Road trips and the fine art of tipping (Part 2)

We pulled out of our Brookline driveway in my wife Nell’s Honda Pilot, bound for the Hilton in Bath, Maine, at 10:15 am. Within an hour-and-a-half, we had left our golden retriever safely in the care of Nell’s mother and were driving north on I-95.

Unwittingly, though, we had joined the molasses-slow line of cars taking advantage of the first truly nice Boston-area Saturday of the summer. It thus took us nearly two hours to reach the trusty Maine Diner in Wells, roughly 33% longer than it would “normally” take.

My Discover Card slip (I save them until my bill arrives) tells me we left there soon after 2:34 pm. Our meal cost $76.68, not terrible for four people, especially given that two meals contained lobster “At Market Price.” Our eldest daughter and I both adore Maine’s signature food; our youngest daughter may have a severe allergy to crustaceans (evidence is mixed, though she is convinced after one particularly traumatic experience), while Nell can take it or leave it.

No tip appears on the slip because I left a twenty-dollar bill for our amiable server.

**********

In Part 1, I observed my zeal for tipping stems from three sources:

  1. My father’s example, especially the year he spent driving a taxicab in Philadelphia
  2. My own experience delivering food
  3. Observing how hard folks in the service industry work for a low base salary

I also presented photographic evidence of the appeal of Bath and described an epic six-hour drive (in which I tipped multiple able servers) one recent Sunday night/Monday morning.

Our family trip to Maine began six days later.

**********

When we turned right out of the Maine Diner parking, we had no desire to rejoin the snail’s-pace traffic on I-95, so we meandered north on Route 1 instead, allowing a quick stop at Rite Aid.

Not that long ago, I could rattle off every town Route 1 passes through in Maine, from the New Hampshire state line (the euphonious Piscataqua River) to Waldoboro, starting with Kittery, York, Ogunquit and Wells, followed by Kennebunk, Arundel, Biddeford, Saco, Scarborough, South Portland and Portland. There is a Howard Johnson hotel on Route 1 in South Portland where my long-term 1990s girlfriend AC and I often stayed; two minutes north on Route 1 is Rudy’s Diner. As Nell, the girls and I drove past Rudy’s, I recounted how I had once inadvertently caused their toilet to overflow; they were properly aghast and unsurprised I had never returned.

A few minutes later, we merged onto I-295 north, driving through Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport. Just past Freeport is Brunswick, where we took “Coastal Route” Exit 28 back onto Route 1; Brunswick, West Bath, Bath.

More than six hours after leaving Brookline, we checked into the Bath Hilton. One reason we love this hotel (and this suburban Philadelphia Marriott) is a cheerful willingness to accommodate our request for adjacent rooms with connecting door: one with two queen beds for the girls, one with one king bed for Nell and me. A quick swim and a prudent call about reservations later, we resumed our northward journey on scenic Route 1 over the Kennebec River into Woowich, Wiscasset…

Welcome to Wiscasset

IMG_1899.JPG

…I will someday wax eloquent about Wiscasset (photographs taken July 2015), which does not exaggerate calling itself “The Prettiest Village in Maine,” Instead, we continue north through Edgecomb, where one takes Route 27 south 10 miles to Boothbay Harbor (where I celebrated my 30th birthday with the 2nd best meal I have ever had, at a restaurant I believe was called Scottish House[1]), into Damariscotta, where Nell had made a 6:30 pm reservation at the excellent King Eider’s Pub.

I took these photographs there in July 2015.

IMG_1881.JPG

IMG_1896.JPG

Unfortunately, our youngest daughter’s panicked aversion to lobster kicked in there, requiring Nell needed to take her for a long walk in the fresh evening ai, while our eldest daughter and I enjoyed our meals. The meal, which ended at 7:32 pm, cost $110.15; I left a $20 cash tip (maybe a few dollars more) for our patient and exemplar waitress. Nell and our younger daughter ate their meals later that night in the hotel; despite being cold, Nell’s medium rare burger with bleu cheese and caramelized onions was delicious[2].

While they ate, our eldest daughter and I drove off in search of dessert (Nell particularly requested a whoopie pie, a Maine staple). We drove down the Bath Road (Route 248) through Cooks Corner, a retail and restaurant hub, looking for a drive-in ice cream place I recalled from previous trips. Not finding it, we ended up on Maine Street in downtown Brunswick, just off the lush Bowdoin College campus. And we happened upon, of all things, a nationally-renowned gelato emporium.

We strolled Maine Street eating our gelato (I forget what our eldest daughter ordered; I had Pure Lemon and Blood Orange) on cinnamon-sugar waffle cones; each was too rich to finish. Driving back to the hotel, we found a Shaws open until 11 pm, where we bought a pre-packaged whoopie pie and a cherry danish for the younger daughter, among other items.

Once Nell and the girls had gone to sleep, I took a 90-minute walk through the darkened town (by 11:30 pm on a Saturday night, only Riverside Bar and Grille was still open; I passed). It was a lazy, meandering stroll (akin to my exploratory night drives) in a battered old pair of Docksiders (no socks) that mixed close inspection of shop windows (where I serendipitously found this book), examination by iPhone flashlight of historic markers and a driving curiosity to follow every path—but in the quiet of the night, when fewer, less-intense stimuli clamor for your attention. Like a classic film noir photographed by John Alton, only certain things are bright and visible, all else is shrouded in mystery.

Or I am just naturally a night-owl, full stop, he added dryly.

Feeling particularly bold (and/or foolhardy) at the end of this excursion, I walked across Route 1 on the western edge of the bridge spanning the Kennebec River. It was all-but deserted after midnight on a Sunday morning, and moments later I was back on Front Street. For the record, you can literally be at Front and Centre (Streets) in Bath.

Bath Maine Route 1 bridge--tighter

**********

The following day was a whirlwind of…

  • exploration of Route 127 south to Reid State Park, passing signs that simply read FOOD and WRONG;
  • a meal, ending at 4:34 pm, at Moody’s Diner (see more here; Damariscotta, Nobleboro, Waldoboro[3]), where our youngest daughter was blithely unconcerned by the lobster stew I ate sitting across from her, and where I left another $20 cash tip on $103.33 (though that includes three deserts, including their cosmically-delicious four-berry pie, and a new “When I Get Hungry, I Get Moody” t-shirt for yours truly); and
  • a stunning drive south on Route 32 to Route 130 to my favorite place on Earth (so far): Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park.

I could wax even more eloquent about Pemaquid Point (on whose rocks I sat at midnight on my 40th birthday; you may spot a theme), but for now I will simply say our daughters met author Mo Willems there in July 2016 and share this video from our most recent visit:

After clambering over nearly every inch of the extensive outcropping of rock, we tried to visit nearby Fort William Henry, but it was locked. Returning to the Hilton, the girls and I swam then ordered food from nearby Kennebec Tavern; I walked over to pick it up somewhere around 8:30 (I already recycled my debit card slips). Our order cost $36.42, and I left something like $5 despite getting the food myself.

Our youngest daughter had expected to walk with me (I thought she had already gotten into bed for the night); she was heartbroken after I left. So as soon as I returned with the food, she and I took an uproarious walk in the park around Patten Free Library.

By 11 pm, the girls had gone to sleep in their room, and Nell was ready to go to sleep in our room.

And I began the adventure that inspired this series of posts.

*********

In 1996, a close friend (let us call him “FF”) was writing a doctoral thesis in American history. His research involved a man who lived in Harpswell, just south of Brunswick, in the mid-1700s. FF was able to obtain a room at Bowdoin while conducting his research; AC and I drove there one weekend to visit him. We stayed at what was then a Holiday Inn in Bath; one night, the hotel fire alarm went off around 3 am, sending a mass of sleepy guests into the parking lot in varying states of undress.

Knowing my penchant for 24-hour eateries, FF was eager to point something out to me once we arrived: a new Denny’s in Cooks Corner. We ate there late at night that trip, and again multiple times through our final trip to Maine together in September 2000 for my 34th birthday; our relationship ended a few months later. And within a few years that Denny’s had vanished as well.

Had that Denny’s still been there in July 2015, I would not have driven an hour north to the one in Rockport, where I had a bizarre encounter [#82] with state police. Had that Denny’s still been there in July 2016, I would probably have driven 10 minutes there from the Bath Hilton both nights of our stay. And had that Denny’s been there a few weeks ago, I would probably not have taken my long walk the first night of our stay.

