The Kindness of Strangers

I met Richard one morning early in 2016 at the Bath Y. He was a regular and I’d see him per my routine early swims, usually Tuesdays and Fridays (or sometimes Thursday, if I couldn’t swim on Friday).

The Y is similar to other places where I’ve worked out in the past (like Auburn’s Planet Fitness)—the early AM workout crowd tend to be creatures of habit and generally, a little older. We’re there to get our reps/laps/miles done and then, it’s off to whatever the day throws at us. Across the context of two strangers’ paths crossing, a bond sometimes develops. You see the same person week after week. Unless you’re a misanthrope, you’ll have a conversation or two. Before long, seeing that person becomes part of the routine.

Richard’s 14 years older than me. That means he fought in Vietnam, is nearing retirement, and has accumulated a bit more life experience translating into wisdom. He’s solidly middle-class, probably a tad more conservative than I am, but I know he didn’t vote for Trump, either based the accumulation of our AM conversations.

There was something inherently likable about him. He was a no BS type of guy, and I have always had an affinity for males of that stripe. As the months passed, I found out he was working part-time at The Home Depot in Topsham. He’s “retired,” but like many seniors, retirement now means holding a job to supplement retirement savings—Americans are living longer and longer and staying topside costs slightly more than chump-change. Continue reading

Saturday and Moxie

In a land built on “the pitch,” not the baseball kind, but the one that marketing is known for, having your elevator speech ready to go is essential. Given that this is Moxie weekend in Lisbon Falls, the epicenter of Moxie’s universe, feel free to use some of these tips to frame your parade-viewing and other conversations while taking in the town’s sights and sounds. Before long, people will start coming to you as their resident “Moxie expert.”

Be on the lookout for the Moxie Horsemobile.

What is Moxie?
Moxie is an iconic soft drink. Invented by Augustin Thompson, a Maine native, who was living in Lowell, Mass. at the time, Moxie is the oldest, commercially-bottled soft drink in the U.S., being marketed and sold since 1884.

I’ve written two books about Moxie. There are a host of stories, some true, and some somewhat apocryphal.

For instance, back in 1982, the late Frank Anicetti, owner of Kennebec Fruit Co. (aka, the Moxie Store) sent out 13 post cards for a book signing he was hosting for Frank Potter. Potter, who at that time had written some of the quintessential books about Moxie, including The Moxie Mystique, managed to draw a a crowd that Anicetti claims (in an interview I did with him in 2008) was close to 500 people. While the actual number’s never been confirmed, it was a sizable turnout. The next year, Lisbon’s summer festival, Frontier Days, became the Moxie Festival and we’ve been at it in Lisbon Falls now for 35 years.

Where does Moxie get its distincty-different taste?
Moxie’s distinctive taste comes from Gentian Root, a medicinal herb.

Prior to the Food and Drug Act, which limited claims made about products, Moxie, then marketed as a “nerve food” was said to cure anything from blindness and paralysis, to the “loss of manhood,” making it America’s first Viagra.

Back to the marketing of Moxie, the brand’s chief spokesman during the 1950s was Red Sox star and Hall of Famer, Ted Williams, a huge fan of the soft drink. Maybe It was Moxie that helped Williams hit .406 in 1941, making him the last MLB hitter to bat over .400. That was 76 years ago!

I believe that Moxie’s staying power is first and foremost the result of one Frank Archer, a marketing genius. There are a host of items that collector’s treasure, developed by Archer, to market Moxie. Things like thermometers, a Moxie board game, the various signs featuring the “Moxie Boy,” and others.

While some of Moxie’s 20th century ambassadors like Archer, Williams, Potter, and Anicetti have passed from the stage, Moxie continues to confound critics. The brand, now back in New England where it belongs, has taken to social media and the digital landscape in marketing its magic to a whole new generation. You’ll see plenty of the younger set in Lisbon Falls today, interspersed with those of us who have known about Moxie’s magic for decades.

Enjoy the festival and parade!!

Pedaling to work

The last time I biked to work, Bush 41 was in the White House. Hillary’s husband, who would come next, was still an obscure governor of a Southern backwater. It was the early 1990s and I was working for a large power company in Brunswick.

From my home in Durham, the ride took just over an hour. Luckily, my employer had a locker room with two showers. I developed a routine of bringing clothes to change into the day before and kept a few other supplies in a locker to dress for work.

