Plenty of fantastic stories start in medias res. The main character finds herself amid peak chaos, spewing off the classic “So, how did I get here?” line before the tape rewinds, or the next chapter is titled “Three Years Earlier.” You get the idea.
This story doesn’t need to start in the middle. The beginning actually does a great job encapsulating peak chaos.
It was a lonely Friday night in Charlotte, North Carolina. Having missed a connecting flight by just 20 minutes, I was unable to secure another flight to my final destination, Portland, unless I felt like waiting in an uncomfortable airport chair until 7am the following morning. I was told by an American Airlines representative I could board an early flight to Miami. Thank you, American Airlines, for granting me the ability to fly from the most southern point of the country to one of the most northern cities. Unfortunately, American Airlines had already used up more patience than I had on hand. I snagged the last seat on a plane back to Atlanta. All in one gruesome evening, I’d travelled from Atlanta to Charlotte to Atlanta again.
There were tears. There were curses. But God forbid American Airlines show me any sort of convenience or relief.
The next morning, I made the decision to make it to Portland. Jake, my “special friend” from the Miami post (who has since been upgraded to the status of “boyfriend”), has been living in Portland for a summer internship. He had been planning my visit since the day he landed this job. I had no choice but to make it there, both of our sanities on the line.
I needed to hunt down a direct flight, though. After Friday’s nightmare series of events, connecting trips would no longer ever be an option for me, unless absolutely necessary (at this point I will also be pointing another finger at American Airlines, whose services will never be recommended or spoken highly of by this traveler for the rest of her days). I was able to secure an evening flight with Frontier, booked a hotel for three nights and kept my luggage – packed from the previous day – untouched.
Whilst at my gate, the flight then proceeded to get delayed… twice. Nevertheless, I made it to Portland late Saturday night. Jake was more than ready for my arrival.
He picked me up in his recently obtained black Ford Bronco, which still had the new car smell, to my delight. Unfortunately, it was too dark and I had a pulsing dehydration/stress headache, so I was unable to really take in my surroundings on this initial drive.
After snacking on some goldfish, I passed out on a surprisingly soft Hampton Inn mattress.
The next morning, I woke up relieved to be where I had intended to be the day before. Our Sunday was the new Saturday. I had shifted and extended my itinerary by a couple days to accommodate for the mess brought onto me by weather and disorganization. Ah, the things we do for young love.
Our hotel was located only ten minutes from the city. Sunday was slightly rainy, but my expectations were so beyond low at that point that I had nothing to complain about.
The first place that Jake took me was a Belgian-style sandwich shop called Duckfat. It was a classic Jake gem. They had a nice outdoor seating area established under a large tent, made cozy by the addition of turf and wooden picnic tables of various sizes. Opening time was 11am, and the staff refused to sit anyone in line before 10:59:59am, despite only three umbrellas available to cover a growing crowd from the crying sky.
When 11am struck, Jake and I sat at a two-person picnic table and began to discuss our plan in healing our growling stomachs. We ordered the shishito peppers, fries with a flight of sauces and split a cubano sandwich. The peppers? Fantastic. Most of our lunchtime consisted of ranking the flight of sauces in order from best to worse. I think Jake and I agreed the spicier flavors ranked at the top. The cubano was okay. If it did not consist of so much mustard, perhaps I would think more highly of it.
After Duckfat, we explored a nearby Seaweed shop. My inner mermaid was beaming at this all-things-seaweed place. We bought matching silicone cups to remember the joy of the experience and grabbed ourselves some free samples of seaweed tea on the way out. A note on seaweed tea: a few sips does the trick just fine.
It was still cloudy out, but Jake was determined to show me the beach. We drove to a spot near the water, supposedly located near a dog beach and walked before the edge where the parking lot meets the sand to watch the boats. After taking in the environment, we drove to a point overlooking even bigger boats. We debated over our favorite ones. Ultimately, we agreed the second largest one was by far our favorite, as it wasn’t as obnoxiously big as the gigantic blue one next to it, but it was cleaner and structured better than the smaller of the three we reviewed.
Then, we drove to a parking lot near a spot where we could walk around and shop. We ate gelato from Gelato Fiasco (possibly the best gelato I’ve ever had, and that means something considering the time I’ve spent in Italy). We caroused through various souvenir shops, trying on tie-dye bucket hats and overpriced sweaters. I purchased an anchor-shaped chew toys for my puppies. Before heading back to the seagull-infested parking lot, Jake pointed out the spot we were booked to have dinner at later that evening.
Jake then drove us past his office, showing me the location he has spent the majority of his time the past couple of months. He then made sure to point out the Whole Foods he goes to on the way back to the University of Southern Maine dormitory where he resides post-work. I am not sure the type of adolescents that choose to attend this small Northeastern university, but it was definitely fascinating wondering about their lifestyles. Someone in Jake’s hall was absolutely obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons. Flyers regarding a Dungeons and Dragons club polluted every wall in the vicinity. I told him to go and see if he could make some friends. His room was located at the very end of the fourth (fifth?) floor. He gathered some things he had forgotten to bring to the hotel. We didn’t stay too long. The building reminded me of my times spent in USC’s Village apartments.
