Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shelly Sells Hotdogs Down by the Seashore

I've lost track of Shelly during the cold of the winter. We kept making plans to have dinner, but then kept cancelling because of heavy snow or other personal plans.

The Eastern Promenade is a quarter mile path originating in the Old Port of Portland. The walking/biking paved way follows the shoreline with views of the islands in Casco Bay on the right. On the left is the tourist narrow-gauge railroad so popular with families. Eastern Prom ends at a boat launch, public restrooms, a long sandy beach, and Shelly's Hotdog cart.

I met Michelle last summer on the "prom" where Portland folks go to get intimate with the brisk ocean waters. I was unemployed and could spend the hours between job searching enjoying watching sailboats on Casco Bay and talking to the "hot dog lady". Shelly, an immensely affable personality, teaches special education youngsters during the school year, and sells dogs and lemonade when the weather is nice. Sizzling hotdogs smell like heaven when you are at the beach. Her speciality is vegetarian dogs (she eats no meat), but serves up several traditional choices like Nathan's and Polish Sausages.

I drove by this last weekend to see how the start of the tourist season was progressing to find the hot dog cart inundated with customers so I didn't stop. Besides serving tourists, Shelly enjoys meeting all the locals. Her picnic table overlooking the water with scores of criss-crossing tiny sailboats from the sailing school is a natural gathering spot to learn the most current happenings around town.

Be sure to stop by when you visit Portland, Maine's biggest little city.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wife Died, Closing at Noon

Walked into town yesterday to find the cheapest haircut around. This old man has been cutting hair in the Old Port for something like 50 years as the article read in the Portland Press Herald. He specializes in haircuts for seniors, but I assume he'll do anybody's hair who would trust him. His price is $8 for seniors and $10 for everybody else. I assumed I would get a standard "senior cut" even if I was paying the non-senior price.

I arrived around 9 AM to find only one white-haired gentleman in the chair, so I would be next. His haircut was really short and I wondered if this was the "standard".

The shop looked like the ones my dad took me to when I was 8. The barber wore a pure white smock and thin beige slacks. The tiny TV on a high shelf droned a low-key morning talk show that nobody listened to or watched. Newspaper clippings taped to the full-wall mirror spoke of local interest. The one I could see most clearly was the article about his shop and a picture of the inside of the shop. There was a porcelain comb-tub with sanitizing solution sitting on the long self that read "Sani-Aid". He used a freshly ironed neck towel, fastened it with a real safety pin and placed a cloth drape over my shoulders; a real contrast to the usual white tissue paper wrapped around your neck held in place by a plastic drop cloth. Afterword he opened a large hopper in the cabinet and threw my used towel in with the others used that day.
As I was waiting, the phone rang and the barber told the caller he was closing at noon. It was a long conversation and it ended by his declaring, "If you aren't here by noon, I'll be gone". After hanging up, the barber said to nobody in particular, "she sure can talk" and "It's not necessary to talk so long for such a simple question".

The patron in the chair, having listened to his phone conversation, asked if he was going somewhere and he replied in a rather matter-of-fact tone "My wife died and they're having a wake or something".

Other than asking if I wanted a "trim", my haircut was a silent affair and turned out really well.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shoulder Season in Maine

In tourism lingo, the "Shoulder Season" is the travel season between high and low seasons. Typically it is April, May and September, October. This is when transportation and lodging is not as highly priced as summer and only a little higher than winter. It is a great time to travel because fewer tourists travel during this period, yet weather in most places is fine.

In Maine this means seasonal businesses are open (restaurants, parks, preserves, and shops) yet the crush of visitors has not yet inundated the state. Cruise ships have yet to dock in our scenic ports and attractions do not yet have parking lots full of tour buses.

Case in point is demonstrated by my walk last Sunday with a friend through the Crescent Beach State Park outside Portland. Though the parking lot is still closed, visitors can park along the entrance and walk in to an unspoiled (and lightly used) beach. If one turns off the main access road a nicely graded path leads through towering pines that sway and whisper if the wind is blowing. After a short stroll the path breaks out into a large green meadow lined with berry bushes and soon the Atlantic can be seen before coming to the meadows edge and one of Maine's famous rocky coastline scenes. Walking along the coast one sees summer houses across the inlet and lobster buoys in the bay. Reaching Crescent Beach affords the opportunity to comb the sandy beach for shells and remnants of sea life that has washed up from the last storm. From the beach one returns to the parked car via the access road feeling invigorated and appreciative of not encountering scads of beach goers. The whole walk takes less than an hour and is worth every minute.

Maine's largest industry is tourism and of course the height of the season is during the fall foliage in late October. Last year no less than 48 cruise ships docked in Portland alone unleashing up to 3,000 tourists at a time on the town and surrounding area. Buses transport them all over the area and even up to the L.L. Bean factory store in Freeport.