A little research prior to our trip, however, informed me that a Denny’s in Augusta, the state capital, was less than an hour’s drive north over what looked like scenic roads[4]. So, at a little after 11 pm on our second night in Bath, I drove north over the Kennebec River Bridge. Moments later, I turned north onto Route 127, which quickly took me to Route 128 north; I followed Route 128 north about 20 minutes, the Kennebec River glistening to my left amid scattered houses and large fields, to Route 27 north. This latter road, faster and better-lit, took me into Gardiner, where it merged with Route 201 for the final two miles into Augusta.

There is something about driving through the night into a town center from its rural outskirts that is both eerie and uplifting. This time was even better as I passed the glimmering state capitol building on my left while I could still see the Kennebec River to my right. Maybe five minutes later (an hour after I had left), once again in rural outskirts, I turned right (and up) into the Denny’s parking lot.

When I entered, the counter—with five low-backed stools—was to my left, as were five or six booths hugging the front wall; two were occupied. To my right was a larger seating area, where two customers sat in a booth. Sitting at one of the stools, setting down my reading glasses, iPhone and book (written by my friend Imogen, no less), I noticed a dark-haired woman (early 40s?) with a name-tag reading “Angela” standing on the other side of the counter; I had seen her through the front windows as I parked. Clearly a manager, she was chatting with a young-ish waitress with dirty blond hair also standing behind the counter.

In Lonely Places (3).JPG

Her name, I would learn from my bill, is Beth.

And here I acknowledge not naming the Zaftigs waitresses from Part 1, while I name Kim (Boulevard Diner), Angela and Beth. Here is the difference: the name of a counter server at Zaftigs never appears on a bill, so I know their names through “private” conversation. Kim’s name, by contrast, was said publicly—as was the Zaftigs conversation I overheard, while Angela’s name is on her nametag, and Beth’s name is on every bill she hands to a customer. Yes, some of what I reveal about Beth also came from “private” conversation…but not all of it. 

Perhaps this is merely a distinction without a difference, and I am either being overly sensitive to privacy—or not sensitive enough. I am curious what you think.

As I settled myself at the counter, Angela addressed both of us, discussing her hearing loss (ironic, since I was still trying to get pool water out of my right ear); as she talked, I noticed she was missing all but one tooth in her upper front palate. Do not get me started on how unaffordable, even with dental insurance, dental care is in the United States.

When she was five years old, her eight-year-old brother wanted to shoot a rifle, but had nowhere to rest the gun barrel. So, lacking adult supervision, he used his sister’s shoulder (I forget which)—with the resulting bang permanently damaging her ear.

Most remarkable, though, was that she spoke without bitterness or recrimination: this was simply a fact of her life. And with that, she noted that it was past midnight, her shift had ended, and she left for the night, leaving her interlocutor in charge…

…who then turned to me to take my order. Patiently waiting while I flip through the pages of the various menus, Beth helpfully pointed out the $2/$4/$6/$8 menu. I countered by noting that I was just over two year away from qualifying for the Senior Menu (55 years of age and older); she smiled and said she would only charge me those prices. No thank you, I replied with a return smile, I will pay whatever I order actually costs (or words to that effect).

Ultimately, because I was not especially hungry, I ordered ice water, decaf and a sundae: strawberry ice cream, strawberry topping and nuts (it was scrumptious). After taking my order, Beth said she would make a fresh pot of decaf. When I smiled and said thank you, she seemed slightly taken aback; when I left later that morning, she thanked me—and when I asked why she was thanking me, she said something to the effect of customers on the overnight shift are not always nice. Along those lines, she also said “sorry” a lot; it struck me as more self-defense than self-deprecation.

Sitting at the counter, I could see directly into the kitchen, where a dark-haired, weather-beaten man of indeterminate age prepared various dishes. As with the Boulevard Diner waitresses, I was transfixed watching him navigate overlapping orders with the grace of a ballet dancer.

As I waited, Beth walked out from behind the counter to attend to customers sitting in booths—and I saw she was pregnant. In fact, as she kibitzed with two male customers, I heard her say she was due on Halloween (a girl), putting her about halfway through her pregnancy. She also mentioned having a 2½-year-old son; as she and I chatted later, she told me her best friend spends the night with her son while he sleeps, but just as she returns home in the morning (around 6:30 am), he often wakes and wants Mommy to feed him. She would get so tired at times, she added, she would literally fall asleep while eating.

I do not remember how it came up (either she almost spilled something on a customer, or she was concerned about spilling something on me), but she told me an accident had left her with no fingertips on (I believe) her left hand. You could not actually tell unless you looked closely, or had it pointed it out to you. That served as prelude to a tale of once spilling the same milkshake twice on the same woman because she (Beth) was squeezing the flimsy to-go cup too hard (lack of sensitivity in the hand. I surmise).

But, again, there was no upset in the storytelling—it was simply a funny anecdote to share. In fact, her amiable positivity reminded me of my late mother: life threw tragedy (and joy, to be fair) at her, yet she kept moving forward with determined optimism (and, starting at the age of 32, as she often reminded me, more than a few joints).

Beth told me she had not yet settled upon a name for her Halloween-due daughter because she was wary of saddling any child with a name—a label, essentially—that could mar their lives. I would learn the following night (spoiler alert) when she reiterated her wariness—without explanation—that she did not decide on her now-seven-year-old daughter’s name until she was riding in the ambulance to the hospital. This was her second daughter, her eldest being nine. The lack of paternal input in these stories jumped out at me, as it may have to you. However, despite wearing a ring on her left-hand ring finger I never did ascertain her marital status, or whether her children had multiple fathers (she once vaguely referred to “his father”).

All the while, of course, Beth was attending to customers, processing take-out orders, wiping down counters and table tops and—when time permitted—quietly checking her cell phone at the far end of the counter near the entrance to the kitchen; I do not recall her ever sitting.

As I was finishing my sundae and working on my third cup of decaf, two men—most likely adult father and son—entered the restaurant and sat at a booth near me; they appeared to be regulars. The younger man, maybe in his early 30s, soon asked for a job application, adding he had completed (if memory serves) 18 applications and had 22 interviews in the past two years. The point being, he had been struggling to find work since something involving receiving Supplemental Security Income (I recognized the acronym “SSI” immediately, being legal guardian of an institutionalized older sister). This prompted Beth to relate her own story and complain abstractedly about some court or other; I now wonder if she was referring to her injured hand.

Soon after that, I paid my check (in cash; with substantial tip it was well over $15) and drove back to the Hilton. I took Route 201 south the entire time, though I meandered down the inviting riverside streets (and a funky rear alley/driveway/loading dock) of Augusta first, then again in Gardiner—I regret not photographing how cool it looked at night driving over the Cobbosseecontee Stream, past the A1 Diner, over Water Street (where I turned left to explore the main drag), up and around to the right then left, past the Gardiner Common. This gives you a sense, during the day at least; lit up at night, quiet and empty, it was gorgeous.

Taking Route 201 was the correct choice: it was a faster, more aesthetically-pleasing drive, especially once I reached Brunswick and crossed over the Androscoggin River.

I took these photographs just downriver in July 2015.

IMG_1927.JPG

IMG_1929.JPG

IMG_1930.JPG

And I would be remiss, amid tales of diners and hard-working waitresses, if I did not mention the delectable BLT on whole wheat toast I ate here in July 2015:

IMG_1931.JPG

**********

The next morning, after Nell watched the girls take their morning swim and took full advantage of the free breakfast, we ate a leisurely brunch at Mae’s Café ($54.27 at 12:53 pm; I think the cash tip was $13 for affable young Ethan, who taught us how to pronounce Sagadahoc) then spent the rest of the day in Freeport.

By which I mean we spent most of the day here, the only clothing and accessories store I know open 24 hours a day (photograph taken July 2016):

LL Bean July 2016 cropped.JPG

My wardrobe, such as it, is a mishmash of L.L. Bean, Brooks Brothers and a wide variety of lettered T-shirts (many from diners or NOIR CITY), so I took full advantage of the opportunity to replenish said wardrobe. I was not the only one, and by the time we had finished (and returned the next day), we had spent more than $1,300 at L.L. Bean and Old Navy (where our eldest daughter, actually, was the one trying on all of the clothes—not the daughter who once pointedly noted “she could not help being fancy”).

