At some point in 2011, my love affair with food was getting hot and heavy. I decided that many of my next travels should be determined by a food destination. I wanted fresh lobster from the waters of Maine. I wanted blue crab from Baltimore. I missed the food in New Orleans. I wanted to sit in a real Irish bar in Boston, maybe the same one I visited when I just turned 21 and pissed off the owner. I wanted hatch chiles in New Mexico, and whatever random stuff I found along the way. And that is just the domestic portion of the list. There is an international portion as well.
The long list of cuisines and cities was pinned to the bulletin board above the desk in my home office. It was a thrilling idea, immediately followed by melancholy. It saddened me to know that, despite being in a relationship, I would be crossing these cities off, alone, as usual. My boyfriend at the time, preferred to spend his money on building motorcycles and hot-rods, and trying to get him to discuss potential future travel ideas was like pulling teeth. I liked what he was into, but my heart always yearns to travel. It had started becoming apparent how much we wanted different things out of life.
Months later, as I was booking a burlesque tour, giving myself a month to not just perform, but have some time alone, assuming it would be good for me after dealing with a couple of blows to my spirit. I realized that I could easily visit a couple of food destinations from my list as well, and from there on, I had built a food tour within my burlesque tour!
The Melancholic Lobster Expedition is just one of many snippets during my month-long solo journey, best summed up as: A burlesque dancer travels around the country, taking her clothes off for enough money to eat and drink her way through a multitude of various regional cuisines. Simultaneously seeking relief from the mourning of a breakup and the loss of her father, she wrestles with professional struggles in Austin, Texas after having relocated from a successful and happy life in New Orleans.
Its almost formulaic- travel pairs well with stories of redemption and healing, relationship troubles, finding oneself, and completing goals that may seem silly to other people. The funny thing, is that the travels did not help matters, and where one would assume that all that eating, drinking, dancing, socializing, and alone time would have made for a happy ending- I just felt shittier when I got back.
It took a few years to pick my ass up off the ground. But I look back on these bittersweet memories of travel, heartache, and personal growth, and I write it, because it feels like a tension that I have to get out of my chest. I wrestle with it feeling like I am trivializing my life to sound book-worthy. That is the hard part of writing memoir. But I know it will inspire and entertain someone, someday down the line, like many writers have done for me.
The most exciting part of my “food tour within a burlesque tour”, was when I crossed Portland, Maine off of my food destination list. It was my first time and the farthest reach of the Northeastern U.S. that I had made it to. What food is synonymous with Maine? I hope you guessed lobster, because I don’t want to find out that I missed something along the way.
While I have had lobster before, both fresh out of the waters along Baja, Mexico and in restaurants, I just simply wanted to fulfill my daydreams of eating fresh lobster in Maine while exploring the rocky northeastern coast. I chose my lobster restaurant after receiving advice from a friend who used to live there. He pinpointed the perfect day trip to get out of the city of Portland, further up the coastline, where I would then drive back down the long skinny Harpswell Peninsula, where a restaurant sits on the southernmost tip of land that meets the water.
Portland itself was dark, cozy, romantic, historic, and haunting. It felt like the dark, quiet hideaway from my normally sunny and social life. The trip really stuck with me.
I started off my day with some breakfast at the counter in the Denny’s diner that shared a parking lot with my hotel room.
Maggie (name changed for protection), my waitress, said she noticed me walking over from the hotel because of my pink hair. She told me she used to live there and I should be careful while staying there. My mind imagination took hold, as I wondered if I risked my room getting broken into, in the middle of the night, or the hotel owner sexually harassing the solo female customers. Maggie leaned in and said quietly, “my daughter found a needle in the parking lot.”
My imagination stopped dead in its tracks- that’s all! A needle?! I could have laughed but I was intrigued at the small town reality that she lived in. Good thing I’m not rolling around in the parking lot.
She casually shared with me how much nicer it was where she lived now- the Motel 6 or Super 8, one or the other… and as I silently asked myself “does this lady seriously live in hotels?”, I asked her “are you in between homes right now?” She replied “oh no, we live there. Yeah, we’ve been there for awhile, its a lot nicer and safer for the same price.” And it struck me like a gong- the differences in how we all live in this world.
