People Who Need People

Table of Contents

People can be strange, and sometimes it’s important to warn others. But surely it’s wrong to point out individuals’ physical differences in public. So I take exception to the sign I saw on the I-89 in New Hampshire yesterday. 

It said: Low shoulder. I don’t know if it was referring to me, or to the driver behind, but I suspect I wasn’t the only one who sat up straight on passing it. 

New Englanders

In Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Steinbeck repeatedly referred to the people of New England as taciturn, with the inhabitants of Maine being the most taciturn of them all. My experiences here suggest that little has changed. 

Winters are hard here, and some things are in short supply. Words are clearly among them. Those who live here generally don’t utter so much as a syllable if the meaning can be adequately conveyed in a gesture. 


In many ways, this reminds me of commuting in London before the 2012 Olympics. You could be cheek by jowl with a multitude of people on a train, but the one thing never to do was utter a word. If you did, you’d be greeted by a big, collective glare. Even if you accidentally stepped on someone else’s toe, an apology was always to be offered and accepted by gestures only. 

The Olympics changed that for at least a few years, as Londoners collectively decided to adopt the novel approach of actually expressing notions of friendliness rather than keeping them implicit. But I suspect that they’ve now given up on that idea as just a passing fad. 


I don’t think most New Englanders would even entertain such an experiment. Going into a supermarket up here, for example, is quite unlike going into Publix in downtown St. Petersburg. Here the only time someone speaks to me is to tell me the total price. 

In St. Pete, by contrast, the person checking me out at the cash register would first welcome me and check that I’ve found everything OK. (I confess I have been tempted to say no to this, just to see what happens next, but I have managed to resist the temptation so far.) 

Then we’d move on to a discussion of the items I’ve selected. I don’t think I’ve ever been in there with a basket of more than ten items, and not had such a discussion. Perhaps I buy odd stuff, or perhaps I buy things that others would secretly like to try but haven’t yet summoned up the courage to do so 

In any event, comments like What’s that tea like?, Ooh, those are fantastic, aren’t they?, or How do you cook that? soon lead on to a conversation about what we’re having for dinner, and who’s invited. By now, my social life is probably an open book to Publix staff. 


I certainly can’t go into that Publix without stopping at the bakery counter. Originally, it was to buy a European-style pastry with fruit and crème patissière. I could eat a slice every day, and probably buy two a week. (Who am I kidding? I generally eat two slices a day, and I’ve lost count how many I buy.) 

Indeed, I am somewhat concerned that my prolonged absence might mean that Publix stop baking it because of a dramatic drop in sales while I’m gone. Which would be a huge shame, although these days I stop by just as much to have a nice chat with the very friendly ladies behind the counter. Sometimes they even bake an extra pastry just for me in anticipation of my next visit! 


But I have a confession to make to those ladies. While in Bar Harbor, I was weak and unfaithful. 

In the mornings, I spent a lot of time with Brian and the ever-smiling Madina, who’s from Kazakhstan. They work at at 59 Cottage. The breakfasts are great there, but the people are greater. (Madina: I meant what I said.) 

And I spent two wonderful evenings at Bar Harbor Cheesecake with Eric, Taryn, Keith, Taddeus, Salomon, Amy, and many others (all from Indiana). The cheesecakes are light and delicious, and the wines, ports and sherries that accompanied them were delightful. But the company was on another level altogether. 

Apparently, they are considering opening a branch in Tampa Bay. Eric: please let me know if you do! I have some ladies whom I’d like to invite!