We followed this with a terrific meal at The Great Impasta in Brunswick (where our youngest daughter had another alarming reaction to the food—though we now began to suspect the grenadine in her Shirley Temples); kudos to Karen, who billed us $109.33 at 7:43 pm—to which I added $20.67. Then, of course, we strolled the short distance to Gelato Fiasco. I forget what Nell and our eldest daughter had (our youngest daughter was still in some upheaval, so she refrained), as I was fixated upon my Mascarpone Pistachio Caramel. As I had on our prior visit, I threw a few dollar bills into the tip jar.

Tipping. You remember tipping. This is a post about tipping.

Another night swim with our daughters and a shower later, I was back on Route 201 north, headed for Augusta.

There was a different waitress behind the counter when I sat at my stool, but once I ordered ice water and decaf, Beth walked over and again offered to make a fresh pot. Hungrier this night, I ordered a plate of scrambled eggs and what amounted to two orders of dry wheat toast. While I waited, I noticed that rather than leave (it was past nearly midnight), Angela she sat down at the booth nearest the door, clutching a third-full two-liter plastic bottle of Mountain Dew, talking with a man I took to be a regular. I heard little of their conversation beyond that Angela was an “Army brat” who moved a great deal as a child. She also said at one point, “I never did get married. I’m smart.”

No idea what she meant by that.

Meanwhile, my food arrived.

Just bear with me while I relate an earlier experience with wheat toast in Maine.

A few days after Christmas 1996, AC and I spent a few days in Maine, staying at the South Portland Howard Johnson hotel. One morning (fine, early afternoon; we slept way in that day) we breakfasted at a nearby IHOP. As part of my meal, I ordered a plate of dry wheat toast—meaning “unbuttered.” When the toast arrived, however it was dripping with butter. And yet our waitress actually asked me, “Do you need any more butter?”

I love Maine.

Sure enough, when my toast arrived, it was buttered; I suspect it is muscle memory for some chefs. Still, covered in the strawberry “preserves” and grape “jelly” from those little plastic pouches, it was like ambrosia. The eggs were good, too.

It was a quieter night, so Beth and I chatted a bit more, albeit desultorily; her manager was sitting right there, after all. Nonetheless, I learned the names of her children (and deciding her second daughter’s name in the ambulance). I learned her age and birthday; suffice it to say she was in early-to-mid 20s when her first daughter was born.

I learned she packs a full work week into four consecutive overnights to have more time with her son; it was never clear where her two older daughters lived. At one point, I overheard her say she makes only $5.50 an hour in base salary (I think that is what I heard), but so far that night had only earned $23 in tips. If she works a nine-hour shift and leaves at 6 a.m., that would start her shift at 9 pm. It was then a bit past midnight. Thus, for roughly three hours, she had effectively been earning just under $13.50 an hour.

At 36 hours a week for 52 weeks, that works out to just over $25,000 a year.

Meanwhile, at one point she said she was going outside for a bit. Expecting a negative response to what was clearly a smoking break, she said, “I know, I know, it’s bad. I am down to only one a day,” or words to that effect. Both of my parents smoked heavily, and that likely contributed to deaths from a heart attack (father, at 46) and ovarian cancer (mother, 66).  But all I said was, I do not judge you. In fact, you are judging yourself far more than I ever could.

Later, we discussed being bored at our workplaces yet being discouraged from doing more than our job description entailed. I related how when I worked as a pizza/sub delivery boy, I had a lot of down time–so I would pick up a broom and start sweeping. But my—eccentric—boss would get annoyed at me. That was somebody else’s job, he believed (it was not, actually, but never mind). Maybe he was afraid I would ask for more money; I would not have, though, as the tips I received were decent, and I simply wanted to help.

Finally, while standing at the cash register, I heard what had happened to her fingertips. It was a fascinating story mixed with more personal revelations (I just bore with her) that boils down to fireworks unexpectedly exploding in her hand. I am amazed she was not far more severely injured than she was.

It was not until I was mostly out the door that Beth saw what I had left on the counter. My bill could not have been more than $12 or so, but I left a 20-dollar bill. On top of it was one of my business cards, on the back of which I had written, “For she-who-has-yet-to-be-born. Good luck!  -Matt” along with a smiley face.

She had said “Thank you” as I was leaving, then I heard a louder “Thank you!” as the outer door closed behind me. I waved without stopping and got into Nell’s car.

The drive back to Bath was uneventful.

**********

The next morning, I actually breakfasted in the hotel before we checked out. Before that I had left $70 in cash in Nell’s and my room plus a note saying “Thank you!” (with another smiley face, yes). My rule of thumb for hotel rooms is to tip between $10 and $15 per room per night; it is a brutal job.

As I said, we stopped in Freeport for more shopping, after which we ate here. And while our food was fine, the 45-minute wait was absurd given how few patrons there were; they cannot all be winners. That was not our waitress’ fault, however, so I still tipped well; I paid in cash so I cannot tell you the exact amount or time of day.

This time, it was our eldest daughter’s turn to get panicky about food (though she still enjoyed her hot dog). As someone who spent most of the last six months of 2016 convinced I was going to vomit every time I felt “trapped” somewhere (why I finally started seeing a psychotherapist and be treated for depression), I cannot say anything.

Driving home, we exited in Kittery, so I could peruse the outlet stores that line Route 1, looking for a New Balance store. Not finding one, we continued over the Piscataqua River into Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where we snaked along Route 1B until we arrived here (photograph taken June 2015).

Wentworth cropped.JPG

Nell and I honeymooned here for three nights in October 2007. And since we are discussing family gastrointestinal upheaval, I will simply note that Nell was already pregnant with our eldest daughter then.

After exploring the hotel, we meandered down gorgeous Route 1A in New Hampshire, the Atlantic Ocean on our left, stunning mansions on our right. This took us into the prosaic resort strips of North Hampton and Hampton Beach, and, finally, into Massachusetts, where we made our way to I-95 south and home—arriving, happy but exhausted, just before 7 pm.

To be continued…

[1] I had no luck interrogating my memory using GoogleMaps, Newspapers.com or any other online tool. As for the best meal I ever had: here in July 1997.

[2] The bottle of red wine Nell bought at a Bath CVS helped as well.

[3] For the record, I refreshed my memory of the Route 1 town progression using GoogleMaps.

[4] An alternate route would have been I-295 north to I-95 north, with Denny’s just off Exit 112A, but where is the fun in that?

Road trips and the fine art of tipping (Part I)

A few weeks ago, I finally watched Reservoir Dogs.

I am very squeamish about blood (seeing it can literally cause me physical pain[1]), and I knew there was a great deal of bloodletting in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 heist-gone-wrong neo-noir masterpiece. Plus, a friend had once informed me she could never hear the Stealers Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle with You” the same way again.

(Here is why the song so disturbed my friend, if you are game).

Despite my squeamishness, however, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the film; it was a well-crafted tale of crime, paranoia and, in an odd way, humanity. But what particularly stayed with me after the film was its opening scene, in which the men about to commit the jewelry robbery eat breakfast in a small restaurant. In typical Tarantino style, the overlapping conversations include pop culture references (e.g., the meaning of the Madonna song “Like a Virgin”), inane recitations from a re-discovered “little black book” and a pointed conversation about restaurant tipping. The latter brouhaha is triggered by Mr. Pink’s (Steve Buscemi) refusal to add his allotted dollar bill to the tip. “I don’t tip,” is his response, though he is eventually forced to do so.

My father had his flaws (boyish self-centeredness, destructive gambling addiction), but he was always generous with whatever money he had. It was from him I learned the value and respect of tipping well, especially while he spent the last year or so of his life driving a cab in Philadelphia. My five months working as delivery boy for a pizza/sub shop (I give you food, you give me extra money? Sign me up!) only reinforced this lesson.

Too many people fail to understand (or care) that waitstaff make little in base salary and so depend on tips for their income. I do not remember who said this, but I once heard that waitressing is the one job that any woman, regardless of education or experience, can always get. Just the other night, in fact, I overheard a young server at our favorite local restaurant observe she had earned $30 an hour in tips one recent shift. Show me an entry-level job where I can earn that much money, she added for emphasis.

