Hall Boyle has many a pleasant yarn about the old days in Maine in his new book, and I was reading about Banker Chapman and how he got his start in life. He'd get onto one of the old horsecars in Portland and sit next to the fare box. People getting on after him would pass him their fares and he'd drop them in. Well, sir, the fare was a nickel, but strips of six tickets could be bought for a quarter. Accordingly Banker Chapman would pocket any nickels given to him and drop in one of his strip tickets. Mr. Chapman was accounted a shrewd man, and Hal Boyle seems to feel this was amusing, but I hope I am eventually remembered by some more complimentary anecdote. Maybe I should tell how we used to give away bridge tickets.
More or less at the same time, Maine built two bridges -- one over the Kennebec at Augusta, and the other over the Penobscot connecting Bangor and Brewer. The toll one way was 10 cents, and I was never particularly proud of our highway authority for the way it arranged the strip tickets. The tickets could be had for 25 cents, a condescension to folks who lived nearby and used the bridges often.We jokers from a distance could buy the 2 1/2-cent tickets, but why bother if we went that way only once or twice a year? Class discrimination, of course, but this was some time ago. Another sillines about the tickets was that you had to buy a separate strip for each bridge -- the Augusta tickets were no good at Bangor. Both bridges have been toll-free for some time now, and I hear-tell the toll tickets surviving are collectibles.
When we first crossed the bridge at Augusta, I handed the man a dime, and then saw the sign offering 10 rides for a quarter. I paused long enough to find a half dollar, and I came off the bridge with 20 tickets -- learning later that afternoon that I was expected to buy another 20 when I got to Bangor. We rode around a lot before we came to either bridge again, and the strips of tickets reposed at the ready in our glove compartment. But one day we crossed the Augusta bridge again, and before we got to the toll gate I gandered the rear view mirror and noticed an automobile with Ohio license plates was tailgating. Tourists. So I gave the man one of my strip tickets, and then I handed him a second with, "Let's be kind to our visitors -- this one pays for the car behind me." It was worth every bit of the 2 1/2 cents to watch the reaction. The tourist reached out with his dime, the attendant gestured no, and the tourist was shown the ticket. Than all the Ohioans broke into joy and waved gratitude to as as we pulled away from them. Perhaps they didn't know that we were being kind at the bargain rate, and presumed we had squandered a full dime. Perhaps. Anyway, we did that as long as the two bridges charged tolls, any my wife recalls that sometimes it was difficult to get into line ahead of an out-of-stater. But we did when we could, and got a lot of friendly wavings from folks "from away."
Some of our friends were told about this, and thought the idea good. Before long a good number of us who had no reason to keep bridge tickets on hand were making a habit of surprising tourists, and I was pleased when the Augusta newspaper finally heard about our generosity and had a squib. For 2 1/2 cents we got so much friendly reaction that we who did this were truly sorry when the highway department announced the bridges had become free.
There was a young couple from Maryland that we charitied across the Bangor-Brewer bridge one morning, and after we got their smiles and waves we pulled away and took Route 1-A over to Ellsworth. Then we tooled along down east on Route 1, coming just about noon to the lunch ground at Tunk Lake -- almost to Cherryfield. Quite a forenoon's distance the way we poke along. We opened the cooler and began our picnic, Tunk Lake being a fine spot for such. About the time the cucumber was sliced and the tomato peeled the car from Maryland pulled in. "We were hoping we'd have a chance to thank you!" he called , getting out to come over and shake hands as if we were college mates meeting at last after 50 years. Why, certainly, they would indeed be pleased to join us , and they did.
Never saw'em again, but we often recall the good fellowship of that 2 1/2 cent picnic at Tunk Lake.
Wonder, come to think of it, if anybody on the horsecars ever bothered to thank old man Chapman? My moral would be that when it comes to strip tickets you have a choice.