bangor.

We pulled into Bangor at about 2:00 p.m. We found a McDonald’s on the edge of town and grabbed some food for lunch. While at the McDonald’s, we decided to try to find Stephen King’s house. One of the guidebooks I had gave the address and a description. By a great stroke of luck, the McDonald’s where we were eating was located on what I thought was the street where King lived. “This is perfect. We’ll just continue down the street until we find it.", I thought. We drove down the street, excitedly noticing that the numbers on the houses were getting smaller and the age of the houses was getting older. Suddenly, we noticed that the house numbers skipped the number of King's house. We thought it might come later, but the street dead-ended just a block later. We drove past that area several times and never found the address of King's house. Tom got the bright idea that it might be in the opposite direction. So, we drove back to the McDonald’s and kept going in the opposite direction from where we came. But, all we found were potato fields and a few farm implement shops. Tom decided to pull into one of these shops to ask for directions. After about 20 minutes of debating, the locals agreed that they had heard that King lived in town, but didn’t know where his house was located. Having once again proven that locals are not a good source for directions, I told Tom to drive back to downtown. I was thinking we might find a bookstore or gas station that had a map which might tell us where the house was located. Instead, we found something better. We located the Chamber of Commerce. Not only did they have a map of the town, they also had a historical structures map. King’s house was indicated on that map because it’s one of the oldest houses in Bangor. The map also solved the problem of the missing street address. Bangor has two streets with the same name, one of which is about four miles west of the other. Once we had a map, King’s house was very easy to find. We pulled up in front of it. Even if one didn’t know Stephen King lived there, one would figure it out rather quickly. The front gate is in the form of a cobweb. Spiders, bats, and dragons decorate the exterior fence. Since it was raining, we didn’t get out to look from the sidewalk. The various signs saying “Don’t Enter” also prevented us from being any braver. But, perhaps the biggest deterant was King himself. He had recently been released from the hospital as part of his recovery from being run over by a car. Given his reputation as a master of horror, and the fact that he wasn’t feeling very well, we decided that trespassing probably wouldn’t be the best idea at the time. We instead just took a couple of pictures of the house from the road and continued on our way.

Along the way through eastern Maine, we had decided to try to get to Montpelier, Vermont by that evening. According to the map, the straightest way to Montpelier was Highway 2. It may have been the straightest, but it was also very slow to drive. The top speed on most of the road is 45 miles per hour. Our drive was made even slower because Floyd was starting to make his presence felt. The intensity of the rain and the wind increased steadily as we continued on our drive. Although, I don’t think we would’ve gone much faster had Floyd not been in the area. Still, if time is not an issue, I would recommend taking Highway 2 across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The scenery along the road is absolutely breathtaking.

About three hours after leaving Bangor, we stopped in Farmington, Maine for some munchies. While we were there, Tom wishfully mentioned that Farmington might not be such a bad place to spend the night. I could understand his concern. The rain was getting stronger, as was the wind. Additionally, night was beginning to fall, making the driving even more risky. But, I had a goal of getting us to Ottawa by the next evening. If we stopped in Maine, we’d have a very long day of driving ahead of us. I told him that I still wanted to make Montpelier. But, given that Montpelier was at least four hours ahead of us, I might accept stopping in New Hampshire. I was also willing to make this concession because we didn’t have a place to stay in Montpelier, therefore we wouldn’t lose anything by not getting there. Still, that wasn’t good enough for Tom. “Fine” he said, “then you drive.” I could tell that we were starting to crack. I got behind the wheel and drove us out of Farmington.

Once I started driving, I could understand why Tom wanted to stop. The rain was coming down so hard that the wipers moving at full speed couldn’t remove the water from the windshield. Additionally, most of the traffic on the road was logging trucks, which threw even more water on the windshield. To make things worse, night had fallen. The forest that looked so beautiful just a few hours before was now a black wall that seemed to soak up any light that shone on it. I noticed that the sensation of having the trees crowding the road that I had experienced in New Brunswick had reappeared. As I drove through this mess, all I could think of was that I now knew where Stephen King got his inspiration.

After about an hour of driving, Tom was in panic mode. “Let’s just find a place and call it a night”, he pleaded as we pulled into Bethel, Maine. “No way” I said, “We’ve gotta get at least as far as New Hampshire. That’s only another 30 miles away.” Tom replied, “It’s too dangerous, especially with the wind picking up as it is.” The wind had picked up noticeably in the hour that I had been driving, and the rain had not let up. “Tom, it’s only seven (7:00 p.m.). We can put in another two hours of driving. Okay, we’ll stop before Montpelier. But, we’re going to get to New Hampshire.” Tom settled into an uneasy silence. We continued on through the Maine forest. I was feeling pretty confident as we passed through the other small towns on Maine’s portion of Highway 2. But, those feelings started going away as I began to notice that gusts of wind were shaking the car. The confident feelings disappeared completely when tree limbs started falling onto the highway. That’s when I gave up my desire to get to New Hampshire. Tom must have been feeling the same thing, because he said (with just a hint of menace that comes from desperation), “Let’s stop now.” “You’re right. Start looking for a place”, I replied. Through the waterlogged windshield, we saw a sign for the Evans Notch Motel. I pulled the car into the parking lot in front of the main office. Tom ran inside to secure a room for us. Within five minutes, we were unpacking our stuff into our room.

Since it was 7:30 p.m., we were feeling hungry. However, neither of us wanted to get back in the car to try to find a place to eat. Instead, we pulled out the munchies we had purchased in Farmington and ate those for dinner. We turned on the t.v. to get an update on the hurricane. There were only four channels available, one for each network. To make matters worse, all four channels were being picked up by a satellite dish. Since the storm was so severe, the signal was constantly getting interrupted. It was after the fifth interruption that I realized how isolated we were. It struck me as remarkable that there still existed places in the United States where one could be totally hidden. If we hadn’t paid with a credit card, no one would’ve known we were staying in Gilead, Maine. While it was remarkable, it was also comforting to know that such places still existed.

The channel that seemed to have the best reception was the CBS station. When I tuned into the station, the weather report was on. The weatherman said that it had been warm in downtown Los Angeles. While that didn’t strike me as odd, his next comment about fog rolling into Santa Monica and Malibu did strike me as strange. After a few minutes of watching, I realized that the CBS station was broadcasting from Los Angeles. The fact that I was sitting in a room near the border between Maine and New Hampshire watching Los Angeles television during a hurricane was just a little too weird. I turned off the t.v. and went to bed.
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