Monday, July 09, 2007


Ottawa to Bar Harbor Part 8: Stalking Stephen King

We left Bar Harbor early on a sunny Saturday morning, with a plan to follow Route 2 back the way we came and stay once again in St Johnsbury, Vermont, for the night. But first we had one special stop planned - and another unexpected one that delayed us for a little bit.

We were heading north away from Mount Desert Island on our way to Bangor, Maine through the small town of Ellsworth and I was mourning the fact that we had just passed the not-yet-open LL Bean outlet store when Beloved said, "Does he mean for me to pull over?" I looked in the mirror and sure enough, there was a cruiser with lights flashing behind us.

One of Maine's finest approached us carefully and stood just behind Beloved's open window - just like on Cops! I'm sure we looked threatening, what with the car load of luggage and the boys wearing a felt lobster hat and a pirate hat, and me with my usual lap full of Nikon and maps and Scooby Snacks for restless travelers. Seems we had stumbled into a 25 mph zone at a 45 mph clip (to Beloved's credit, I hadn't seen any signs) which would have been a fine in excess of $300. The cop was a good guy, though, and when we checked Beloved's driving record and found it reasonably clean - I only wish I had been driving; can you believe it's the first time I've ever even been in a car pulled over for speeding, let alone been tagged with a ticket - and dropped the fine to $137. Even better, we could pay the fine online rather than having to pay it before we left the state; the story of the Ottawa student jailed 11 hours for speeding in Georgia a few months ago was a little too fresh in my mind! So we had one more expensive souvenir of Maine, and the classic experience of having our oldest son ask in a tremulous voice, "Is Daddy going to jail?" to add to our vacation memory book. With a sinking feeling, I realized that Beloved would not drive one mile per hour over the posted speed limits for the rest of the two-day drive home.

It was still early in the day when we pulled into Bangor in search of my literary hero. Our first stop, just off the Interstate, was Betts Bookstore on Hammond. I'd corresponded with the owner, a fellow named Stu, and he'd promised me a map of some of the key attractions on the Tommyknockers and More bus tour that highlights some of the places Stephen King has immortalized in his many books.

It was a lovely little bookstore, and the owner was a gentleman. He had a little white poodle in the store that engaged Simon while I briefly browsed and wished I had $1200 or so for a signed first edition King book. I settled for a t-shirt and a fridge magnet (we collect fridge magnets of places we visit on all our family trips) and a brief chat with Stu. The map included directions to Stephen King's house, just around the corner, and I asked if the He ever dropped by the store.

"Not anymore," said Stu regretfully. "Not since his accident. He used to drop by our old location two, three times a week, but we just don't see him anymore." This confirmed what I'd read elsewhere, that the formerly gregarious Stephen King, whose house used to have open doors and the best treats every halloween, has become extremely reclusive and guarded with his privacy since the 1999 accident that nearly killed him.

With all this in mind, we piled back into the car and drove the short few blocks down Hammond (ironically, a continuing extension of my beloved Route 2 East) to West Broadway. It's a leafy, quiet street lined on one side with more modest homes and the other with larger rambling homes that one could comfortably call mansions. Stephen King's house is set unassumingly in the middle of a few similarly-sized houses, and we pulled over to rest in the shade of a large tree to consider it.

"You've come all this way," Beloved said. "Aren't you even going to get out?" I hesitated, feeling rather foolish. He was right; ever since the idea of Maine crystalized out of the ether into our vacation destination of choice, the idea of Stephen King had been woven firmly into the idea. I'd been reading his latest book throughout our trip, and my perception of Maine has been coloured largely by what I've read through a lifetime of voraciously consuming his novels. Here I sat, in front of his very house, too shy to get out of the car.

Eventually, I did. It was just before 9:30 am on a gorgeous late-June morning, the sky clear blue above me. On such a summer morning across America, homeowners were pushing lawnmowers in their yards or drinking coffee with the morning paper on the porch, and I peered hopefully at the house and grounds hoping against hope to see Stephen King himself engaged in some sort of similar weekend pursuit. I slowly paced the length of the wrought-iron gate, admiring the italianate style of the gorgeous house and the well-tended grounds. I even peered hopefully at a few windows, feeling more stalkerish by the minute as I snapped pictures of the motionless house. The iron gates themselves are quite the feature, embellished with spiderwebs and bats and various kinds of gargoyles.

By the time I'd paced the length of the property, I'd realized that the gate to the driveway stood wide open and a silver Mercedes sat quietly in the shade at the top of the drive. I lingered for a long moment in front of the open gate, looking at my clear path to the front door. I considered the odds of me ever being in Bangor, ever being this close to Stephen King again. I thought about how much I admire him, how much of an influence he has had on my own writing style, how in 20 years he has never strayed from my top-five list of favourite authors. I willed him to stroll out of the house, maybe on his way to the grocery store or the hardware store or any of the other errands mere mortals run on a Saturday morning. The house remained inscrutable and silent in the morning sun. I pictured myself walking up that curving drive, mounting the porch, ringing the bell, and asking in my politest Canadian manner if I could trouble the Great Man for just a minute, a moment quick enough for a signature, maybe a photo, certainly the encounter of a lifetime.
Stephen King's House

In the end, I couldn't bring myself to do it. With a last regretful look over my shoulder, we drove away. I even scanned the nearby sidewalks with hope of seeing Him maybe taking the dog for a morning stroll, but the streets were calm and deserted. We tried to find the Barrens, made famous in IT and identified as one of several locations on my map of local attractions from King's stories, but we got turned around and I could feel the pressure of the drive ahead of us bearing down.

We decided instead on a little detour to Target, which itself took much longer to find than it should have. We spent maybe 20 minutes or so perusing the toy section, but I simply wasn't in the mood to shop, becoming more twitchy by the minute. By 11:00 we were back in the car, heading west on I95, headed back to Route 2 for the long trip back to Vermont.

What do you think? Would you have walked away too, or would you have taken the risk and walked up to the front door and rung the bell?

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