I am grateful the universe guided my way to Maine for summer. There are a lot of locations for jetsam to wash ashore but Portland sure resulted in as serendipitous a coast as any to land. A reserved melancholic state filled with boundless Subarus and massive white pine forest, where I could spend my summer frolicking about in nature, or so I thought. As I soon discovered je ne sais quoi, it was a state of ‘Maniacs’ who know much less about survival in the bush and much more about fine cuisine and craft beers. I was in the right place; there are no mistakes in life.
More on Maine in a minute, but first an update on the wags from Queens, NYC: Bart and his pious compatriots in Pennsylvania (owners of the Hilton Garden Inn at JFK, NYC) provided round two of comedic relief after their abhorrent treatment of me at their hotel while stranded poor and homeless in NYC. As if their first response to asking me to leave their hotel, under a discriminatory (non-existent) 14 day stay policy, was not humorous enough, the second reply through their attorney wins the ‘almost Darwin’ medal of honor, a world-class pisser.
In my second week at the hotel from hell, while attempting to transfer from the toilet to my wheelchair, the grab-bar I was using for support broke off from the wall, leaving me to find support on a hard tile floor. Their lawyer, in his greatest vomit of jester twaddle, attempting to make me look bad, as vacuous his basis and unsound his argument, however sophomoric and ill-prepared his research and statement, replied to the NY State AG’s complaint by insinuating: 1. It was a made-up story; 2. It was revenge against their ‘raved about’ General Manager, Tracy Kass; and 3. I intentionally caused the grab-bar to break off from the wall. Bartholomew, please send me a package of what your Lancaster crew feeds you for breakfast – evidently reality changing.
It is hard to believe such saints still exist in this world but notwithstanding their holiness, I will address these delusional saboteur swines who treat loyal Hilton customers like trash then cower and hide behind a half-assed inept lawyer who I would not hire to defend my trespass dog. Allow me to pull back the curtain for you: 1. Your hotel clearly partakes in discriminatory practices – easily verified through other guests; and 2. I could have called an ambulance, sued and definitely walked with a settlement, akin to your ilk – but I did not, I chose the high road. To what end?!
None of your attorney’s baseless accusations are worthy a reply except only to rebut: 1. Permit me take away the function and operation of your legs and see how well you can stand up to pull a screwed-in bar, almost one meter above the floor, from the wall and 2. You first could start off by complying with Federal ADA and NY State bathroom building code(s) – your grab-bar was not mounted to wall studs. It was anchored into sheetrock, unable to handle load – sure to get you multiple city infractions upon [further] inspection; and assuredly, possible future litigation.
Hilton Honors has still yet to sufficiently address the situation or provide an adequate reply. They recently reported earnings to Wall Street, Q2 77% revenue decline. As well, Hilton has had to close 1000 hotels and has experienced a 56% decline in room revenue resulting from Covid-19. And this is how you respond to true-blue customers – silence? What are you so busy doing that customer service has fallen off the radar? One might think they would choose to treat their Diamond members a teensy-weensy better – but do not hold your breath. J.W. awaits my return.
As I mentioned in my first blog concerning being stuck in NYC under Covid-19 crisis, it did not take long in the car before my attitude and energy were on the rise. As my good friend Elena drove out of NYC, up Interstate 95 towards Maine, the excitement of visiting The Pine Tree State was palpable. We arrived into Portland later than expected. George at the Black Elephant Hostel was gracious enough to provide me an emergency number I could call to be let in. Safely ensconced by the cozy fire, cup of tea in hand, I was where I needed to be. Puff, puff, pass.
For the next eight days my home was the Black Elephant Hostel, a boutique hostel with a bohemian savoir-faire, owned and operated by a saucy local entrepreneur and former New Jersey native, previously in the horse business, Heather. George kindly reserved me a room that was ADA compliant. The bathroom in the room was exceptionally spacious, a real treat to a traveler in a wheelchair. As well, the kitchen was drafted by architects with the injured in mind; designed pragmatic and utilitarian, sunlight abound, a great place to congregate for mid-afternoon tea.
Aside from a superb kitchen you will also find a delightful general room with comfortable chairs, a table and a layout couch for a relaxing fireside chat or read and an outside patio and lawn area for joining other guests for a smoke or drink or chat. Marijuana is legal in Maine – becoming fully legal for retail sale in October, 2020. The outdoor garden seating area is a great place to meet with friends over a joint and discussion of transcendentalism. Albeit a cheeky owner, the staff, most especially George and Isabelle, was super helpful and caring, always willing to assist.
My over-confident exuberance was quickly replaced with worry and anxiety as summer housing was not panning out as originally thought. Housing is at a minimum in Portland. Real estate well over priced, is in a bubble. A few places did become available but then quickly turned south as one informed me the roommate no longer wanted me as a roommate (only after informed about my injury) and the other did not want my wheelchair banging up his thirty thousand dollars in new upgrades to his double-wide trailer. Anyway, probably prudent I do not appear on Springer.
Was coming to Maine the right choice? Of late, with housing options once again slipping out of reach, and money a wee bit short, it appeared inexorably I had placed myself in a worse off situation than in NYC. In spite of all successive otherwise invincible obstacles, I remained overly brimming with bold perseverance and infinite hope. What would I do now? Where would I go, sleep? Staying in a hostel was surely not the answer. It was expensive; not a long term solution.
After receiving some unsolicited compassionate help from a few friends, I was able to get a room at the local Hilton in order to reassess the situation and come up with a new plan. It soon became clear that I was in need of additional assistance; I had just become poor and homeless in Maine. It is similar to being poor and homeless in NYC but surrounded with more congenial people and prettier scenery. After five torturous days of having no-where to sleep I was ready to give up.