The woman making this observation will soon be a college graduate, while her interlocutor just became a college graduate.

***********

Our summers have settled into a mildly complex routine.

Once our daughters’ school year ends, my wife Nell takes them, the dog and herself to her family’s summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. They stay a few weeks then return to Brookline for a week or two, so we can take a family vacation somewhere (key requirement for daughters: hotel with swimming pool; they are indeed their parents’ children). Then they return to the Vineyard until the end of the summer, leaving “Daddy” to entertain himself as best he can, with a trip to his birth city of Philadelphia thrown in for good measure. Perhaps finish his darned book as well.

This summer is no different. Nell literally picked up the girls from school, dog and baggage in tow, and drove to the ferry in Woods Hole. Three weeks later, they returned home; two days later, we dropped the dog with Nell’s mother and drove to the always-charming Bath, Maine.

IMG_1921.JPG

IMG_1923.JPG

IMG_1925

IMG_1917.JPG

IMG_1916.JPG

Not Mario's of Bath

IMG_1913.JPG

Bath Maine Route 1 bridge.JPG

Yum Mee Chinese Restaurant

IMG_1911.JPG

IMG_1910.JPG

IMG_1909.JPG

I actually took these photographs on a trip to Maine in July 2015 (when a very odd thing happened to me [Fact #82]), but the city has not materially changed in the interim. Mae’s Café is still THE place to go for brunch—and to learn how to pronounce the county in which Bath resides (Sagadahoc—suh ga duh hoc, accent on 2nd syllable). I have yet to visit Mario’s, Mateo’s (which is NOT Mario’s) or Yum Mee.

Actually, it was on that trip that I discovered Bath’s brand-new Hilton (which I recommend—as well as Kennebec Tavern, directly across the street), the Hilton in which Nell, the girls and I first stayed in July 2016. Not only does it have an indoor pool, the pool’s lights cycle through the colors as you swim.

IMG_2743 (2)

IMG_2739.JPG

I took these photographs in July 2016 trip in the park adjacent to Patten Free Library, just across the street from the Hilton’s back door. The church building now houses the Winter Street Center.

For the record, this is pretty much an impossible choice:

IMG_2771.JPG

*********

Before I describe this year’s family vacation to Maine (and a subsequent day trip to Nashua, New Hampshire), just bear with me while I backtrack a week or so.

I first described my penchant for meandering late-night drives here. Generally, I take such a drive the first Saturday night after Nell and the girls leave in late June. This year, though, I waited two weeks, in no small part because I was making headway on my book. I ultimately decided to take a drive on Saturday, July 6; the following day I would thoroughly clean our refrigerator, a necessary task I had been procrastinating for days.

But when I awoke that Saturday, an ominous-looking sky sent me to the Weather app on my iPhone. What I saw was a near-certainty of thunderstorms that night.

Crud!

Disappointed, I decided to flip-flop my days: I would tackle the fridge Saturday then meander on Sunday, whose weather appeared far more promising. Rewarding as a sparkling-clean, odor-free refrigerator was (and there was, in fact, a torrential downpour that evening), it was hard to shake the disappointment, and I ultimately wandered that evening down a bizarre rabbit hole of memory, eventually taking myself for a late-night snack to the nearby New Yorker Diner, which is open from 10 pm to 4 am on weekends.

However, Sunday was as sunny as promised, as was my disposition. And at 8 pm I pulled out of our Brookline driveway, bound for…somewhere or other.

I quickly decided to wander west through Wellesley to Route 135 west. Natick, Framingham, Ashland.

In Ashland, I briefly toyed with stopping for a meal at the supposedly-haunted Stone’s Public House. Sometime in the 1990s, while I dated “AC,” we watched a “Haunted New England” program which featured what was then called John Stone’s House (or something). AC and I went there for supper one night; we had a fine, if unspectacular, meal but did not experience anything remotely supernatural. On a lark, I took the girls (then six and five) there for supper in March 2015; they were fascinated by the stories and the “investigation” documented in this book. For my part, not only was I extremely skeptical, but the report itself was remarkably poorly written.

IMG_1670.JPG

On this July 2019 Sunday night, though, I chose not to stop. Instead I continued to drive west on Route 135 into Hopkinton (where Nell called for the “Good night, Daddy” ritual) and Upton. There, just past the intersection with Route 140, I veered south, eventually landing on Route 16 west in Mendon. This took me right past the terrific Miss Mendon Diner, which unfortunately had closed 10 minutes earlier, at 9 pm (photograph taken July 2010); I was starting to get hungry

Miss Mendon Diner July 2010.jpg

Following Route 16 west, I began to hear loud explosions, which I quickly realized were fireworks (it was only a few days after July 4, after all). At first, I thought they were coming from the West Hill Dam, but as I crossed into Uxbridge, I realized they were coming from near the town center. Just before reaching that center—the intersection with Route 122—I drove by St. Mary Parish, home to Our Lady of the Valley Regional School.

I took this photograph of the larger playground adjacent to the school building in September 2012.

IMG_0031.JPG

Our younger daughter, then not-quite-three-years-old, accompanied me that day. After enjoying the playground, we had supper at the Miss Mendon Diner. There, I took this photograph of my left hand to send to Nell, reassuring her I had not lost my wedding ring.

IMG_0032.JPG

Again.

In March 2011, the girls and I visited that same playground, and while we were there, my wedding ring somehow slipped off my finger into the wood chips comprising its “floor.” Realizing what had happened that night (and with Nell none too pleased), I drove back to Uxbridge the next day, but I could not find my ring anywhere. Being an optimistic sort, I left my name and phone number with the school office.

A few weeks later, literally as I was having my phone interview for the data analyst/project manager job I was about to land at Joslin Diabetes Center, I received a phone call from a woman at Our Lady of the Valley. One of the girls in the school had found a wedding ring, was it mine?

Wedding ring envelope.JPG

Apparently, I did not drive back to Uxbridge—an hour’s drive at the best of times—until April 15, 2011, the date on the card inside this envelope. The envelope which did, in fact, contain my wedding ring. I made a point of thanking the girl who had found it (I think she was in 5th grade) personally.

Meanwhile, back in July 2019, I crossed over Route 122 and continued west on Route 16. Here, only a few miles north of the Rhode Island state line—and only a few miles northeast of the Connecticut state line—the surroundings became much more rural, so I decided it would be prudent to stop for gas at the next open gas station.

I had LITERALLY just formed the thought, when I saw a gas station on my left. As I pulled up to a pump, a young man exited the attached convenience store, heading for my car.

“Is this full serve?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” he replied, and proceeded to “fill it up, with regular.” My Discover card slip ($32.50 for 12.503 gallons) tells me this friendly interaction—and subsequent $7 tip—took place at 9:50 pm. It was the first time I had not pumped my own gasoline (outside of New Jersey, where it remains full-serve) in years.

Shortly after pulling out of the station back onto Route 16 west, I entered Webster.

Webster, Massachusetts is home to the lovely Webster Lake. However, locals often prefer its original name:

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

This is the longest place name in the United States. I took this photograph, in a shopping center right on Route 16, in November 2014.

IMG_1415.JPG

A few miles after this shopping center, Route 16 ends at the intersection with Route 12, which runs south to Groton, along Connecticut’s southern shore. AC and I took this way home one night in May 1998, after visiting Mystic (yes, THAT Mystic), listening on the radio (back when you could up the Phillies radio station hundreds of miles away at night) to Carl Pavano make his major league debut against my Philadelphia Phillies; the Expos won 3-2).

Here, I had a choice (given that the Friendly’s at that intersection had also just closed): I could take Route 12 north about an hour (half that if I took the interstates) to Leominster, where I knew a Denny’s was, or I could try my luck further south and west along Route 12 (which sort of turns right when it hits Route 16).

It was “only” about 10:15 pm, so I decided to try my luck. Lurking in the back of my mind was the possibility of a late-night diner in Worcester, not all that far to the north. Plus, Connecticut has all sorts of excellent 24-hour diners, right?

Webster is a charming town—at least at night—but I found nothing open there. Continuing southwest on Route 197 when Route 12 veered south again, I crossed into Dudley then, finally, into Connecticut.

