The Evolution of the “Ayuh” People

To get through this difficult time, we’ll have to rely on the attributes that make a Mainer a Mainer

What if Maine doesn’t survive the year 2020?

Oh, I don’t mean we won’t be here. But what if we’re no longer trendy? What if Forbes doesn’t name Portland among its hippest hoods? Maine and, more specifically, Portland have gotten used to making lots of best-of lists in national publications. Are things about to change?

The restrictions the state implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 have been successful in flattening the curve—limiting pressure on hospitals and keeping Maine’s death toll among the lowest in the nation. But it can’t be denied that the restrictions have been hard on the business community and our economy. To business owners trying to stay afloat, words like “pivot” and “reinvention” and “creativity” actually mean “pain” and “desperation.” Even a strong close to the summer may not be enough for many businesses.

So, the question is: what will be left?

Our natural beauty will still be apparent on every drive, run, or bike ride—that alone should keep us on Travel and Leisure’s list of “Best Places to Travel” beyond 2020. Portland’s handsome and not-overgrown skyline will remain inviting. Part of Portland’s magnetism is that it’s manageable. You can walk it. Maybe that’s why Thrillist Travel named it among the “Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular.”

The food that we harvest and serve here will still be abundant and deliciously prepared. Bon Appetit might not name Portland the “Restaurant City of the Year” again, at least for a while. But on the other hand, Fodor’s included Portland as the only New England city on its “Go List 2020.”

Our people will still be here to act as ambassadors on every street corner and crossroads. There must be something about shoving your hands in your pockets and leaning forward into a nor’easter that builds character. When the snow melts in spring, we have a million or so folks here that people from away find to be honest, earnest, and admirable.

I think out-of-staters’ feelings about Main-ers have changed in my lifetime. I grew up with a bit of an inferiority complex. It may have had something to do with the downeast humor of Marshall Dodge and his “Bert and I” characters. I felt tourists were laughing at us. We were the “ayuh” people.

That has changed. More people have discovered the high quality of life here. Maine isn’t for everybody, which is good. We don’t have enough room!

My wife’s grandfather was an Aroostook County businessman. He did pretty well. Once I asked him about the Great Depression and how hard it was on him. He said that times up his way were never that great, so the Depression was not that bad. They just lived through it. I think we’ll get through this era just the same way. Whenever it ends—and I hope it’s soon—we’ll come out the other side better than we were. I’m confident that, as we reconstruct our norm, we’ll come back even stronger. Living up to Portland’s motto of “Resurgam” will require toughness, creativity, and compassion, which are at the very core of what makes a Mainer a Mainer.

We have an allure. People like our fierce independence, and that we accept help only grudgingly. Conversely, we, for some unknown reason, help anybody who comes along. It probably has something to do with the fact that living in Maine can be difficult, and we need to share with those around us. People from away can’t figure us out. We’ve evolved from the quaint ayuh people of my youth to a rather trendy brand.

Ironically, that’s because we don’t care about lists. We just are what we are, do what we must, help folks when we can, and try to enjoy life a little bit. That makes Maine number one on my list.

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