About one year ago today I was thinking I was on to something great. I wasn’t.
Eleven months ago I was looking for a new job. I found several. One in particular was holding onto my heart, and despite the logistical pieces of it all, I hoped secretly it was the one that was going to come through. After the Patriots made a dramatic comeback to win the Superbowl, my wife and I boarded a plane to fly 3200 miles away to Bangor, Maine.
I know...how do you even say that city? We arrived in the morning in February to temperatures I didn’t even recognize. We grabbed our rental car and drove the hour drive to Mount Desert Island, the home of Acadia National Park. We crossed the anticlimatic bridge to the island and I scanned the horizon feverishly for every morsal of positivity I could find to hopefully convince my wife this was the right move. The job was already ours, it was just a matter of us saying “yes.” We met the hotel owner, the new President, saw the hotel, did the dinner deep dive and it even snowed. In three days we saw almost no other humans in the town of Bar Harbor. It was insanely cold, the hotel was closed and in full disarray, and 90% of the national park was closed for the winter and inaccessible. It was the hardest pitch imaginable.
In the airport in Bangor on the way back to Phoenix, I called the President of the company and told him we were taking the job. He jokes today he never thought we would say yes.
Life on an island
We came to Bar Harbor, Maine in early March. March 6th to be exact. And as it turns out, that was about the temperature too.
It's not warm here. It's windy. It's brutally cold on some days. And not "oh you just came from the desert' cold. More the "even the Mainers are bundled up like they are going to the top of Everest, not the 12 ft to the grocery store entrance." In fact, most people seem to just leave their cars running in the parking lots of stores and go in and get what they need.
But now having seen some of the winter, spring, summer and now winter again, its clear life here is more about your attitude than about the temperature. From my office in the hotel I have this beautiful view of Agamnot Park right in town on the water. As soon as a spring day peaked through the clouds and it creeped above 55 degrees, people started coming out of the stores and seemingly nowhere, to just go sit in the grass and enjoy the beautiful afternoon. As the spring progressed, I found myself texting my wife that the afternoon was supposed to be really nice, lets go see a new part of the island.
And so we would. And as the summer progressed, we took every one of those opportunities that came our way. We weren’t moving this far away from our Arizona family to sit in our houses or sit in my office. We saw a ton of the island, visited the communities, went to events, tried a lot of restaurants and all the shops. We met a lot of people. I just started walking up to people and introducing myself as, “Hi, my name is Jeremy. I just moved here from Phoenix and don’t know anyone here.” That usually sparked at least a conversation about the weather. We had family and friends visit from all over the country, all summer and into the fall, which helped greatly as both excuses to try new places, but also not feel so far removed from everyone. The move to New England has allowed us to see so much more of our family that is in upstate NY and Vermont. Now a seven hour drive away versus 60. And because of that the kids have seen their grandmother 3 times these last 10 months instead of 3 times in five years. Its a big give and take with the move, and while there certainly is some major takes (my brother and his family in AZ, Jen’s parents and friends in AZ), the gives (my parents and sisters are in New England as well as dozens of others) are helping to offset it all.
What’s Maine Like?
I’d never stepped foot in Maine before I interviewed here in February. I was from Vermont and like any self respecting New Englander, you never went to another New England state because the assumption was always, “Well, I’m from Vermont, what does Maine have that Vermont doesn’t have?”
Turns out, quite a bit and its not even all that similar. The New England spirit is the same, a collective pride in self reliance, independence and general hardiness that even when not vocalized, it’s tangible in how people talk about just about anything. Coming to Bar Harbor there is an immediate and palpable spirit of community and an immense amount of pride that people hold for the town and the island (MDI for short) in general. We could live here for 30 more years and still not be considered “locals.” People are involved, they treat people with respect (expect on Facebook but that’s pretty normal) and you get a real sense of “it takes a village” now knowning many of the families here on the island. When you go to just about any family event, it’s not just the mom’s with the kids. Almost every event you’ll find both parents there for their kids. While you can certainly find that in Arizona if you look hard enough, the neighborhood feel was always something that was missing in my 16 years in AZ. Here, we know a significant portion of the community, and it seems, they know us. “Oh, you’re the family from Arizona?” There is a certain amount of charm to that, and while eventually I’m sure seeing someone we know every time we go somewhere will lose that small town charm, for now it’s quite reassuring and leaves us with a feeling of belonging. Even if we’re not quite sure yet we do.