The section of Thompson, Connecticut known as Quinebaug was rural enough that I quickly rethought my “Connecticut has SO many 24-hour diners” strategy. This was wise; I later learned the nearest such establishment was the Vernon Diner (which I last visited in August 2018)—another 45 minutes southwest. Earlier in the evening, maybe, but not at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night.

A few minutes after entering Connecticut on Route 197 south, it intersected with Route 131 north. There, a helpful sign informed me the latter road would take me to Charlton, Massachusetts.

If you take I-84 north through Connecticut over the state line into Sturbridge, Massachusetts (which I have done innumerable times over the last 30 years, driving between Philadelphia and Boston), it ends at the Massachusetts Turnpike (known here simply as “The Pike”), just north of U. S. Route 20. If you then take The Pike east a mile or so, you hit the Charlton Service Plaza Eastbound; I have lost track of how many nights I pulled into this rest stop, desperately needing to urinate.

Back in Quinebaug, I prudently chose to turn north (OK, northwest) back into Massachusetts, pinning my hopes for satiating my increasing hunger (clearly, I had not eaten enough before embarking on this drive) on that diner in Worcester. Quickly crossing back into Massachusetts (I was in Connecticut for five minutes—10 minutes, tops), I was in Southbridge; in that town’s center, I turned north onto Route 169, which took me past a string of super-sized triple-deckers looming eerily in the night.

Entering Charlton not long after, I turned east onto U.S. Route 20, which I believed would take me directly into downtown Worcester. In fact, I thought, I think my diner is ON Route 20 in Worcester.

Some 10 minutes later, I hit Auburn, just west of Worcester. I also crossed Route 12 again, which I know for a fact passes through downtown Worcester; this, frankly, confused me. And then I entered Worcester itself…but what I drove past was no downtown. The next thing I knew I was entering Grafton…and then I was at the intersection with Route 9, a few miles EAST of Worcester.

Oops.

Route 20, it turns out, does not traverse downtown Worcester, but merely kisses its southern edge.

At the intersection of Route 9, I did something I do not think I have ever done before: I doubled back INTO Worcester. And here I mean absolutely no disrespect to Worcester, the second-largest city in Massachusetts, just edging Springfield, and an area determinedly on the upswing—as evidenced by the gorgeous Route 9 bridge over the Quinsigamond River that takes you west into the city/east out of the city.

Soon after entering Worcester on Route 9, Shrewsbury Street cuts sharply off to the left (southwest), carrying drivers into the heart of the city. The same directional instinct that misled me along U.S. Route 20 told me to turn onto Shrewsbury; OK, I actually could not make it into the left turn lane in time, but rather than make a U-turn, I cut down through the Brasil’s Restaurant parking lot. No harm, no foul.

Maybe three minutes later, I did see a diner off to my left—Mac’s Diner—but it was closed. However, I knew the diner I sought was a classic railroad car diner…and not a minute later, there it was on my left, lit up in a neon welcome.

The Boulevard Diner.

I parked right in front (it was nearly midnight on Sunday after all), walked inside with my copy of Drift (which should be required reading for every American policy maker) and took a seat at the counter.

My recollection of the menu (a giant black board with white plastic letters, surrounded by a forest of multi-colored, star-shaped sticky notes) was correct: mixed in with the usual diner breakfast food, burgers and sandwiches was a wide array of Italian specialties.

The chicken parmigiana over spaghetti (or ziti) caught my eye, but it was not clear if such dishes were time-limited. Nope, the dark-haired 40-something waitress who distractedly took my order assured me, everything on the menu is available 24 hours a day.

It took me a good half hour before I realized that the word “Bully” in a number of the menu items was short for “Boulevard,” as in “Boulevard Diner.” I may be slow at times, but I always get there in the end.

As I waited for, then ate, my meal (it was perfectly good for a vintage railroad car just past midnight on a Monday morning), I noticed that the two waitresses (mine, whose name escapes me, and a younger blondish woman named Kim) rarely walked from behind the counter to the six or seven booths. Instead, they took orders from behind the counter, then called patrons over to the counter to hand them their plates.

Also, while most of the cooking was done in the back kitchen (hidden down a step from the right end of the counter, looking in from the street), the two women worked the grill just behind the counter, efficiently preparing eggs, bacon, sausage, burgers and the like. Oh, and they constantly wiped, restocked and otherwise kept the conga line moving.

I found it all absolutely mesmerizing, frankly, like watching a contemporary minuet, with the background chatter, sizzling grill and clatter of cutlery serving as the music. At one point, the darker-haired waitress stood next to me, kibitzing with a customer, when something she said made me laugh out loud. She laughed quietly herself, playfully jabbing me with her elbow, as if to say, “hush up, you.” Later, when I was leaving, she teased me by asking if they had “entertained” me. Sure, I replied, showing my appreciation with a substantial tip.

After consuming nearly all of my meal (with a full plate of fresh hot Italian bread and butter—my mouth waters thinking about it), well into my third cup of freshly-made black decaf, Kim asked if I wanted desert. I asked what they had besides the few things I saw on the “menu,” specifically what flavors of pie (if any) they had. She went into the kitchen to check, got distracted by a large takeout order, came back to the counter, realized she had forgotten to check on the pie selection, went back into the kitchen, emerging a few moments later.

“We have lemon meringue,” she began.

“Stop there,” I replied. Because, believe it or not, that was exactly what I wanted.

It was delicious.

My drive home, almost entirely along, Route 9, was remarkably uneventful, and I pulled into our driveway at 2 am.

To be continued…

[1] There are exceptions, of course. In June 1991, my mother sliced her thumb open when a jar of cocktail sauce shattered in her hand. My friend and I had just exited our apartment building when she came out onto the porch, dressed only in a dark blue kimono and underwear, to call us back. She was bleeding profusely, but in that emergency situation I did not “see” the blood. At her insistence, however, I did have to dress my mother, including her bra. My mother was a buxom woman. Frankly, that was far more unsettling than the blood.

Where do rank-and-file Democrats (and Independents) stand on issues right now?

In the wake of Democratic underperformance in the 2016 elections (losing the Electoral College, insufficient gains to win back the United States House of Representatives [House] or United States Senate [Senate], net loss of two governorships, hemorrhaging state legislative seats), various “autopsies” were released.

autopsies

Some autopsies reached conclusions that contradicted the finding of other autopsies (likely due to an inherent bias in the group conducting the autopsy). Left-leaning individuals (e.g., Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver) and groups (e.g., Center for American Progress) declared that the Democratic Party needed to be more responsive to its increasingly liberal and progressive base (in primaries, especially). The more centrist Third Way argued that liberals are still outnumbered by moderates and conservatives (though perhaps only in the Rust Belt states [Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin] won by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump). The race to be the next chairperson of the Democratic National Committee was seen as a proxy fight over this division, with Representative Keith Ellison representing the progressives and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez representing the “establishment.” Perez won, 235-200, then immediately named Ellison deputy chairman in a nod toward party unity.

Other reports differed over whether Democrats should focus more on white men without a college degree or on younger and/or minority voters. I weighed in on this question here.  And the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight.com framed their “post-mortem” in the context of what Democrats would expect in their 2020 president.

Given this apparent divide over the best way for Democrats to proceed, which encompasses everything from messaging to election targeting to fundraising to candidate recruitment, I thought it would be a useful exercise to review what self-identified Democrats actually believe right now (along with the Independents they will need to capture to, say, win back the House in 2018). That is, what issue positions, as measured by available public polling, distinguish a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Democrats from a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Republicans? And, in these cases, when do a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Independents align with the Democrats?

**********

Just bear with me while I review my methodology.

I used all polls available on the Issues page of PollingReport.com. This page breaks down non-partisan, publicly-available, issue-oriented polls into 20 categories: Problems and Priorities, Abortion, Budget and Taxes, Crime, Disaster Preparedness and Relief, Education, Energy, Environment, Food, Foreign Affairs and Defense, Guns, Health Policy, Illegal Drugs, Immigration, Law, LGBT, Race and Ethnicity, Social Security, Space Exploration, Transportation. Some categories, such as Foreign Affairs and Defense, have subcategories (e.g., Isis and Terrorism).

