A tipping point in America's mood
There is a new awareness of the challenges we face.
BAR HARBOR, MAINE
As I wander along the Atlantic seacoast this holiday season, chatting with folks at their summer play, I sense we have arrived at a kind of tipping point in the American mood.Skip to next paragraph
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Whether it be in Newport, R.I., or Duxbury, Mass., or towns along the craggy, breathtakingly beautiful, coast of Maine, there is a new awareness of the multiplicity of challenges – both domestic and international – that must be met.
Americans are taking calmly such apocalyptic predictions as Al Gore's this month. Speaking of the energy problem, he declared: "The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk." But higher gas and food prices; a slump in the real estate market; a deflated dollar; a skittish stock market; layoffs at airlines, banks, and newspapers; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and an erratic, nuclear-pursuing regime in Iran, have nevertheless combined to produce a "perfect storm" cloud of concern over traditional summer fun.
In Maine and neighboring states, there has been a sharp drop in toll and tax revenue as tourists from other regions in the United States stay home. The chatter I hear from neighboring restaurant tables may just as likely be in German, Japanese, Thai, or some other non-English language as visitors from other lands find the cheap American dollar a bargain. A Dutch visitor who pays $9.50 a gallon for gasoline at home is not fazed by $4-plus for a gallon in the US. Canadians, who have long simmered under a weak Canadian dollar, are basking on Maine beaches in sunny enjoyment of what to them is now a weaker US dollar.
For many residents of Maine, this has long been a state on the edge. While there are pockets of affluence in coastal towns such as Bar Harbor, Camden, Boothbay, and Portland, there are great swaths of the state where homemade signs are testimony to a sturdy effort to make ends meet: "camp firewood" for sale, strawberries in July and blueberries in August, foot massages, Indian flute lessons, and other ingenious ideas to provide services and products in a state dependent on timber, fishing, and tourism. Today, officials warn of a likely 20 percent increase in the cost of heating fuel this winter. Trucks and SUVs line dealer lots in unsold platoons. In an effort to stimulate lagging sales, one boat dealer offers $2,500 of gas with a new purchase.