This weekend was the reason we came back to America. For drive-in movies and small town parades, two-year-old’s birthday parties, farmer’s markets, road houses on the outskirts of town, terrible hot dogs, homey barbeque chicken dip dinners, and shriners. Mostly we came back for old men in tiny cars and “Oriental” haberdashery. And Moxie. You can’t forget the Moxie.
On Friday night we drove out Rt. 302, toward the Lakes Region. Our ultimate destination was Pride’s Corner Drive-In, but we were looking for a place to eat first. All the parking lots were packed with happy campers. We ended up sitting in a window seat at Gilbert’s Chowder House, between the bar and the long-haired, middle-aged guitarist, singing Willie Nelson with his eyes closed. It’s rustic and beamy and woodsy-cozy. I had haddock chowder in a bread bowl – totally great, and Malcolm had a fried platter that included haddock, shrimp and pickle chips with a ranch dip. Trashy? Hell yeah. Wonderful, also so. The bar patrons were craggy regulars and outside at picnic tables were families on vacation. The sun was shining, and there was a slight chill in the air. It was pine-and fresh-water scented all around. We used to vacation in the Catskills when we were 20, and this whole place brought me back to the sweet poverty of our early relationship.
Debating the exact arrival of dusk, we sped back toward Westbrook, so as not to miss concession and coming attractions. We paid $7 a person to the suspendered gentleman at the ticket booth, rolled into a prime spot, and tuned the radio to 88.9. As it turns out, we had about an hour until the movie was to begin, so we walked the dog around the grounds and watched more experienced drive-in goers setting up camp chairs, and spreading out sleeping bags and air mattresses in the beds of their pick-up trucks.
Within the concrete walls of the snack shack we found an array of old time candy, as well as your standard tubs of popcorn, hot dogs, ice cream novelty bars, and fountain sodas. An eccentric employee or two contributed to my delight and we tromped back to our Jeep, arms laden with frozen vanilla Charleston chew bites, one of the best candies ever, root beers, and a hot dog that I can only describe as pink and snappy. Cartoonish, like a Richard Scary character masquerading as foodstuff. Let’s all go to he lobby!
I don’t want to dedicate more than a sentence to Bad Teacher, but before I forget I should say that two movies were playing for the price of one entry. Seriously, you can’t beat that. There is just the one screen. We were hoping to catch Bridesmaids for a second viewing, but were not so lucky, as it was playing after. Bad Teacher has exactly four jokes, two of which are funny, one of which is delivered by Jason Segal (whom I have liked since he was drummer/lover Nick Andopolis on Freaks and Geeks; Cameron Diaz has long legs (and knows how to use them). I have no idea what happened in the second half of this movie. We watched the sky, took a second pass at concession, and drifted off, deciding to go home at around 10:30. Such an amazing night, despite a super-sucky movie.
Saturday morning we woke up early-ish to drive north and inland to Lisbon Falls, once home of Worombo Mill on the Androscoggin River. It’s such a beautiful old, somewhat abandoned mill town, with a patriotic population on parade. With great fortune, we found a corner spot in time to catch most of the Moxie Day Parade. We saw hobo clowns, cheerleaders, girl scouts, baton twirlers, ATV clubs, unicyclists, community band members, politicians, classic cars and old timers. It was a cross section of beautiful America and I cried during the entire procession. Kids threw candy and kids caught candy. Songs were sung and flags and babies waved. A good time was had by all, us included. Then it was time to eat.
We hustled to the food tables just as activity was winding down on Main Street, so were first in line for the $8 a person chicken dinner, which included an enormous bowl of baked beans, a scoop each of cole slaw and potato salad, a joint of barbeque chicken, and a roll with two packets of butter. We sat down to eat and people-watch under a white tent with communal tables and folding chairs. I remember going to dime-a-dip dinners at my friend’s Congregational Church Fair every summer of my childhood, and this felt so much like coming home, we were giddy. All the silly horrors you wish to escape during your teens and twenties is now the stuff we love most.
Everyone was earnest and honest, wearing orange and black t-shirts, carrying kids on their shoulders, walking thirsty dogs, drinking cans of Moxie, which tastes like Jagermeister, and enjoying the early afternoon 80 degree temperatures and a light breeze off the river. We waded through crowds to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. We hadn’t. There wasn’t much in the way of games or vendors. It was mostly about regional pride in an obscure product, a beverage which has been around since 1884, initially marketed as “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food” and was considered a panacea, mostly to treat paralysis and insomnia. This is so very good. What a summer we are having in Maine.