For each issue, I collected all polls for which partisan breakdowns (Democrat, Republican, Independent) were provided, going back (when necessary) to the summer of 2014. In this way I balance opinion recency with the desire to review as wide an array of specific issues as possible, while also capturing data from both the Trump presidency and the preceding Barack Obama presidency.

There are three important caveats about these data.

One, poll respondents sometimes choose issue positions based on their partisan identification (as opposed to holding an independent, a priori position). An example of this is a November 2015 poll[1] asking respondents whether the unemployment rate had increased or decreased under President Obama. A bare majority, 53% of Republicans said it had increased, while 76% of Democrats correctly answered that it had decreased. The opinions of Independents were not provided.

A related caveat is that partisan positioning may have shifted over time, particularly following the 2016 presidential election.

Two, these are national polls and thus cannot be used to divine partisan issue divides in specific states or Congressional Districts.

Three, issue preference distinctions between parties may mask key distinctions within parties, such as on abortion.

Issues are presented in no particular order. If polls were conducted across multiple months, I use the last month the poll was in the field.

**********

Income inequality. Democrats (87%, vs. 11% opposed, +76) and Independents (60%, +31) felt in 2015[2] that wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans, that the federal government should seek remedies (D 81%, +66; I 54%, +13), including increasing taxes on the wealthy[3] (D 84%, +72; I 63%, +32); smaller majorities of Republicans do not see this inequality (51%, +9) and oppose governmental remedies (64%, +30), including higher taxes (55%, +17).

Environment. Democrats and Independents strongly support the Paris] Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining, believe climate change is man-made and support government intervention to reverse it. Smaller majorities of Republicans are more skeptical of climate change, support economic growth over environmental protection and oppose government intervention to reverse climate change/reduce global warming.

Reality of climate change. Democrats (80%, +61 relative to “About the same”) and Independents (54%, +13) felt in April 2017[4] that there had been “More extreme or unusual weather in the United States” in the past few years, while Republicans (60%, +33) thought it had been “About the same.”

Government role in fighting climate change. An April 2017 poll[5] found that 91% (+84) of Democrats and 73% of Independents (+49) were OPPOSED to “significantly cutting for scientific research on the environment and climate change, while 50% (+5%) of Republicans felt the opposite.

When asked in September 2014 which should receive higher priority, environmental protection or economic growth, 63% of both Democrats (+29) and Independents (+32) prioritized the environment, while a bare majority of Republicans (51%, +11) chose economic growth.

Coal production and fossil fuels. An April 2017 poll[6] found a deep partisan divide, perhaps driven by President Trump’s vociferous support for coal miners, over whether the federal government should encourage or discourage coal production. Democrats (80%, +66) and Independents (58%, +23), seeking to protect the environment, strongly favored “discourage,” while Republicans (69%, +50), seeking to protect coal jobs and the economy, strongly favored “encourage.” Still, this is not likely to be a winning issue for Democrats in coal-producing states such as West Virginia, which Trump won by 41.7 percentage points.

When asked in April 2016[7], 71% (+48) and 56% (+21) of Independents thought it would be a good idea for colleges and universities to stop investing in fossil fuels to reduce “global warming.” A majority of Republicans (55%, +18) disagreed.

Paris Agreement. In December 2015[8], Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor (86%, +77) of the United States joining “an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming,” with Independents only slightly less enthusiastic (66%, +41). Republicans, while opposed, were far more evenly divided (52%, +10).

However, in what could be an electoral artifact, by June 2017 a clear majority of Republicans (68%, +47; averaging three polls[9]) supported President Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, while 85% (+78) of Democrats and 62% (+33%) of Independents were opposed.

Planned Parenthood. In a September 2015 poll[10], 82% (+70) of Democrats and 56% (+19) of Independents supported federal government support for Planned Parenthood. Technically, there were “opposed to cutting off” these funds. Republicans (71%, +46) preferred to cut off the funds.

Gun control/rights. There is near-unanimity across all partisan groups for universal background checks and preventing terrorists from acquiring guns, although when either issue is framed as something supported by President Obama, Republican support plummets. For some additional context, please see this post.

Gun sales. Between July 2015 and April 2017, CBS News asked[11] six times whether gun sales should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are; for ease of presentation, I combined response for “less strict” and “kept as they are.” On average, 78% (+58) of Democrats thought gun laws should be made more strict; only 51% (+6) of Independents concurred. A solid 64% (+30) of Republicans, meanwhile, felt that gun laws should either be kept as they are (48%) or made less strict (16%). These results echo a June 2017 poll[12] in which 80% (+62) of Democrats and 54% (+12) of Independents support stricter gun control laws, with 68% (+41) of Republicans opposed.

Personal safety. Two polls (July 2016,[13] June 2017[14]), asked whether more guns or fewer guns would make the United States safer. Allowing for slight question wording differences: an average 82% (+70) of Democrats 50% (+10) of Independents said more guns would NOT make us safer; an average 70% (+48) of Republicans felt the opposite.

Perhaps reflecting the geographic self-segregation of Democrats into more urban areas and Republicans into more exurban and rural areas, Democrats (77%, +62) and Independents (64%, +36) in November 2015 said[15] they were more worried about being the victim of gun violence, while Republicans were more worried (barely: 50%, +5) about a terrorist attack.

Majorities of Democrats (82%, +69) and Independents (57%, +21) in October 2015[16] thought “better gun regulation” would reduce mass shooting, while 59% (+28) of Republicans favored “more people carrying guns.” Similarly, that some month[17], Democrats (79%, +60) and Independents (55%, +17) were opposed to “allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools,” while Republicans (64%, +30) were in favor.

Health care. Perhaps no issue divides Democrats and Independents from Republicans more than the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as the ACA or Obamacare, despite widespread (if barely among Republicans) agreement that Americans with pre-existing conditions should not be charged more for their health insurance nor should Medicaid enrollment to pre-2010 levels[18]. There was also partisan accord, in February 2015[19], on requiring “parents to vaccinate their children for diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella.”

ACA. A series of polls[20] conducted between May and August 2017 found that nearly all Democrats (85-91%, +77-87) and most Independents (57-65%, +28-41) opposed Republican ideas to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, while Republicans (58-61%, +24-34) mostly favored these ideas.

At the same time, in April and July 2017[21], on average, Democrats (90%, +83) and Independents (69%, +42) overwhelmingly supported making improvements to the ACA. By contrast, Republicans favored (65%, +34) continuing repeal-and-replace efforts. An April 2017 poll[22], conducted before the House approved the American Health Care Act, echoed this sentiment.

Obamacare exchanges. In June 2015[23], “the Supreme Court ruled that government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through both state-operated and federally-operated health insurance exchanges is legal.” Two polls conducted that month[24] found that, on average, Democrats (84%, +72) and Independents (67%, +20) favored this governmental largesse, while Republicans were (barely) opposed (52%, +10).

Single payer/Medicare-for-all. An series of polls in June and August 2017 poll[25] found that, on average, most Democrats (75%, +59) and a majority of Independents (56%, +22) favored the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, with 60% (+29) of Republicans opposed.

Marijuana legalization. Three polls conducted between January 2014 and August 2017[26] found a strong partisan divide: on average, 63% (+31) of Democrats and 60% of Independents favored legalization, while 61% (+26) of Republicans were opposed. Interestingly, between 2014 and 2017, overall support for marijuana legalization increased from 51% (+7) to 61% (+28).

Immigration. This is an issue where it is difficult to separate support/opposition for/to President Trump from support/opposition for/to issues associated with him.

Border wall along southern United States border. In February 2017[27], this central tenet of Trump’s presidential campaign was opposed by most Democrats (87%, +70) and Independents (61%, +25) and just as strongly favored by Republicans (77%, +57).

Executive order suspending entrance from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days. Trump’s executive order induced a stark partisan divide in early February 2017[28] (Democrats split 88-9% opposed, Republicans split 88-11% in favor), with Independents (51%, +6) just barely in opposition. A similar partisan divide was apparent on the question of a 120-day suspension of all refugee immigration: fully 92% (+84) of Democrats and 64% (+33) of Independents were opposed and 75% (+53) of Republicans were in favor.