A few observations about the island and Maine.
There are no brands on the island besides a Circle K, one Subway and a Hannaford grocery store. Well, I actually consider that a positive. Especially the lack of a Starbucks.
There is literally ZERO traffic. The human wall of traffic in the summer is a bit much at times, but generally, it’s a breeze getting anywhere.
There is literally ZERO crime. Well, maybe not zero, but it’s pretty close. Some locals think it’s a gang riddled spot that requires National Guardsmen to be ordered in because some pumpkins were smashed on Cottage Street, but that’s small town life. It’s basically The Sandlot in the summer here. Or Gilmore Girls. Totally looks like Gilmore Girls. Not that I watch that show...
There is literally ZERO chance you’ll get a pizza delivered to our house 6 miles from Bar Harbor. Better stock up, NO delivery available.
There is not a single Taco Bell on the island. It’s a “treat” to go to Ellsworth and even that’s a KFC combo. Which we all know is not the same as a real Taco Bell.
There are no Mexican restaurants worth spending a dollar at here on the island or in a 50 mile vicinity. And that’s a brutal adjustment. In fact, I haven’t met a single Mexican since I got here. Which helps explain the challenges.
Oil is wicked expensive to heat your house and since winter is not December 21st until March 21st as that stupid calendar tries to trick you with, it’s a bit more than the wickedly expensive AC bill was in Arizona. But the winter here is just as long as the summer in AZ, so that’s pretty much a wash.
Maine has an excise tax for your vehicles along with your registration. If you own a newer vehicle, its going to hit you for around a grand to register it. Our property taxes are 33% more than in Phoenix. So that’s also not particularly fun.
But you know what is?
We live in one of the most beautiful places on planet earth. Literally and without an ounce of sarcasm or exaggeration. We were so fortunate to find a great home right in the middle of the island and in the town of Bar Harbor. I have a 10 minute commute to work, and am able to take Dean to school each day as it’s a couple blocks from the hotel. When he is older, he could literally just walk through town to the hotel after school. Our home has much more space and land than we had in Phoenix. We have a huge backyard and a forest to explore. Our first day we moved in a deer (later named Blueberry until we realized there are a billion deer here and it was a different deer every day...) stood in our lawn eating the grass. A flock of the same wild turkeys come by every morning and we have cardinals, bluebirds and all kinds of wildlife constantly in our yards. It’s incredibly peaceful and relaxing just being home.
Acadia National Park is all around us and where I run 99% of the time. It’s a wide open national park with access (trail head parking lots) in dozens and dozens of places. You just drive down the road, grab a parking spot and start from a new place. There are over 120 miles of trails over 20 some mountains carved out between inlets and sounds of the Atlantic ocean, and deep, clear lakes and ponds. You climb a 40% grade granite cliff and are granted access to a 360 degree view of the island and the park all around you. It’s remarkable and as the seasons progress, every mile is new all over again. Not once has it gotten old, and not once have I tired of any of the miles. It’s an incredible place to live and for that, I’m happy to pay the premium in taxes for the privledge to live in this community.
There are a million other incredible reasons why living here in Maine has been a positive change. None of which totally cancel out the challeges that come with leaving behind my brother, his wife Jeanine and their three awesome kids that our kids were so close with. Jen’s parents now don’t get to see their daughter and grandkids when they want and that’s difficult for everyone involved. We miss our Arizona friends greatly, and because of them we return to them in our minds in these blistering cold days in Maine or the month where it just decided to rain every day. For now though, we’re at least enjoying Maine and what it has to offer. The kids LOVE Maine, and have met so many great kids here they have become fast friends with. Dean has quite possibly the greatest Kindergarten teacher ever in Ms. Pickers, he absolutely loves going to school and for that we can only be grateful. If the school wasn’t so amazing in Bar Harbor, our entire feeling of Maine would be so much different.