11th May 2008 – Bar Harbor, ME

View of Bar Harbor Maine Image

We awoke to a lovely sunny day so we decided to do a nice touristy activity and went on a boat cruise around Frenchman Bay, learning about eider ducks (the feathers of which are used for eiderdowns), the 4.2 Richter Scale earthquake that hit the area, the expensive homes on the shores, and guillemots (a close relation to the penguin).

We also learnt from the on-board guide that if one was to set out in a south-easterly direction from Bar Harbor and sail over open ocean for 10,000 miles, they would end up in South Australia.

This last “fact” is clearly bullshit because it assumes that the continent of Africa, which you would crash into somewhere along the west coast, doesn’t exist. The moral of this story is this: Just because you’ve never heard of something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Another reasonably interesting fact that the guide told us, and one that I’m more inclined to believe, was that we were due west from Bordeaux in the south of France, and when the arrogant, bearded French navigator Samuel de Champlain sailed across to America he expected to meet similar weather conditions to those back home. Unfortunately, the Gulf Stream doesn’t operate that far up the coast and many of his crew died from the cold.

Just off the coast of Bar Harbor is a little atoll called Bar Island, which can be reached at low tide during a 3 hour window every day. On one occasion, some guys drove their jeep over to the island but stayed too long and couldn’t drive back across to the main island.

They had to remain there until 2 a.m. the following morning when the next low tide occurred. Unfortunately they were then arrested by police because people are not permitted to stay on the island overnight, regardless of the reason.

After our enlightening boat cruise, we returned to shore and went for some rather expensive food at the Route 66 restaurant, where a Dom Joly look-a-like served me half a chicken and Mass a steak. He told us that our next destination, Portland, further down the coast, had a good downtown area and a huge mall, and he recommended some cheapish motels close to the action. Portland is rated 38th on that list of Maine’s best cities, by the way.

We then proceeded to instantly forget everything he had just told us because we had food to think about instead.

After eating, we walked on to a place called Steak & Grill Restaurant Bar, situated on the seafront, where we drank beer and were even bought beer and some shots by a guy called Timmy who we hadn’t even spoken to all night! He had just overheard that we were British and rightly assumed that we would like to get drunk on free alcohol. It’s assumptions like that which make America great.

American bars are very social places. Most people tend to sit on barstools around the bar itself, and are always receptive to conversation. They are very much the antithesis of UK bars where people very much like to find a quiet corner to sit with a group of friends.

In America, people will go to bars on their own in order to find company. As much as Mass and I appreciate the character and history of British pubs, which American bars can’t even get close to, when you are away from home, you want to meet people, so the American setup sits very well with us. American bars are also great places to get bought free drinks, which sits even better with us.

In this particular bar we got talking to an ignorant woman from North Carolina, who didn’t seem aware that her home state had just been hit by some terrible storms. She asked us what language we spoke in the UK, which was made even more surprising by the fact that she claimed to have actually visited the UK!

A slightly more educated chap was the New York cop from Queens. He had been in the force for 17 years and he told us that when a policeman has worked the beat for 20 years he can retire. He started at the age of 22 and would get a half-wage pension in 3 years time. Disappointingly he had never once shot anyone, or been shot at himself, but he did look like Ben Stiller, so maybe he arrested criminals with really bad humour.

Afterwards we headed to a pub called The Dog and Pony, which, according to an old guy we met, was so named because it used to have a resident dog named Pony. Anyway, it sucked. Mass tried to chat up a girl who had two dogs with her (of the animal variety, not ugly mates). He did this by telling her that she wasn’t providing the animals with enough food or water. Apparently this didn’t work and only made the girl angry.

While Mass was making people angry by throwing wild accusations around, I had the misfortune to find myself chatting to a big drunk guy who had visited Thailand. He told me he had met people from South London there, as if it was the biggest revelation of all time. He probably wasn’t half as surprised as the people from South London were to find an American outside America, though.

He also informed me that it had taken him 50 hours to get to Thailand because he had gone via 12 airports, including Bangor, Alaska, Florida and various other places in the U.S.! It was a thoroughly pointless and uninteresting conversation and the guy looked like Fred Durst.

I don’t know what time we left the bar but we were happy to get back to the motel and find a really bad 80s movie to watch on TV.

Mark Jackman is one half of the Jackman Brothers, who have written a trilogy of humour books set in the fictional town of Old Liston. He has also written a number of travel diaries, including the Mass and Peahead series about his road trips through America with his buddy Mass.