Its not like I was looking down on her, and I know that people live in hotels- when necessary. But I always figured it was drifters, people who keep moving. I didn’t know that it was an option for a family, in a long term manner, in which they spoke about it as casually as I do about living in a house or an apartment. I imagined it being harsh. Then I realized that it may very well be cool and normal for her.
She asked about my travels a little more, and I elaborated, naively hoping that I could say something in an inspirational way, that would allow her to daydream about traveling, so that she would some day find the strength and enough savings to leave whatever man she is living with in her Motel 6, so that she could get herself and her daughter out of this town. But simultaneously, I told myself that I was full of shit to assume things like this, and I felt bad, but I told her that she made a good cup of coffee hoping that the complement would make her feel good, while I was the one who was feeling bad, so I tipped her 100% of my bill, and then left.
I left feeling startled over thoughts of hopelessness that I had imposed upon the picture, which then just came back full circle to me realizing that it was mostly myself that was feeling hopeless about where I made my home, but I plugged in my Ipod and drank my go-cup of Denny’s coffee as I made the drive further up the Maine coastline.
Through the grey forest-lined highway of 295, I drove NE until it connected me to state route 123, to bring me south in Harpswell. It was a cool, dark cloudy day, and the land and flora were foreign to me, yet familiar in what I had imagined from what little I learned about Maine. Pine trees mixed with deciduous trees of breeds that I had never lived around, oceany grasses, cattails, and cold brick architecture mixed with driftwood colored, wood-shingle, barn shaped homes on large plots of land, sharing space with boats and stacks of lobster cages.
I made it to the Dolphin Restaurant and Marina, a seafood paradise, with a lovely and affordable wine selection, and wall to wall windows that enabled you to look out into the Atlantic and toward islands in the near distance.
I ordered my champagne, to toast myself for having made it, and the lobster was ordered. I sat there, sipping the wine, and trying to revel in the feeling that I had brought a little daydream to life. I couldn’t help but constantly have to wrestle myself back out of feelings of sadness and loneliness, that I was sick of traveling alone. Not just on this trip, but for the last several years. I wished so badly that someone of equal excitement, was sitting by my side, to share the moment with me. I wrestled with trying to be “in the moment” and and feeling like the moment was forced.
After having been with someone for four years, who did not share the same enthusiasm to travel and seek out new cuisines or praise-worthy restaurants, I was determined to get it started on my own. And to accept that it is a valid desire, for me to have a relationship in which someone felt the same in this area of life.
I was going to have to make it a very black and white issue, in which that person must already be living with this passion in action, because I had finally hit a point, where I could say that if I wanted to be with someone who didn’t care about “A, B, and C” then I could just try to get back together with an Ex-boyfriend. Now whats the good in that?!
Go ahead and make that list of black and white Yes’ and No’s. That is where you will find what is important to you. Other things can be grey along the way, but go into it knowing what is a Yes and what is a No, because there are plenty of people who can offer you a lot of what you don’t want or need. So use your list to skip those people while you are on your path to finding one of your soul-mates, or even casual flings that fulfill whatever it is that you want at a point in time.
It is really easy to find the wrong person to be with. It is just as easy to find the wrong “friends with benefits” as it is the wrong monogamous relationship. It is really easy to look at some of the good things and think that they can make up for the things that are lacking in terms of compatibility, and it is really easy to repeat these patterns as well.
Many of us know, that it is not easy to find the perfect match, and some people give up after it takes longer than they are willing to wait for. You have choices and you can aim high. Most of all, you will find out what is right for you through trial and error, and through the deepest, darkest times, like when you are mourning and trying to have a champagne and lobster dinner by yourself.
The thick of the trees, combined with the antiquated northeastern architecture, keep my imagination stirring, as it felt like the perfect setting for the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, and even on my return trip back to Portland, at the end of the day, after the early April sun began setting behind the thick drizzly clouds, I was sure that the pumpkin-headed horseman was going to come galloping out of the trees, and past my rental car.