By sleepy Emmet
I felt like Rip Van Winkle.
It was one of those rare Maine evening suitable for al fresco dining. Archer’s restaurant on Rockland Harbor served a fine, chilled house chardonnay and Blue Eyes relaxed a little, I swear. As I watched from the restaurant deck, a cruise ship slid slowly up to the public landing. The memories came flooding back, as they so often do.
You never seem to notice change for a few decades, then they smash you in the face. I came to Rockland, penniless, more than 40 years ago and was basically fleeing compulsory insurance in Massachusetts. My first and desperate job was on the very same spot as Archer’s, Holmes Fish Packing. I brought the cooked sardines to the fish cutters and was paid whatever minimum wage was at the time.
On one grateful lunch break, I looked at the beams overhead and wondered if they would hold my suicide noose. But I lasted a week or two, enough to survive. Eventually, I landed a job (thank you, God) at the Bangor News office in Rockland. I remember I was sitting at the Salad Patch Restaurant on Main Street years later when the Holmes fish plant burned down. I celebrated the fire, I must admit. I remember, too that rival Larry Ouellette of the rival Press Herald missed the fire. Made my day.
Cruise boats were unheard of when I came to town. The Seapro fish plant in the north end processed fish waste and filled the city with the rank odor of baked vomit. I remember the Samoset hosted a meeting of state chief justices and they hired a schooner for a tour of the harbor. They set sail through a monster fish spill from SeaPro and sailed through the stench to open water. They must have been impressed.
When the fish plants closed, there was no reason for Seapro to continue. Some people mourned the closing. Not many.
Rockland never appreciated its gorgeous harbor much. Years back they used it as the town dump. Zoning was unheard of and the waterfront parcels were inhabited by a snow plow company (next to Archers), a tire company and a car wash. Imagine the fancy neighbor to the north, Camden, allowing such commerce.
Sipping my chardonnay, I scanned the harbor like Rip Van Winkle. I saw decades fall away. The fish plants and snow plow company are long gone. A pedestrian walk built by MBNA rings the harbor. Fancy restaurants have taken over. The working class Black Pearl, right across the harbor from Archer’s is now a restaurant for the one-percenters. We spent half our lives in the “Old” Pearl listening to Walter and Michael sing, throwing pocket change in lieu of applause. In self-defense they called themselves “Spare Change.” I believe the Pearl was where Blue Eyes gave it all up and fell in love with me. Probably during “La Bamba” which Michael made up the lyrics as he went along.
Man, how time flies.
We eventually got a little sailboat and timidly explored the harbor and, occasionally the open seas. The Lobster Festival always took over the harbor the first weekend in August. Now the North Atlantic Blues Festival takes its turn. I can’t keep track, but at one point Rockland had more schooners than Camden. Better harbor. More room. No fish plant.
It’s hard to believe it is the same harbor, 40 years later. I ordered a second glass of wine to celebrate the change. Naturally, I ordered the broiled haddock in honor of the old fish plant.
Cruise boats. Imagine. Even Rip Van Winkle would be amazed.