However, something deep inside told me it would be ok, that this unfortunate situation too shall pass. As if the universe was testing me to make sure I truly had given up control of the wheel of life. The lesson(s) must always be worked through and understood before one can advance past the incessant hurdles of life onto increased mental capacity and psychological resolve. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind: One first must pass through darkness before they can enter into the light; it is a journey, not something you can order up from the fast-food universe. There is no free ice cream in the world – all is well-earned, graced upon you – endowed by your higher-self.
The Vedic astrology reading, a gift from Sunita, I had from Nepal in June was coming true: I was warned I would face four months of hardship, having to rely on others for my survival: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life – only to emerge into the shining light whence soon thereafter. So I was now in the thick of the fight, in the middle of battle. As it turned out I did not qualify for any general assistance in Maine. Apparently the $178 in my checking account was not broke enough. The YMCA manager was able to find me a room but sharing one bathroom with forty other men on one floor, with my injury’s requirements, and its high costs, would not have been feasible.
After two weeks of being bounced around Portland like a pachinko ball in a Tokyo parlor it was time to give in and stay at a hotel. Portland is not a cheap city for lodging – and already suffers from a housing shortage. The manager at the Hilton did not want me to leave to another Hilton branded property for an extended stay so he offered me an amazeballs daily rate [to stay at his location]. It ended up being cheaper to stay there per night than the local hostel. I gladly accepted the deal. Vernon, Tim, Gudrun, Stephanie, Les, Al, Seonye and all staff were absolutely first-rate.
Once settled in and feeling a bit of wanderlust, it was time to explore what Maine had to offer. The most northeastern U.S. State sated with stunning ocean and lakes, craggy rocky coastline, limitless verdant forest, winding mountains and rivers, marvelous lighthouses and ripe maritime history, it is an outdoor wonderland – loaded with supernatural beauty at every new rocky cove. Our day trip to Sebago Lake with Joe, our new friend from Park Slope, Brooklyn, whom we met in the local hostel, was a proper introduction to the outdoor allure and natural grandeur of Maine.
One day Elena decided to take me on a road trip, a magic trail replete with drinks, food and breathtaking panorama. We ventured north 160 km to Camden, famous for its high mountainous peek, scenic vistas and gorgeous views of the harbor and surrounding landscape. We had stopped on our way into town at a local oyster farm, and along with the healthy snacks, pita and hummus Elena packed, we had ourselves a smorgasbord atop the hill, whilst the sun set over the harbor. After some mouthwatering local seafood and delish beers in town, we were off back to Portland.
One weekend an old friend, Sunita, from Boston, visited with her daughter Hazel. It was a typical summer day in Maine, bright azure sky overflowing with cotton-ball clouds, awaiting outdoor exploration. We ventured to the Head Light Lighthouse, just across Casco Bay at Fort Williams Park. There was a local restaurant’s lobster roll stand just up the hill – wow. No doubt I agree that roadside stands serve the best rolls in Maine. On another day we visited Old Orchard Beach and all its tourist fanfare. On our way home we stopped at Bayley’s Seafood for their NE Clam Chowder and a shrimp roll; also stopping at Clambake Seafood Restaurant for locally fried Maine clams. The best “Clam Chowda” and tastiest fried clams I ever savored, respectively.
A new friend, Rita, from Brasil, the following weekend, invited me out for lobster rolls and oysters. We decided to spend the day at Pine Point, a breezy back-bay sand-grass filled marshy delight where delectable food and drink are served at any number of “famous” restaurants. We settled for the local empire of Bayley’s – this time visiting their Pound Shack, on the water. Social distancing in place, masks off, it was a splendid day of hoppy IPAs, freshly shucked oysters with briny liquor and spicy peel-n-eat shrimp. Next we plan to meet in Rio de Janeiro.
The list of out-of-this-world foodstuffs, pioneered by distinctive carpet-bagging restaurateurs with all the right ingredients to make your taste buds pop with excitement, is inexhaustible. The square pizza at Slab Sicilian Street Food is one of a kind, worthy of review. The Thirsty Pig has the most unique menu of house-made hot dogs [with toppings] and sausages, paired with local beers. After sampling lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Camden, the lighthouse stand, High Roller, Bayley’s, and one upscale restaurant, Scales, the best was High Roller in downtown Portland.
The local bar scene is as bustling as the food scene, with many locations sharing both honors. The East Bayside district of Portland, with its old emptied-out capacious industrial warehouses and expansive lots, has been turned into an extensive neighborhood of eclectic flavorful micro-breweries. Kris and Marty AKA baby tiger (his 14 yr old Shiatsu) visited one Saturday from New Hampshire. We selected Austin Street Brewery – perfect for sitting outdoor with friends. We ended up pairing with Sarah and Gabe, on their second date, which were sitting at the table next to ours. Later we met Miguel at Rosie’s Restaurant and Pub, where food and drink is served late into the night. And in a town where most places close at 9pm, it is a refreshing godsend.
If ever there was a place to be stuck for the summer, Maine wins the award. Portland has quickly moved onto the top three list of my favorite small US cities for food and beer. A charming and enchanting town, filled with a mix of artistic and liberal personalities, a feeling of unrestricted freedom to expand inside & outside the self, packed with an endless number of satiated artisanal restaurants and drinking establishments, it is certainly a place to visit with an open stomach and heart – without fail, both will be better off after a short visit. They will thank you tremendously.
With Europe unquestionably now in the rearview mirror, as the world is mired in a continuing international health and economic crisis, it begets the million dollar question: where off to next?
CLICK HERE for PART I of Covid-19 story: Stranded in NYC, JFK.
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