Category: Here Back East

Here Back East [7/22]: Garage Band

By Lenny Ackerman

It was early evening in Kennebunk and the weather finally broke after two straight days of rain. Patti and I headed out of our rental house, eager to take a walk into town. The air was damp and the sidewalks strewn with gravel washed up from the roadway. At the intersection of Western and Beach Road, cars were backed up for several blocks. Seems everyone had the same idea about getting out after being housebound for days. We continued along the narrow sidewalk running west from the shore to the center of town where the bridge traverses the Kennebunk River. We proudly wore our “Maine” sweatshirts– a buy at the Bangor airport from last year’s visit
to camp up north and marking us out as tourists but we didn’t mind, as we were far from the only ones. We held hands, as the sunlight faded, keeping our heads down with eyes on the uneven sidewalk pavement. The large droplets hitting us from the tree branches above finally forced us to use our hoods and it was then I realized I hadn’t put in my hearing aid. Without it my one-way conversations with Patti quickly wear thin.

But, I felt around in my pocket and to my great relief found it. As I pushed the tiny apparatus into my ear a range of
ambient sounds seemed to fill the air including, faintly, something musical, like a wind instrument. I thought of my
old clarinet. The one from my youth that my grandson decided to take apart and then reassemble, minus the mouthpiece. Someday I will find a repair shop for it. There were only a few pieces in my repertoire anyway since I could never remember all of the finger positions. Moon River was my favorite, and I can still play it in my head. As I walked and mulled over the fate of my clarinet, the music grew louder and more distinctive. At last we spied the unlikely source: the Sunoco gas station at Cooper’s Corner.

The garage bay door of the station was wide open and inside, illuminated with bright, fluorescent lighting, was a live band with a half dozen musicians—a group of older fellows—on horns, clarinet, banjo, fiddle, guitar and drums, playing a fabulous jazzy number to the great delight of the crowd gathered outside. The stage back drop was a raised car lift. In front, the musicians were in a semi-circle, some standing, some seated on wooden folding chairs. Somehow the acoustics worked, as the music carried out of the garage to the tarmac with the gas pumps and the appreciative audience—a mix of young and old, tourist and local.

Patti and I worked our way in closer for a better position. A garage band in Kennebunk gives whole new meaning to the term. These were no kids goofing around with some instruments in their parents’ two-car garage, but accomplished musicians who performed together with the ease of having known each other for a long time. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and played for an hour, after which the crowd mingled with the players and

shared bottles of local beer out of an ice-filled washbasin. I found out they go by the name Johnny and the Sunocos and that Johnny, a founding member of the band, was a mechanic there for many years. Now he
and his band give weekly concerts at the garage during the summer.

I reminded Patti that only last weekend Tanglewood had reopened for its first post-Covid concert. This may not be
Tanglewood, but it was a match for it in terms of the effect only live music played well can have on the listener. An
evening concert, in the heavy night air pungent with oil and beer and the ocean nearby, and the warmth and energy of everyone there combined to make its own kind of magic that is Johnny and the Sunocos. I will be back next week for another concert. If the weather’s clear, we’ll bring chairs and a bottle of wine and find our place on the tarmac.

Ferries, Diners and General Dynamics

By Lenny Ackerman

It is July and my monthly trip to camp in Maine unfolds. This time Patti and I decided to break up the long drive north at the halfway point with a three-week stay in Kennebunk, home of the summer residence of President Bush. I thought we should alert the Bush family that we were coming but given that I have never met them Patti wisely talked me out of it. Maybe we’ll bump into them.

The gossip about the Hamptons being overrun by post-pandemic traffic proved true. The trip from home in East Hampton to the cross-sound ferry on the North Fork at Orient Point usually takes less than an hour. The lines were so backed up for the ferry at Shelter Island it added an extra hour to the trip.

The New London ferry was packed with vacationers, so we made our way to the upper deck to escape the unmasked crowds. We found a vacant bench and took in the water views, serene but for the noisy stream of dogs and youngsters running around the perimeter of the deck and up and down the stairs. The brisk winds kept me
from opening the New York Times, as did the heaving of the ship in rough waters. At least there was no traffic.

As we moved closer to shore, we could see the shipyards of General Dynamics with submarines in the process of completion. Pretty cool how they manufacture a submarine. They start above water then submerge the hull while they work the interiors. As the ferry pulled into port, we navigated the crowds back down to our car, finally making our way off the New London ship, into the New London traffic. The busy roads were a clear indication that people
are traveling post-pandemic.

Patti said perhaps next year they will drive to Europe. She is so observant. So far, it was a four-hour trip that should have taken less than three hours. Oh well–it’s vacation, not work, I guess. Now I had lunch to look forward to which for me is as important as getting to the rental house in Kennebunk. But then things took an unexpected turn. On Rte 490 near Worcester, Mass., we heard the sudden and unpleasant sound of metal dragging beneath the car. Could it have something to do with my backing up the car this morning, turning around in the driveway and feeling a bump? Whatever it was we had to pull over. I spied an exit with a sign for a body shop and headed for it.