Before returning to the city, we stopped by an Ulta so I could show Jake this fragrance I wanted him to get (I’m incredibly scent-sensitive – making sure my man smells nice is a necessity). Pretty sure this was Jake’s first time in a beauty store, and he took it like a champ. We played around with the different perfumes and colognes until we discovered one that outshined the rest. Mont Blanc, congratulations on winning at aroma.
After this charming bonding experience, we headed back to Portland to go bowling. Unfortunately, every alley was packed full. The man at the front told us to expect a two and a half hour wait. No thanks.
We moved our visit to the oyster shack (The Shop by Island Creek Oysters) near Jake’s office down to earlier in the Sunday schedule. After a minuscule debacle (Jake wanted to order more of his favorite type of oyster, I was determined to try one of each) we ordered two of each type of oyster on the menu. Thank God we did this, because my favorite turned out to not be the same as his.
Following our oyster feast, we headed back to the hotel to watch the funniest show in the entire world (Never Have I Ever on Netflix) before assembling for dinner.
Although I am still unsure of his reasoning, Jake decided to request seats at the bar for our Via Vecchia reservations. I will cut him some slack, though, considering the number of times this reservation had been forced to be pushed back. I ordered red wine, clams and the Malloreddus – a dish with red pepper fonduta, stracciatella, oregano breadcrumbs and basil. Jake got their linguine. We split spinach ratatouille on the side, which actually turned out to be my favorite fare of the entire course. In chatting it up with the bartender, we learned about life as a longterm Portland resident. She spoke so fast that we barely had time to interject with our responses. However, this sort of rudeness was overlooked by the finishing cocktails she prepared for us once our food plates had been removed from the bar. I returned to the hotel with Jake happy, full and slightly buzzed. That night was the most fun I had had in a while.
Early Monday morning, Jake left me at the hotel for his internship. I was able to work for my own internship remotely, so I wasn’t left bored the entire time he was at the office. I ordered lunch from Tropical Smoothie Cafe in an attempt to be healthy. Thankfully, I was just finishing up my assignments when Jake made it back from the office. We then headed out for dinner at Portland Lobster Company, perhaps the most important visit of my entire trip.
I was pretty hangry at this point, so my loving boyfriend graciously ordered us additional side dishes. After waiting for 15 minutes, we were served two lobster rolls (on toasted bread, apparently that’s the only way to do it right), clam chowder, fried calamari, corn on the cob, and lobster mac-n-cheese. My mouth is watering just typing about it. First I tried the clam chowder. There’s something so calming about chowder, I could eat it everyday if I needed to. Then I dabbled in the mac. The spiral noodles were buttery, cheesy and hefty. We would’ve been fine with a much smaller bowl than such a massive plate. Jake might’ve not realized, but I also was competing with him in regards who could finish the corn the fastest. I won with a bare cob after approximately two minutes. I don’t think he ever even finished his.
Then, there was the lobster roll in front of me.
Served in a paper hot dog tray alongside a lemon, coleslaw and on top of fries. My stomach is growling.
First of all, I didn’t realize the lobster would be on Raisin’ Canes style Texas toast. I thought lobster rolls were much bigger, served in something along the lines of a brioche bun. I am very glad I was wrong in this situation. I devoured my first ever lobster roll, and it was more amazing with every bite. My hanger was long gone. Yummy lobster made for a happy Grace.
On the way back to the hotel, I began to get a little sad over having to leave the next day. This sadness quickly dissipated once we stopped by the Dairy Queen drive thru. With a chocolate Blizzard in hand, country music on the radio and a handsome boy driving me around to scout out the cutest New England houses, I suddenly felt my distant dreams of living the classic small town life blooming into reality in front of my very own eyes. Even if it was only for one night (and years later), my heart was beyond content that the Universe had finally answered the prayers of a dissatisfied teenage girl, often wishing she had grown up like the peers she met at camp and college.
Tuesday morning, Jake drove me to the Portland jetway on the way to work. We hugged for a long time, but I wasn’t too sad to say goodbye. I had an amazing time and knew I would see him again soon. Plus, next time, it would not be me boarding a delayed flight (good luck, boo)! The airport was small and cute, so I had no trouble making it to my gate hours before boarding. I connected to the free wifi and got productive with my work. For lunch, I sat myself at the restaurant Shipyard, and had a delicious BBQ chicken panini. There was some sort of quibble among the staff before opening that I had overheard, since the eatery was located right behind my gate. Not sure what all that craze was about, perhaps maybe increased pressure from working at the best airport restaurant I’ve ever had.
My flight was delayed two hours due to weather. I had experienced so much disappointment up to this point that I really couldn’t muster any more. Plus, I ended up actually getting a full workday in. Pros and cons.
Eventually, the skies cleared, the runway reopened and my plane took flight. During my journey back to Atlanta, I finished up my (new favorite) book, Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller. It provided an interesting lesson on life regarding the order of things, and how even though we may not end up with the life that we expect doesn’t mean we will end up with one we don’t want. There it was, the Universe speaking at me again.
I arrived in Atlanta at around 8pm, sitting on a plane parked in the farthest gate and terminal from where I needed to be. Who knew a quick trip to Portland, Maine would tarnish a travel blogger’s view on travel so harshly. I remained patient and eventually made it home to my puppies, a chicken pot pie waiting for me.
I told my parents all about the lobster I had. My trip to Maine was a success.