When asked in September 2016[29] whether one supported or opposed “a blanket ban on the immigration of any person who lives in a country where there has been a history of terrorism against the west,” 78% (+62) of Democrats and 61% (+32) of Independents were opposed, while 54% (+16) of Republicans supported the idea.

In polls conducted in December 2015[30] and July 2016[31], an average 80% (+64) of  Democrats and 62% (+32) of Independents were opposed to a general Muslim ban, while Republicans (54%, +14) were somewhat in favor[32]. Other polls[33] released during this same time period had similar findings.

Illegal immigration from Mexico. In April 2016[34], when asked whether “you feel your own personal way of life is or is not under threat from illegal immigrants from Mexico,” fully 89% (+80) of Democrats and 68% (+38) of Independents, while Republicans were more evenly divided, 51-46%.

Syrian refugees. In November 2015[35], there was broad agreement (78-15% overall) that Syrian refugees should “go through a stricter security clearance process than they do now.” However, there was a partisan divide on the more general question of Syrian refugees coming to the United States. On average across two polls (November and December 2015[36]), Democrats (64%, +30) and (barely) Independents (50%, +4) were in favor (with the security clearance caveat cited above) and Republicans (72%, +48) were not in favor. And in September 2015[37], Democrats (69%, +40) and Independents (51%, +8) [38] favored increasing the number of Syrian refugees, while Republicans were opposed (67%, +37).

Islam. In February 2017[39], respondents were asked, “Generally speaking, do you think the Islamic religion encourages violence more than other religions around the world, less than other religions around the world, or about the same as other religions around the world?” Relative to “More,” Democrats (66%, +52) and Independents (53%, +25) chose “About the same;” relative to “About the same,” Republicans (63%, +38) chose “More.”

Use of military force. Going back a few years, a September 2014 poll found that more Democrats (59%, +23) and Independents (57%, +19) described themselves as “doves” (the United States should rarely or never use military force) and more Republicans (69%, +44) described themselves as “hawks” (military force should be used frequently to promote United States policy).

Equal protection under the law. I include here all LGBT and race/ethnicity questions.

Transgender. There is widespread agreement (75-23% overall, according to an April 2016 poll[40]) with “laws that guarantee equal protection for transgender people in jobs, housing and public accommodations.” However, that agreement does not extend to military service. In reaction to President Trump’s tweets about the subject, an August poll[41] found that Democrats (91%, +84) and Independents (72%, +49) strongly favored allowing transgender people to serve in the military, while Republicans (60%, +28) were opposed.

Same sex marriage. In three polls conducted between June and October 2015[42], an average of 67% (+41) of Democrats and 59% (+29) of Independents felt same sex marriage should be legal, with 56% (+20) of Republicans feeling it should not be legal (despite the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states).

Religious exemptions. Two April 2015 polls[43] queried the right of businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds, potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. The question wording was slightly different, but on average Democrats (74%, +52) and Independents (60%, 25%) opposed these exemptions and Republicans (62%, +34) supported them.

Voting Rights Act. A February 2015 poll[44] asked whether the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was still necessary “to make sure that blacks are allowed to vote.” There were two interesting divides on this question. First, Democrats (62%, +24) and Independents (52%, +5) thought the VRA was still necessary, while Republicans (61%, +24) did not. Second, and perhaps more telling, fully 76% (+53) of black respondents thought the VRA was still necessary, while white respondents split 48-50 against.

**********

In sum, majorities of rank-and-file Democrats and Independents (in opposition to majorities of rank-and-file Republicans)…

…believe wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans and the federal government should seek remedies, including increasing taxes on the wealthy.

…support the Paris Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining and believe climate change is both real and man-made (with government intervention required to reverse it).

…strongly support federal funding of Planned Parenthood

…feel gun laws should be more strict, more guns will not make us safer (Independents more evenly divided), more worried about being the victim of gun violence than of terrorism, better gun regulation would reduce mass shooting (not more people carrying guns) and oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools.

…strongly opposed efforts to repeal-and-replace Obamacare (opting overwhelmingly to fix the law), supported government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through state and federal health insurance exchange and favored a Medicare-for-all/single payer health insurance system.

…support the legalization of marijuana

…oppose building a wall on the southern border of the United States and any form of “Muslim ban,” feel that illegal immigration from Mexico has not hurt their way of life and support Syrian refugees entering the United States (under stricter security clearance)

…have (relatively) more benign views of Islam

…feel the United States should rarely or never use military force to promote policy.

…support allowing transgender people to serve in the military and same sex marriage, while opposing allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT persons on religious grounds.

…and believe the Voting Rights Act is still necessary to protect ballot access.

Let the campaigns begin!

Until next time…

[1] Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted by Selzer & Company. Nov. 15-17, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1.

[2] CBS News Poll. July 29-Aug. 2, 2015. N=1,252 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[3] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 6-10, 2015. N=1,495 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[4] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9

[5] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[6] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[7] 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll. March 30-April 3, 2016. N=1,010 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[8] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[9] NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. June 21-25, 2017. N=995 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1; Quinnipiac University. May 31-June 6, 2017. N=1,361 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.2; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 2-4, 2017. N=527 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5

[10] Quinnipiac University. Sept. 17-21, 2015. N=1,574 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.5.

[11] CBS News Poll. April 21-24, 2017. N=1,214 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[12] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[13] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[14] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[15] McClatchy-Marist Poll. Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2015. N=1,465 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 2.6), including 1,080 registered voters (± 3).

[16] Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Oct. 1-5, 2015. N=771 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.2.

[17] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[18] Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. June 14-18, 2017. N=501 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5.3.

[19] CBS News Poll. Feb. 13-17, 2015. N=1,006 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[20] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[21] ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 17-20, 2017. N=1,004 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3

[22] Quinnipiac University. April 12-18, 2017. N=1,062 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[23] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[24] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3; CBS News/New York Times Poll. June 10-14, 2015. N=1,007 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[25] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[26] CBS News Poll. April 8-12, 2015. N=1,012 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.; Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[27] CBS News Poll. Feb. 17-21, 2017. N=1,280 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[28] Quinnipiac University. Feb. 2-6, 2017. N=1,155 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[29] Monmouth University Poll. Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[30] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[31] CBS News/New York Times Poll. July 8-12, 2016. N=1,358 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[32] By September 2016, opposition to the proposed Muslim ban had ceased to be a partisan issue. A Monmouth University Poll (Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5) found Republicans opposed 54-32%.

[33] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3;  Quinnipiac University. June 21-27, 2016. N=1,610 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.4; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Dec. 10-13, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5. Across these three polls, average Democratic opposition was 81%, average Independent opposition was 59% and average Republican support was 64%.

[34] Monmouth University Poll. Aug. 4-7, 2016. N=803 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[35] CBS News Poll. Nov. 19-22, 2015. N=1,205 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[36] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Dec. 4-8, 2015. N=1,275 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[37] Pew Research Center. Sept. 22-27, 2015. N=1,502 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[38] Interestingly, a majority of Independents (58%, +21) in a November 2015 Gallup poll (Nov. 20-21, 2015. N=1,013 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4) were opposed to the specific number of 10,000 or more refugees proposed.

[39] CBS News Poll. Feb. 1-2, 2017. N=1,019 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[40] CNN/ORC Poll. April 28-May 1, 2016. N=1,001 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[41] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[42] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[43] Quinnipiac University. April 16-21, 2015. N=1,353 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.7; CNN/ORC Poll. April 16-19, 2015. N=1,018 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[44] CNN/ORC Poll. Feb. 12-15, 2015. N=1,027 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 3), including 733 non-Hispanic whites (± 3.5), and, with an oversample, 309 blacks (± 5.5).

We are not our resumes. Nor should we be.

When I enrolled at Yale University in September 1984, I was undecided between majoring in mathematics or political science. That decision was made much easier by my less-than-stellar performance in Math 230, then a required freshman math course. Beyond the objective difficult of the class, there are other reasons why I did not do as well in that course as I would have preferred: a horrible case of mononucleosis in my first semester which sent me home for three weeks, a tumultuous relationship with an older (sophomore!) woman, adjusting to life in a very large pond in which I was an average-sized-at-best fish, and so forth.

Political science it was.

During my sophomore year I was fortunate to take two courses with Professor Edward Tufte, who then became my faculty advisor.

