Ten years ago, I washed up in Portland, ME. A skinny kid, well...24, but I felt like a kid even then, long shaggy hair, unshaven, two-day old clothes; a true road warrior (ha! little did I know...). I checked myself into the youth hostel downtown, an old converted Best Western, dropped my stuff off and began my wander.
I do this a lot, even today. It makes me happy to wander my days alone in a strange place. I don't speak much when I'm on walkabout, just pleasantries to clerks and bartenders. I don't have any intention of meeting people. Most people go off into the anonymous world in search of sex or drugs or escape. Not me. I go because it makes me quiet, keeps me interested, feeds me these stories. I have a homeless, orphaned disposition and being alone in new places often feels more "at home" than most of my apartments.
So, I'm in Portland and I don't know a soul. Where to go? I head for the water and find a watering hole. Of course. But first, to be alone in a bar properly, you need a book. Voila! There's a used bookstore where I browse for about an hour (nothing but time to kill) and grab copies of Nabokov's Pnin and King, Queen, Knave, two pulp editions from the 60s, for less than five bucks total.
After I'm at the bar for a couple, then another bar for a couple more. Portland has wonderful microbrew-pubs. Nothing's shaking and I still have some daylight left, so I gather my small bag o' books and hit the streets. It doesn't take long to find the baseball stadium.
The Portland Seadogs are hosting the team from Augusta. Quick note: when wandering alone, it is always best to pretend that you have no money, which has never been a problem for me. It adds to the adventure. The ballgame has started, so I go up to the ticket-taker with a quick story about having to go to the car and forgot my ticket stub. I share a complicitous grin with the woman. I'm not fooling anyone (a terrible liar, I am, honest), but I have glee and innocence and mischief on my side, so I'm in! I grab a fine seat by the hometeam dugout, buy a hotdog and a Coke with the money I saved on a ticket. I even splurge for Cracker Jacks. The Seadogs (mascot: an angry seal with a baseball bat in its mouth) won 8-5. There were fireworks.
Game over, man - I head back to the hostel, belly-full and a head brimming with New England summer air. But first, I sat in an alleyway of a church and smoked a few cigarettes, gazing up the narrow brick walls that surrounded me into a clear sky, dark enough to pick out Venus and a few stars.
In the lobby, I'm making myself a complimentary cup of coffee from a giant metal urn when a guy asks me if the coffee's worth drinking. To my taste it is, but that's no guarantee. He tried it, but the coffee was too old, too bitterstrong for his taste. Plus, he had other things in mind. We talk a bit. His name was Jeff and later on, but not much later, we're in the stairwell getting high. All I had to do was pretend to like the same bands he liked. Truth be told, he got high. I just remembered. All of it. It's what I do.
The next morning, after free bagel and coffee cup full, I drive up the coast, to Bar Harbor and start another whirlwind week's of not-so-solitary adventures which will lead me back to Portland in less than seven days, where I will be asked, by a uniformed security guard, to never ever return to the Portland/Best Western youth hostel again.