Between a rock and a hard place

By David Grima | May 21, 2020

As if the universe were not already cheerful enough, the following news should really put the cream on the cake, and a smile on every face.

Grocery prices rose faster in April than any time in almost 50 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Department of Labor.

As soon as I heard this wonderful information, I got on the string and tin-can telephone to my old pal Lord Prez Trumpleton, down at the White House.

“Dear Lord Prez,” I said with excitement in my voice, “Congratulations on the increased cost of groceries!”

“Hey, thanks,” he replied. “Gotta pay for those stimulus checks somehow!”

* * * * *

The Bangor Dreadful News recently pitched us a tale of five drive-in movie theaters that are re-opening in Maine, located in Bangor, Bridgton, Farmington, Saco and Westbrook. There was no news on the theaters in Skowhegan and Madawaska, they said.

Many of us are mindful of the fact that, once upon a time, we had a drive-in movie theater in Knox County, at the site now occupied by Plants Unlimited on Route 1 in Rockport. Naturally, it was known as the Rockland Drive-In.

But we have not lost our deep instinct for drive-in culture, not by any means. Several of our churches are holding drive-in Sunday services, for example, to get around the Plague terrors associated with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces.

I showed up at the South End Grocery last weekend to buy my Sunday paper, and heard singing in the air. It was the church just across the street and toward the Owls Head line, with something over a dozen cars in the parking lot. A customer waiting outside said she heard it down at Sandy Beach, and I said that was probably because the breeze was in the right direction.

Later, I drove along Broadway and saw that St. Bernard’s RC was also in drive-in church mode.

Alas, St. Bildad’s-by-the-Sea is not yet convinced it is time to get back together. To begin with, we do not have a parking lot, our church was built back in the days when motor cars were yet to be invented. That alone would make drive-in services awkward to pull off.

On the other hand, we are also highly aware that none of our parishioners have died yet of the Plague, and we are somewhat keen to keep it that way.

I do feel myself to be reasonably safe up here in the concrete towers at the foot of Mechanic Street, where I am forced to live. Safe, but perhaps a teensy bit isolated. The Four Seagulls of the Apocalypse haven’t been near me for a fortnight.

* * * * *

Which of course brings us to the fact that many places of all kinds of trying to open up for business, now that winter appears to be temporarily behind us, and more people are sick of the Plague than are sick with it.

I heard Moody’s Diner in Waldoburg opened up this week, not to mention a number of other eateries and such. What do we think about that? I’m just not sure.

Part of me would love to drive down and get a booth at Moody’s or some other place, and order pie and coffee with a scoop of ice cream for both. I’m just not sure I am willing to take the risk that is almost inevitably involved.

To be honest, I sometimes find on a Friday evening that I am parched for one of Mike Bex’s near-perfect margarita at the Park Street Grill, too.

I think, though, I am going to wait a while. I am not really up for being a Plague guinea pig, not at my advanced age. Others are welcome to resume swarming in restaurants, and I don’t blame them for it. I heard Reny’s is also opening up, and I do love a Maine adventure about as much as the next man, but at what cost?

* * * * *

I stuck my nose timidly into Clementine, the fabric shop on the corner of Main and Limerock, where Gene Kenniston used to have his real estate office. She said they’re doing fine.

“People are busy making masks; we sell fabric and elastic,” she explained. Good point, I thought.

* * * * *

If I hear there have been no deaths associated with fine dining or shopping in about a month or so, I might experiment with going myself. But I really don’t know. The Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 is said to have lasted up to three years, (as I read somewhere, so it must be true.)

I know things are difficult for a lot of people just now. We are living in a time of two great fears. But one can’t help wondering if we’re playing a dangerous game here, yielding to obvious political pressure for the sake of peace, yet at the equally obvious risk of much suffering to come.

A sign handwritten on a piece of cardboard and stuck in a car window downtown the other day, pleads with ticket officer Troy Peasley not to ticket the car for being parked where it should not be. “I’m just trying to make a living,” the owner who runs a nearby restaurant wrote.

Yes, on the one hand are the owners. On the other hand are the workers. It’s hard to know who is more scared. The only difference I can detect between them is the difference between the fear of economic failure, which is one thing, and the fear of death which is quite another.

An employee at Rockland Cafe was on Maine Public Radio Monday morning, explaining how frightened she was at the prospect of going back to work, and risking infection. Likewise, a server from Portland was on a radio call-in show Monday at lunchtime, saying she, too, is terrified of having to go back to work in a place full of people, working for an employer who provides her with no health insurance.

There is nothing wrong with these frightened people, any more than that is anything wrong with business owners, not at the fundamental level of being.

But it’s hard to avoid wondering if, after embellishing our auto license plates since the Depression of the 1930s with the jaunty slogan "Vacationland," we perhaps ought to think of replacing it now with “Between a Rock and a Hard Place."

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Drucinda Woodman | May 22, 2020 11:03

One hope is that good will come from what we learned from this crisis. Now that we're aware of the homelessness & food insecurity in our county, let's work to end it! Let us continue as a community to know,share & care about our neighbors. Let's build the communication & infrastructure we see lacking.Plow through the red tape!  Do what is badly needed to keep our citizens informed and safe.                                                                                                                                            And let's work on an economy which is not almost solely dependent on tourism!

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