Maureen Milliken here, enjoying one of the last beautiful weekends of summer.
Despite the beautiful weather this summer, I can get a little cranky. It’s how I roll.
That was definitely the case on a beautiful but way too hot day a week or so ago, when I managed to get most of the day off from work to drive a load of my books to Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in next weekend’s Murder by the Book event at Jesup Library and the vagaries of publishing being what they are, it was easier and cheaper for me to drive 20 copies of Cold Hard News to the store than have my publisher (or me) ship it.
Normally I love a road trip. But it was a hot, hot Thursday in what has been a very busy summer and no day off has been one where I can just relax and enjoy the weather. In fact, all I could think was how much I had to do, that I should be doing, instead of spending a good chunk of the day driving. And it was 9:15 and already close to 80 out. Grump grump grump.
I had to stop at work in Waterville for a meeting before I truly got on the road, adding a layer of guilt that my generous but overburdened boss was doing what I should have been doing. And not that I needed a reminder, but it was one of how much work there was left to do to in the next 48 hours to get the newspaper ready for the three-day Labor Day weekend. (Those stories and pictures gotta come from somewhere, folks).
Did I mention it was hot? It was even hotter when I got back in the car sometime after 11.
I didn’t want to spend one second on hot and crowded Interstate 95 — it gets boring when your state only has one real highway — so I decided to take U.S. Route 202 as far as Bangor.
I was on the bridge between Waterville and Winslow, stopped at the light, planning my route to 202 in my head (GPS? Not this gal. Gotta use that brain or lose it), when I felt a giant thump. Yup, the car behind had rear-ended me. Hard. I’d just spent an agonizing week or so dealing with a repair that had cost me more than a mortgage payment and my already sour mood grumped a little lower.
The other driver didn’t want to get out of her car to check the damage, was more interested in fretting over why her brakes had failed (something I would have thought an unlikely story if mine hadn’t a couple weeks before, hence the expensive repair). Did I also mention I have no patience? I ordered her to back up so that her bumper, lovingly nestled under mine, would unlock, then get out of her car and appraise the damage. She finally got the message and she and I looked at the car — she nervous and fretting, me impatient and hot. A few scratches, all seemed fine. I was anxious to get to Bar Harbor, so we called it good and went on our way.
I stopped at a convenience store a little later, took another look at the scratches and realized my bumper was now hanging half off. The grump meter rose a few notches as I jammed it back in place as best as I could. Same bumper that came off when I hit a deer in April and got kinda-fixed until I had the time and inclination to get it better fixed. Not related to the mortgage-busting more recent fix.
It didn’t help that my already funky left shoulder seemed to have taken the brunt of the accident and I couldn’t turn my head to the left.
Did I mention how hot it was?
There was one quick moment of joy: Zooming out 202 past Unity, “Layla” came on the iPod. And there is really no pure moment of bliss as sweet as cruising around 70 mph on an empty roller-coaster Maine two-lane while the guitar/piano instrumental from “Layla” blasts. But it was short lived when an 18-wheeler pulled in front of me and slowly escorted me the rest of the way to Bangor.
Heat, traffic, ugh. Summer traffic between Bangor and Ellsworth, then Ellsworth and Bar Harbor is enough to make me never want to see the Atlantic Ocean, which I love, again.
By the time I got to busy Main Street in Bar Harbor, trying to avoid hitting slack-jawed tourists wandering slowly across the street and giant SUVs trying to parallel park into spaces that were not made for giant SUVS, the top of the grump meter was blown.
I found a parking space less than a block from Sherman’s — but it was too little too late.
As I stepped out of the car, my back seized up and I found that as bad as my neck and shoulder felt, my lower back and really taken the brunt of that accident and driving for 90 minutes after hadn’t helped. I lifted my box of books — grump, ouch, grump — and brought them to the store.
Deb Taylor, the buyer for Sherman’s, was lovely, welcoming, gracious, friendly. I tried to act the way I’ve seen normal people do and be as nice as she was. She had me put the box of books on the counter and follow her to a back room to fill out some paperwork.
I decided while there to buy a book (I’m not only a writer, but the daughter of a bookseller, so I try to always buy a book when in a bookstore). I picked out my friend Lea Wait’s Threads of Evidence and brought it to the counter, sidestepping and squeezing past the fanny-pack crowd, who seemed to be milling around everywhere I wanted to be.
Through all of this, the entire morning and early afternoon, the constant drumbeat of everything I had to do, both later that day, the next day, the weekend, hammered away at me. I was hot, I was tired, annoyed, sore, resentful, hungry, broke, put-upon. Grumpy.
When I went up to the counter, my box of Cold Hard News was still there.
The cashier made a joke about the the register being open despite the box taking up the counter.
“I don’t mind. I wrote it, so let it sit there all you want,” I said.
“It’s my book.”
If you’re ever lucky enough to be able to say that, I hope it makes you feel the way it does me. I’d be smart never to forget the feeling.
Did I say it was hot out? Funny, I can’t remember now.
See you at Murder by the Book. I’ll be the one who doesn’t have to be reminded how I’m living the dream.
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and lives in central Maine. Her debut mystery novel, Cold Hard News, was published in June. She will be appearing at Murder by the Book at Jesup Library in Bar Harbor Sept. 18 & 19.