Road snapshot: McDonald’s, Presque Isle

Stacey Eulrich Griffin of Aroostook County.

Stacey Eulrich Griffin of Aroostook County.

Sept. 17, Presque Isle, Maine – They kicked me out here about nine hours ago, as midnight settled over those big yellow arches. The manager was sweet about it, saying they had to close up.
When I packed my stuff and approached the lobby, I saw she wasn’t kidding. The entire night crew queued up and followed me to the door. The lobby had closed at 11. I felt a little sheepish.
I made the short drive north on U.S. 1 to the Walton Family Inn & General Store, where I proceeded to get a lousy night of sleep. I shouldn’t have drunk black coffee so late at night.
By the time my mind stopped racing, my ears filled with a sleep-depriving cacophony. Voices wafted over from the Tim Horton all-night drive-through window. This nuisance eventually gave way to the rattle and rumble of semi trucks downshifting and turning off of U.S. Route 1. Finally, as the darkness began to soften, came the dawn-alarm caterwauling of seagulls.
I spent a fitful night on the Behemoth’s normally comfortable bed, helpless to silence my own thoughts or the ambient clatter. I’ve been deep in the mire lately, battling the twin perils of loneliness and hopelessness. Back in Berwyn, our recently purchased Toyota Prius needs a $3,000 makeover. Max is in first grade. I miss him desperately, and sometimes I feel foolish for being so far away. My home life is falling apart. My prospects for coming out of this unscathed are dimming daily.
The only thing that saves me the abyss are the people, the incredible cast of characters I meet day after day. One moment they’re strangers, the next they’re not. They allow me into their lives for at least a brief interlude. They restore my faith in human decency. They seem to lift me when I need lifting most. They remind me why I took this cockamamie journey in the first place.
After I got thrown out of the Caribous library last night, I made a tactical retreat to Presque Isle. I had a notion to buy an $8.99 hoody sweatshirt at Marden’s, the Maine surplus store. Mine was still wet from my walk in the rain.
I’d never heard of Marden’s till I ran into Alice Chicoine & Co. at Baxter Park on Monday. I think it was Debbie who told me about the bumper sticker which says, “We Got Our Governor at Marden’s.”
Next thing I knew Marden’s was everywhere. The Presque Isle store, alas, didn’t have a sweatshirt in my preferred size. While the large fit fine, I feared all that velvety cotton would lose two sizes in one wash cycle. In any case, my sweatshirt would dry, and what did I need with two hooded sweatshirts? I can’t wear both at the same time.
So I left empty-handed, and came here. When I returned this morning, I broke habit and ordered food. Usually I just get coffee and eschew the fast-food fare. I got an Egg McMuffin and an Egg White Delight McMuffin. At $2.49, they’re kind of expensive for what they are. I peeled off the ham slices. I’m no vegetarian, but ham never entices me. When it was over, I kind of wished I’d made myself breakfast in the Behemoth.
I wasn’t here long when Stacey Griffin approached and asked if he could plug his phone into the second outlet in the restaurant’s lone receptacle. Naturally, I asked him about the peculiarities of Aroostook County.
He didn’t betray any ire or carry a grudge against Maine for stealing it out from under the British Crown. He just said life is a little more laid-back up here, a little slower.
Now that I’m into my second day, I think I can say people up here definitely are a different breed than Mainers of the popular imagination.
“The wages aren’t as good,” he said, “but it’s a nice place to come for a vacation.”
I was surprised to hear he’s just 55. I figured he was at least 10 years old than me, if not more. I guess he’s walked a rough road. His right arm was cradled in a sling, the result of a fall taken while working on some stairs.
His family have been Aroostook people for a long time. He said his grandfather, Thomas Garfield Griffin, served as sheriff of The County. His dad, Stacey Eulrich Griffin Sr., was a cop for 16 years before burning out.
“He got sick and tired of the violence,” Stacey said. “One time there was a woman who was estranged from her husband. She couldn’t feed her four kids. They were starving, and the father wouldn’t help out. One day she told all the kids to go find a hiding place, and then she blew them away with a shotgun, one by one. My dad had to deal with that.
“He had been a sergeant with the military police in Germany, too. He didn’t like killing.”
Stacy Jr. put in 28 years driving a truck for Sears. His grandparents, Thomas and Ruth Shaw Griffin, had 13 kids. His dad had six brothers and six sisters, and they all had to help out on the farm.
Stacy looked down at his watch. He was about to call a cab to take him to an appointment at the courthouse downtown. His pickup has a problem in the fuel line, and his brother gave him a ride here from Washburn. I offered to give him a ride, and he accepted.
After I cleared a space for him, he climbed into the Behemoth. As we took off, I could hear him struggle to catch his breath. He said he’d summited Mount Katahdin twice, and canoed the St. John River. He heartily recommended a three-day trip on the St. John.
A heart attack struck him down when he was in his 40s, and it seems he never quite bounced back. He’s lived up and down Aroostook, from Van Buren to Caribou to Washburn to Presque Isle.
He said the courthouse visit concerned a personal dispute with a former friend.
“He kicked me out my house and got me throwed in jail,” he said. “This has been going on for three years, and I’m sick of it.”
Courtesy of the Bangor Daily News and the dubious miracle of the Internet, I see where Stacey was indicted by a grand jury last year on counts of theft of services and terrorizing. In 2011, he was fined $250 and given three days in jail for violating a restraining order.
Well, life is difficult at best. Who can know what struggles another person as endured? Who can know the torments that plague another man’s mind? I know nothing of the circumstances that led to Stacey’s legal problems, besides what little he told me.
And I have no reason to doubt him. He seemed like an easy-going, decent fellow. If he was threatening the his nemesis, I can believe that fellow had it coming. Then again, maybe I’m just gullible that way.
I told him I planned to head north in Maine as far as possible, and he said I’d find myself in Allagash. They call it “The Allagash” up here. I asked him what I’d see in the Allagash.
“Big animals,” he said. “The biggest animals are up in the Allagash. You’ll see a moose, for sure.”
I guess I’ll see about that.

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