Come early and avoid the crowds!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sick in Europe? Don't Go to the ER!

I ran across this informative letter sent to Rick Steves about what to do if you fall ill in Europe:
Sick in Europe? Avoid the ER!

Fritz Hutmacher, who manages a hotel and B&B in Switzerland, has good advice for what to do (and not do) if you need medical attention during your vacation. Although he writes about Switzerland, his advice is generally true no matter where you may find yourself — not doing so well — in Europe.

Dear Rick,
As an hotelier I am all too familiar with the situation in which a guest feels the need to consult a doctor. In spite of advice to the contrary, we have observed that these travelers would far rather go straight to a hospital's Accident and Emergency department than simply consult a local doctor. Later, the somewhat shocked hotel guest shows me the bill; and I am not surprised to see that treatment for granddad's common cold or the child's diarrhea has cost 300-500 Swiss Francs ($250-$450). Generally, they have wasted two to six hours hanging around in A&E (what you call the ER) waiting for the lab results and diagnosis, their wait further extended by genuine emergencies, and the financial pain magnified by the unnecessary use of an expensive service.

If you find yourself in Switzerland anywhere near an average-sized town, there will be a GP and/or a pharmacy with a 24-hour out-of-hours service. The details are published in the local newspaper. If you need medical attention, ask your host to look up the details, or phone telephone directory enquiries on 1818.

GPs are very familiar with tourists' medical problems, and I never cease to be amazed at how quickly they will see a patient. ("Can you be at my surgery in half an hour?"). Patients are examined expertly and speedily, with an immediate diagnosis and very often the necessary medication on the spot, or a prescription for the pharmacy. If the patient needs to go into hospital, the doctor will make the arrangements. The cost of consulting a GP is generally in the range of 60 to 100 Francs ($50-$85) plus the medication. Since I took on management of the Hotel Lötschberg and Susi's B&B, not a single person has complained about an expensive doctor's bill.

Check List
1. What do you need? Do you need a doctor, or will it be sufficient to speak to a pharmacist? In Europe, pharmacists can often dispense "prescription" drugs (and excellent advice) directly, without a doctor's order. When going into a pharmacy, it is important you ask to speak to the pharmacist (German: 'Apotheker'), and not simply a shop assistant.

2. If you need a doctor, ask your hotel's receptionist for the "duty emergency doctor's" phone number (German: 'Notfallarzt'), or phone 1818 and ask for the phone number of the duty emergency doctor. Better still, ask the receptionist to make the call for you and arrange for an appointment. Ask the receptionist to write down the doctor's name, address and telephone number. The taxi driver will then have an easy job to get you there.

3. If you are already taking prescription drugs, take them with you, together with some cash or a credit card. On the way back to the hotel, ask the taxi driver if the pharmacy is en route and could make a stop there.

4. If you do not speak the language, take somebody with you who could interpret (usually not necessary in Western Europe, where doctors speak English). Important: leave the rest of your family in the hotel or apartment; they will just get in the way and slow things down!

5. Collect and save all bills and receipts for later submission to your health insurance back home.
There are many very different types of health insurance arrangements and health care phone numbers throughout Europe. The best way to find out about arrangements in places you are visiting is to ask at your hotel's reception desk. Always make sure you are speaking with a 'local' person, and not a visiting foreign apprentice or trainee.

Follow this advice, and you'll save valuable time and money during your European holiday!
Have a happy holiday,
Fritz HutmacherHotel Lötschberg & Susi's B&B Interlaken, Switzerland

Friday, May 1, 2009

My New Recliner - Best Friend/Worst Enemy

I have purchased a new couch and recliner for the new digs in Portland. The couch is nice, but I knew this scenario would happen with the recliner. I prepare dinner and eat in the recliner while watching TV. After eating, I put up the footrest and continue watching TV and in no time at all I fall into unconsciousness. It feels like a floatation device and if I recline the back, I can breath deeper accelerating my fall down the rabbit hole toward dark, floating never-never land.

Last evening while dreaming in my prone position, my dream actually interacted with what was on the TV. The program was talking about climbing Mount McKinley and the narrator was saying how people have died on the climb and my dream replied "Yes, I remember reading how your son discovered the body of Sir Edmond Hillary". When I awoke I realized I must have dreamed it because as I remember Edmond Hillary did not die on the mountain. As a matter of fact Hillary climbed Everest in Nepal, not McKinley in Alaska and died of heart failure in a New Zealand hospital last year.

You may be thinking how interesting that my dreams can talk to the TV, but I hate my mind playing tricks. I want everything neat, clean, and most of all my mind to contain correct historical information! This is what Hell would be like for me. How strange am I that I would do this to myself on purpose?