Political science majors at Yale in the 1980s (and probably now) selected a “concentration” (American politics, comparative politics, political philosophy, etc.). As many earlier posts suggest, my choice was “American politics.”

This is why, in the spring of 1986, I met with Professor Tufte (over slices at Naples Pizzeria, if memory serves) and told him that I would like to concentrate in American politics.

His response had two parts.

First…”If you really want to concentrate in American politics, just read the New York Times and Washington Post every day.”

Second…”You should introduce yourself to David Mayhew.”

I smiled at the first part, recognizing Professor Tufte’s gently sardonic contrarianism. I also understood what he meant. While the academic American politics literature is rich, one could argue that all one really needs to know about how American politics actually works can be found in those two newspapers. In fact, when I briefly lived in Washington, D.C. after graduating from Yale, I subscribed to both and read them assiduously.

Still, rules were rules, so I chose to concentrate in American politics.

The second part was another matter entirely. Working with Professor Edward Tufte was already a high honor. Imagine being an aspiring young actor/actress and being mentored directly by, say, Kevin Spacey or Natalie Portman.

Now imagine Kevin Spacey or Natalie Portman were to say to you, “OK, if you really want to learn about acting, then introduce yourself to Daniel Day-Lewis or Meryl Streep.”

In this scenario, your gender is irrelevant; either Spacey or Portman could be telling you to introduce yourself to Day-Lewis or Streep.

The point is made either way: it was a terrifying and exhilarating prospect.

I don’t remember how long after this conversation I plucked up the courage to follow Professor Tufte’s advice, but here is all you need to know:

A little over 20 years later, Professor David Mayhew attended my wedding.

**********

This being a data-driven storytelling blog, just bear with me while I briefly discuss an economic concept called the labor force participation rate: “the number of employed and unemployed but looking for a job as a percentage of the population aged 16 years and over.” As of May 2017, the U.S. labor force participation rate was 62.7%, down from 65-67% in the 1980s and 1990s.

This “labor force” concept is important because it forces us to recognize that many adults (if you define a person older than 15 as an “adult”) are neither working nor looking for work. Most of them are retired or choose not to work to stay home with young children and/or pursue other goals.

But it also means that 40.0% of Americans aged 16 and older (37.3% not in the labor force plus 2.7% unemployed[1]) do not have a pithy answer at hand to the question “What do you do?”

Actually, given the rapidly changing nature of American employment (the days of the lifelong company or union job may be over), it is a complicated question even if you are working, because what you do for a living may not be condensable into a concise soundbite.

It is also, however, one of the very first questions Americans ask someone they have just met, as this thoughtful 2014 piece in The Guardian asserts.

This question—this glimpse into how Americans identify themselves to themselves—is one I have struggled with for years, partly because my own jobs have often resisted concise description. For example, when I worked as a “Quality Researcher/Statistician” at the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership in Boston, simply stating that title provided little insight into what I actually DID on a daily basis. I was essentially a kind of in-house statistician/epidemiologist, and I assisted on and/or coordinated a series of data-driven projects related to mental health diagnoses over time and blah blah blah blah blah.

Admit it. Your eyes are already glazing over a bit.

But my struggle was far more than just “my career is difficult to describe pithily.”

No, my struggle had more to do with how my own view of myself has evolved over time, and it can be summarized as the eventual realization that I am not my resume.

In fact, nobody is.

**********

In May 2017, Professor Mayhew turned 80, which he celebrated (in part) by releasing a new book, The Imprint of Congress. As has been his custom since I worked as a research assistant for him 30 years ago, he thoughtfully sent me an inscribed copy.

Not to sound like a shill for my mentor and friend, but I recommend the book. It is a quick and engaging read written in Mayhew’s uniquely appealing conversational style, a refreshing change from the soulless formalism of too much academic writing.

He also celebrated turning 80 by brunching with my youngest daughter and me. Another custom of his is to greet me with the amiable question, “How are you? Are you thriving?”

It turns out, that question was both very easy and very hard to answer.

**********

I spent six years pursuing a doctorate in government, focusing on American electoral geography, at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Yale Professor Mayhew graciously agreed to serve on my doctoral committee.

For…reasons…I resigned from that program after six years ABD (all-but-doctorate), though I did recently apply for, and receive, a Master’s Degree (A.M.) in Government from Harvard.

Not too shabby, as consolation prizes go.

After a year-plus of “now what the hell do I do?” I landed my first health-related data analysis job at Health and Addictions Research, Inc. (HARI) in Boston (long since folded into the Heller School at Brandeis University). I now look back at that job as one of the three best jobs I ever had.[2] That job is where I met a woman who (along with her husband) remains one of my closest friends. It was also the start of a 19-year career applying (and expanding) my quantitative skills to public health and/or healthcare and/or disease treatment and prevention.

For eight of those years, I simultaneously pursued a Master’s Degree in biostatistics and (successfully, this time) a PhD in epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), while marrying and helping to raise two delightful young daughters.

If you are counting at home, that means a BA in political science from Yale, an AM in government from Harvard, a MA in biostatistics from BUSPH and a PhD in epidemiology from BUSPH.

I am, naturally, proud of these degrees and of my career.

But when I say “I am not my resume,” I mean that when I look in the mirror I do not see an epidemiologist or a biostatistician or a political scientist or a health-related data analyst/project manager/program evaluator staring back at me.

These career choices and academic pursuits are a vital part of my life story, but they are not who I am.

I am not my resume.

**********

Two years ago this June 30, I was laid off from my most recent health-related data analyst position, at Boston’s Joslin Diabetes Center, after four-plus years. My layoff resulted from a combination of the conclusion of a three-year federal grant and a massive organizational restructuring.

This was not the first time that I had left a company with impending reorganization, one which always seemed intended to eliminate the sort of research function requiring my particular skill set. In fact, it seems to be a hallmark of my career, one which has often relied upon “soft money” such as federal grants.

I can thus strongly relate to the career uncertainty expressed in the Guardian article cited above.

What has been disturbing and surprising is how much I have struggled both externally (lack of suitable positions) and internally (a burnout-driven longing for a change in how I apply my particular quantitative/management/dissemination skill set to earning a living) to finding a new job, and the fact that I am still looking two years later.

So when Professor Mayhew asked me if I was “thriving,” the question was difficult for this reason:

Other than the fact that I am still not working (for money, anyway), yes, yes I am thriving.

But, as an American, how can I POSSIBLY be thriving if I am not working? What am I doing with my time (read: how am I wasting my time?), if I am not working? How can I possibly define myself, if not through a job? Aren’t you lying awake every night worried about it?

Well, of course, I am worried about it. The money we have managed to put aside will not last forever, and sooner rather than later I will need to find a new source of income.

The difference, though, is that I refuse to define the quality of my life by what I do to earn a living.

Full stop.

I have spent two years being able to pick up my children from school (don’t get me started on my hate-hate relationship with mornings, which is why I rarely take them TOO school) and happily schlep them to various activities. I have had the gift of time to work on my massive film noir database, which may yet turn into a series of publications, and a wide range of other data-driven projects, as evidenced by the existence of this blog. I will be giving not one, but two, oral presentations deriving from mye doctoral research at this year’s American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Conference. I am giving serious consideration to writing a book weaving together a chronicle of my personal journey from Encyclopedia Brown to serious devotee of Charlie Chan and film noir, my experiences (and those of others) at NOIR CITY, and my film noir research. I have been able to do all of these incredibly fulfilling (and non-income-deriving) things with the strong support of a loving wife.

So while I do not currently have gainful employment, I still feel as though I am thriving.

Earlier today (well, yesterday, now that I look at the time on my computer), my wife, daughters and I greatly enjoyed a party at the home of the friend and her husband I cited earlier, the one I met at HARI.

Not once when conversing with older friends I had not seen for years or with someone I was just meeting did anyone ask me,

“So, Matt, what do you do?”

Maybe the message that we should not define ourselves first and foremost by how (or if) we make a living is spreading.

Until next time…

[1] The May 2017 unemployment rate of 4.3% adjusted for the estimated number of Americans aged 16 and older.

[2] The BEST job I ever had was the five months I spent as a 17-year-old delivery boy for the now-defunct Boardwalk Pizza in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where I created the mushroom provolone pizza steak…as in, “Philly cheesesteak.”