Portland, ME I

The door swings open with a bang: "I'll take a soggy," the Golfer says to nobody. His voice is unhurried, perfectly self-assured—the voice of a man accustomed to command. His eyes roam around the SnackShack, going from the wall covered in collegiate golf balls to the cooler full of brightly colored corn syrup. He seems to deliberately ignore the person behind the counter. The person behind the counter fetches him an ashen hot dog that looks closer to scat excavated by an archaeologist than food. "Would you like any condiments with that?" The Golfer is preoccupied under his white visor: "it's brutally hot today. Get me a Gatorade." The person behind the counter pulls red fructose from the refrigerator. "Ice?" the Golfer finally makes eye contact with the person and smiles pityingly. "Sure, I guess. God it's hot today." It is 85° with low humidity outside. The red fluid and gray meat tube rest on the counter and the Golfer is, once again, too preoccupied to answer the person behind the counter's question about condiments. His friend breezes through the door and is weirdly excited by the flaccid and perspiring hotdog. "Oh, I'll take one too, just don't tell my doctor!" If a grown man could titter, he titters. The two men grab a leather container on the counter, choose numbers, and roll out small numbered beads to determine whose tab the food goes on. "Would you like condiments?" The question is finally answered and condiments appear. Two sweaty pink faces appear at a knee-high window at the other end of the SnackShack. Caddies. They cannot enter the sanctum of the shack and must get their drinks outside. The Golfer and his friend Josh each other and drift out the door with neither a thank-you or a goodbye to the person behind the counter. They pay $36k a year for the privilege.

The Maine Welcome Center bristles with signs offering advice: suggestions of places to visit, dietary pointers, and germ-conscious admonitions against rooting through trash cans. The building is so armor plated with signage that its function as a welcome center is somewhat obscure. It is certainly obscure to the Cabby, a tall, dark man with a thick Caribbean accent wandering around the parking lot in confusion. His cab sprawls across several parking spaces, engine running, a wide-eyed Asian woman with thick glasses and a USA baseball cap pressed to the window of the back seat. "Do YOU know where Ex-eh-tah street is?" The Cabby's odd intonation conveys his sense of being lost more than he words do. A head shakes. He approaches a minivan full of Asian tourists and asks again, but their English is more fragmentary than his own and the conversation is quickly abandoned with smiles and shrugs. He approaches an elderly African-American man on a ride-on mower: "Hi Boss, you know where Ex-eh-tah street is?" The Groundskeeper shuts off the mower and they talk for a while and point in many directions. The mower starts back up and the Groundskeeper drives towards the Welcome Center, the Cabby following behind the puttering machine. They vanish through doors. The Asian woman continues to peer through the cab's window. She seems terrified but not angry. The cab has a Massachusetts plate. The airline ad on its roof clamors about cheap flights from Logan International. He is sixty miles, two states, and one toll booth away from home. The Cabby steps out of the Welcome Center laughing with the Groundskeeper: "this is Maine! This is Maine! Crazy, man!"

Fireworks explode over the Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine as a local orchestra saws out a few patriotic—and inaudible—grooves. The night is warm and mostly clear, a spectacular sunset making a perfect prelude to the colorful explosions. The promenade is standing room only for much of its length. Families and groups of friends stroll down the centers of closed streets on the hills above. Kids with glowstick bracelets and necklaces fence parents with LED-lit lightsabers. An explosion, a flash, and tentacles of gold dust stretch Earthwards through blackness. A man in a creaking lawn chair yells: "oh baby, this one's gonna be big!" Another man wearing athletic pants and a backward New England Patriots baseball cap bellows: "AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!" He is quickly told to clean up his language from a nearby mom who is, in all probability, his junior in years. "How about frick yeah? Is that better?" The mom's eyes narrow. "AMERICA! FRICK YEAH!" The fireworks end and the crowd siphons back over the hill to their houses and cars. People smile, laugh, and a few complain that the show was boringly long this year. Explosions continue on the ground, a few errant missiles of color flying across the sky at low angles. A steady orange glow appears and backlights a stand of pine trees. Fireworks resume at erratic intervals, blowing up close to the ground and setting more fires. A few faces in the receding crowd look back, but the crowd isn't interested in having a fiery disaster ruin their patriotic buzz. A siren wails in the distance.