Six weeks ago, I accepted a position with a local credit union. They have a branch in Topsham, 12 miles from my house. On my first day, during the tour, I noticed a downstairs locker room and shower. I said to the branch manager, “I’m going to have to bike into work some day.”

Today is finally “bike to work day.” I’m kind of excited. I’ve had to wait ‘til now for a number of reasons, including afternoon and early evening commitments that prevented me from being able to meander back home following work.

I had to do some thinking about it and some pre-planning. A week ago Saturday, I even pre-rode the route, which is a different one than the one I normally take in the car. It’s slightly longer (just over 16 miles). The bike route takes me through Brunswick, a bicycle-friendly community with a designated bike route. In essence, a bike-friendly designation provides a welcoming environment for people on bikes. This is accomplished through providing safe accommodations for bicycling and by encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation. It allows cyclists an environment that’s safe, comfortable, and convenient for all ages and abilities. Bike-friendly, or not, biking in traffic during rush-to-work time requires vigilance and some experience riding in traffic.

Keeping to the bike route.

Keeping to the bike route.

Continue reading

Political Spectacle

My inclination this morning was to talk about something other than last night’s Republican debate and the second rate nature of the candidates who showed up. It’s so easy these days, during the latter days of empire and covering its politics—whether you’re a famed journalist, or an obscure blogger—to simply talk about you-know-who, the presidential candidate in the room who garners all the attention, even when he decides to take his ball with him and not show up. I decided to go with the latter. I’m not proud about it, either.

After working last night at a part-time job I picked up in December, I got home after 9:00 and flicked on the television. Like millions of other Americans, I was intrigued to know how the debate was going without the star of this year’s presidential horse race. Also, I wanted to see how things were going wherever Mr. Trump took his ball, and went off to play with it.

On what was originally intended to be the evening’s big political event when it originally was scheduled by Fox News, Donald Trump again turned this year’s election protocol and rules upside-down. His fans loved it, as they always do, irrespective of what Mr. Trump says and does.

"Please vote for me!!"

“Please vote for me!!” (Doug Mills photo/New York Times)

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Local Food is Radical

On a daily basis, we are bombarded by a myriad of messages, all carefully crafted and coordinated by our corporate overlords. In case you haven’t been paying attention, we don’t live in a democracy, a democratic republic, or whatever else we were brainwashed into believing our American government was supposed to be during our 12 years of indoctrination in public schools. And then, of course, we’re convinced to add another four, six, or eight years on top of that, just for the privilege of tacking a few letters after our names for the purpose of “prestige.” And at what cost does this so-called honor come?

It’s too easy to succumb to this onslaught and get caught up in all the finger-pointing and ideological blame-gaming—it’s so much easier to control and subjugate a people divided. But this isn’t intended to be a screed, a diatribe, or even a jeremiad. No, I’m here to talk about simplicity in its most basic form—local food. Continue reading

Solutions Trump Systems

How do we get things done? If our vaunted systems are in various stages of failure and even collapse, then it’s time we found a new way or perhaps, considered some of the old ways that are tested and true, but somehow, we’ve forgotten them—mainly because they aren’t sexy and don’t require a Ph.D. to implement. Sometimes I call it looking “back to the future.”

If we’ve reached the outer limits of growth—and I believe that we have—then what is our way forward? Economic development and a growth at all costs mentality will only take you so far. Look around at the great unwinding of the past 40 years and know that we haven’t been able to grow our way out of our troubles. Continue reading

Having a Vision

Community spirit might be battered and bruised in many places; there are some where that spirit of place is on life support. Then, there are those towns where the locals recognize that the solution won’t be coming from anywhere else but from within.

I was in Rangeley Wednesday night for a Community Visioning hosted by Rangeley Health and Wellness. On a very quiet night in the middle of the region’s sleepiest month, more than 100 townspeople turned out to say what were the most important things their community needs to consider. Continue reading

Driving Down East

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Friday night, we were headed north on Route 1, our destination Down East and Machias. Miss Mary said she wanted to spend the weekend walking beaches she remembered from days past, gathering rocks, and spending a few days away. I love an impromptu road trip and being mobile as much as anyone, so I needed little persuasion when it was mentioned two weeks ago. Continue reading