We parked and I went in nonchalantly, pretending I needed a restroom—which I desperately did. A young man pointed toward a door in the back among the shelves of tools and car parts. “By the way,” I asked, “do you have a minute to look at my car? We ran over something in the road, and it damaged something underneath. I’m concerned it may cause an accident.” He agreed to take a look, but we would have to wait–and so would lunch. Seems something pretty large got caught under the tailpipe and tore it clean off. Well, an hour and a half and $100 dollars later–and a piece of the bumper in my hands–the car was repaired and, most importantly, we had directions to a diner up the road.

The best part of the trip so far was beginning. The diner was a throwback from the 1950s. Not a replica but the real thing. Six wooden booths and a dozen vinyl-covered stools at a counter. Behind the counter was a small grill used for everything from breakfast to dinner. It was the kind of place I recall from my youth in upstate New York

The counter at the diner.

and during the 1960s in the Hamptons. All are gone now, replaced by either fast food or fancy gourmet restaurants. Whatever happened to the great American diner? The crowd in this one was diverse and lively. The woman behind the counter represented the third generation of the same family of owners. Patti’s hamburger and my omelet were delicious and lunch for two was an exorbitant $25.

Before leaving I took some photos around the place and the owner didn’t seem to mind. We left Worcester satisfied. Patti was now talking to me after I damaged her car and my stomach was full. Oh––and I can’t forget to mention the French fries. They were the old-fashioned kind-hot and not greasy. These days what you usually get is oily and room temperature.

Anyway, the rest of the ride was uneventful and by the time we got to our house on the shore of Kennebunk, I was ready for a nap. As we unpacked, I noticed the tide was out. I took a deep breath of sea air and it was grand.

Fishing the Morning Lonely

By Lenny Ackerman, July 8, 2021

I have only recently returned from camp after spending Father’s
Day week there with my eldest daughter Kara and her husband
Peter. The weather at camp was in and out every day – partly cloudy
in the morning and a bit of afternoon rain. Weather notwithstanding,
there were plenty of fish—trout and bass.

Sharing a 20-foot grand canoe with one of your kids is a great
opportunity for communication—neither of you has anywhere to
run. But those few moments in time when father and daughter talk
to each other looking directly into each other’s eyes are worth all the
effort. This floating trip was a first for us both down the
Mattawamkeag River from Danforth to the Bridge at Drew
Plantation. Kara and I had done a similar float trip in Montana when
she was a teenager.

Casting to the shore and that instant take on top of the water is
very thrilling. Keeping my balance is a bit of a challenge but I did
not fall in this time. Greg, our fishing guide, paddled most of the
way with a bit of help from the 8 HP motor to get us home for
dinner. The day ended with a few casts off the dock and to my
surprise I hooked a fat bass right off the rocks no more than 20 feet
from camp.

The flight home from Bangor was calm and uneventful–the cell
turned off and the NY Times in hand catching up on news after a
week of withdrawal. The weather on my return was cool and
unceremoniously dismal for July 4th. I thought of making a fire in
the library. I went down to the basement and sought out the wood
pile that had lain unused during Covid, hidden in the corner behind
cartons of stored clothes. The warmth from the fire was a charm and
reminded me of so many evenings at camp, ensconced with a good
book in front of the hearth. I looked among the shelves in the library
for something to read.

On the shelf to my right was a collection of books on fishing that
I had accumulated since the early 1970s. Scanning the titles I came
to a small book of poems, Fishing the Morning Lonely by George
Mendoza. I glanced through it and fell upon the title poem, which
so beautifully captures the serene sense of perspective one gains
when immersed in nature:

“Fishing the morning lonely
I’m looking up at the sky
telling myself
why I’m who
and how do you do
black and yellow waxwing
why can’t I fly like you…
Fishing the morning lonely
is dreaming in the sky
and looking at your face in a milkweed ball
and packing up all your possessions
in the petals of a flower
Don’t look for me
for I’m clear through
when I’m on the river
fishing the morning lonely”

I often fish the morning lonely at camp, in the very early hours of
the day. Before anyone at camp arises, I head out to the dock and
cast off among the rocks where the bass rest. Always a short cast
with a yellow hopper. A ratty old fly tied by a fisherman of old,
handed down to me by his grandkids when they cleaned out the
garage for a yard sale.

There are plenty of these yard sales in my town now that many of
the old families are selling off to New Yorkers who want a piece of
the Hamptons. Grandpa’s old grease-covered fly box filled with
handmade rusty lures and some flies—his grandkids remembered I
fish and they dropped the box off at my office. What an amazing
gift. I use them all the time. In fact, I am trying to duplicate some of
them with a beginners fly-tying kit from Orvis.

I will fish the morning lonely for as long as I can fix my early
morning coffee and walk unassisted down to the dock for the first
cast of the day.