Unexpected Souvenirs

Two years ago, I wandered from a laundromat in Southwest Harbor, Maine, into an adjoining bar I’d been avoiding for the past hour. It was mid-day, a rainy one at that (actually, the rain was partly what had brought us to the laundromat), and the sounds emanating from the bar were a loud mix of music, television, and voices. It didn’t seem like the type of place I really wanted to wander into in the middle of the day, but I really needed to use the restroom.

So, while Chris waited with the laundry-in-progress, I hesitantly walked through the divide. It ended up being possibly the best decision either of us had made all day.

As I said, the day was a rainy one, and we’d spent the first half of it hiking. Chalk this day up on the list of “walks gone awry.” We’d begun near Sand Beach on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island, scaling Beehive Cliffs in a fog that had rapidly moved in, an unsettling experience of moving steadily upward with no sense of what was around us.

The Beehive
The Beehive. You can spot a few people climbing it, mostly clustered at the bottom, but also a guy in a white shirt higher up.
Where did everything go?
Where did everything go?

We continued on, spending a delightful, if cloudy, half hour or so at the Bowl, a glacial lake. As we left the Bowl and it began to rain, we had a choice to make: head back, or continue toward Gorham Mountain Trail. Some hikers around us headed back toward the beach, but we had heard great things about the views of the Atlantic from atop Gorham Mountain. We must have forgotten the fog we experienced on the way up Beehive, because we continued on in pursuit of the views.

There was, perhaps, one bit of a foggy view somewhere along the way, but mostly I remember downpour and a lanky teen with a Southern accent who, in passing us at the summit, looked at us and gravely said, “It warn’t worth it, were it?” No, it warn’t.

Best view of the day.

Following our descent and change into dry clothes in one of the beach changing rooms, we decided it was time for food, beer, and, eventually, laundry. We landed first at a small Irish pub whose bartender was engaged in a game of Dungeons & Dragons with several patrons. Though playing quiet observer to this was its own sort of bizarre entertainment, we moved on after about an hour, stopping at an brewery only long enough to decide it was too crowded in its attempts to be trendy, and finally ending up at the Village Washtub in Southwest Harbor. We were overjoyed at the idea of clean, dry clothes.

But the laundry took an inexplicably long time, or at least it felt that way, and the beer I’d had with some wings at the Irish pub had caught up with me. I had no choice but to go in search of a restroom in what sounded like a seedy dive bar next door.*

*I need to reiterate: this was not only next door, it was attached. I walked from inside the laundromat to inside the bar.

Several card players seated around a circular table greeted me as I made my way to the restroom in the back. On my return trip, I observed friendly people, baseball games on the tv, and a relaxed, casual vibe. It turned out this was just what we needed to recover from a morning of “warn’t worth it.”

This was our first camping trip of more than two nights (okay, it was still only five nights, but hey, that was a big deal at the time!), and we were mid-way through. We’d been hot, sticky, sunburned, covered in sun lotion (not enough!) and bug spray, and rained on, and although we weren’t yet cleaned up (rain counts, though, right?), the bar was clean and dry – oh yeah, and indoors.

As opposed to... not indoors.
As opposed to… not indoors.

We enjoyed some Sam Summers as our laundry finished, and then enjoyed a few more, happy to watch baseball, chat with the bartender, who happened to know an incredible amount about how to play and win the triangle peg game, and just relax for a few hours.

I walked away from the afternoon with nothing tangible gained, and was several dollars poorer, but without a doubt these few hours rank high on my list of unexpected souvenirs from that trip.

In the introduction to the 2011 The Best American Travel Writing, part of The Best American series, Sloane Crosley writes, “This is why we travel… We travel to discover what we don’t know, to get away from what we know too well. We seek out the unexpected. That’s the deal we made when we asked our neighbors to take in the mail and headed for the airport… With so much thorough planning, so many suggested trip highlights and firsthand accounts available at our fingertips, the unexpected is of greater value than ever. It’s a pure shot of experience.”

I wrote in my previous post about my bad habit of over-planning, and, well, I’m a teacher; I can’t help it. I plan and over-plan. But Crosley’s right; those unexpected moments surely are the best souvenirs of any outing. Sometimes they’re accompanied by tangible objects, such as the David Walburn cd I’ve listened to nearly on loop since last August, after I heard him sing at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. Some of them exist as photographs or notes jotted on a piece of scrap paper. Some of them are just fragments of image caught in memory. And some of them are served with a cold pint of beer at the local laundromat bar.

Southwest Harbor
Southwest Harbor

In case you’re interested, Joey’s Place is the bar attached to the Village Laundromat in Southwest Harbor, Maine.


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