The first two postcards took six weeks to deliver. My plan was to deliver the next three in a mere six hours. A hat trick. Well, that's how it was supposed to transpire.
Think of the most cliché South American Chuck Norris-enticing hilltop drug lord compound you can imagine. Now add a rugged Toyota to your vision. Weston Massachusetts, just west of Boston. I'm not sure if the addressee, 'Rice', earned his money from the cultivation of coca leaves on the hillsides of remote Columbian valleys, or went the legal route, but one thing was certain: Rice had cash. Tennis courts, swimming pool, three car garage, the whole kit. (Actually, I didn't see the swimming pool when I was there, but saw it on the satellite photo when I google-map searched the address. So it's there all right, believe me. It can be seen from space. . I'd give you the address to prove it, but I'd probably put myself into about-to-get-sued-by-high-priced-lawyer territory.) I looked around to make sure Chuck Norris didn't lurk in the trees ready to pounce with a Delta-Force III like attack on the compound. Chuck was either busy filming infomercials for suspect exercise equipment manufacturers or can hide extremely well. I knocked on the door.
"You must be Rice."
"No, I'm her father."
"Oh, I see."
"She's down in New York for the week. I'll let her know you dropped by…"
"Thanks for dropping it off for her."
So Rice was a kid on holiday with her mom in New York City. Dad was on the phone and didn't seem like a chat. Be on the lookout for yet another dodgy piece of exercise equipment hawked by Chuck Norris on Late night TV.
Just over the border into New Hampshire sits the quaint little town of Lee. Lee is fortunate to sit within the state that has 'Live Free of Die' as its motto. 'Live Free or Die', top shelf as far as State mottos go. A bold attention grabbing motto if there ever was one. Apparently Lindsay and Catherine have the same attitude when it comes to postal service. They didn't pay for postage, and proved it by answering the door with their living bodies. Actually, Catherine's daughter, and Lindsay's sister, Brooke, sent the card for them. She lives free too.
Brooke posted the card a few months before on a tip to the Galapagos and Peru. Catherine and Lindsay were excited and surprised to have somebody actually come and deliver their card. Catherine looked over at me, absolutely beaming, "You know, we were at the postcard barrel too, on a separate vacation a few weeks after Brooke. We hoped her postcard would still be there, but I guess somebody took it."
"That'd be me."
"You know what else though? We put another postcard in the barrel with this address on it. We got back here after a month traveling through Ecuador and when we checked the mail, our postcard was already here."
"That sort of takes the fun out of the barrel."
"You can say that again."
That sort of take the fun out of the barrel"
"You don't have to tell me twice. We we're hoping to meet somebody like you!"
"No, thank you. This was very nice of you."
Maybe they saw me holding my car keys, or the fact that I'd told her twice, but the drop off was short. I was Maine bound after only a few minutes. On the way out of Lee, I noticed a sign that indicated all persons under 18 years of age must wear a seatbelt—State Law. Faced with the choice between living free or certain death, I unclicked my seatbelt. A few minutes later I crossed into Maine and grudgingly buckled up after seeing a sign that said: "Click it or Ticket: Maine State Law. Freedom would need to wait for another day, duty called; there was another postcard to deliver.
Now, I really wanted to deliver postcard number five before it got too late. I looked at the address: Standish Maine. I checked the blue digital clock, licked my finger and held it up to test the wind direction, made a quick calculation, and stepped on it. Today's other deliveries were appetizers, this was the Maine course.
Standish appeared through the windshield at 9:30 pm. I made it in record time without hitting a Moose--not that I had any close calls or even saw one, it's just the sort of thing you imagine happening while speeding recklessly through the Pine Tree State at dusk. Never ask for directions in Standish Maine. Gas station, pizza joint, hot dog stand, ice cream shack, you name it. All useless. "I don't know, I don't live here, I just work here." The number of respectable door-knocking minutes left in the day became fewer with each dead-end response. In a last ditch effort I went to the grocery store, cracked open a local street atlas and found the street I needed. About half a mile away. I could get there before it was too late. If I didn't hit a moose.
I rolled up to a darkened house at quarter to eleven. Either nobody was home or they were asleep. Or used reading lights.
If you fold down the back seats, and a 1990 Toyota Corolla station wagon becomes an instant tent. I never thought Maine was cold in June. My sleeping bag sat on the shelf back home. I froze. If you're shorter than 5 foot 10, I'll rent the car for $20 a night--with a pillow. And a toque. It might be chilly.
I woke up with the warm sun around 6:30 am and drove to the house. A man, presumably Ben, stood at the doorway with a warm cup of coffee. I stumbled out of the car into the blinding sunlight, a disheveled toque-clad sleep-deprived wreck still shivering from the cold of the night, "Hi, I've got a postcard addressed to Ben and Judy."
"You got our postcard? Great! We put that in the barrel a few months ago." He extended his arm, we shook hands and said, "I'm Ben, Judy's downstairs." He sized me up and added, "Do you want a coffee?"
"Ben and I are so excited that you actually came here to deliver the postcard!" cried an out of sight voice I took as Judy. She climbed the stairs towards the Kitchen. "We put two postcards in the barrel and the other one, if you can believe it, was mailed to us…" She rounded the bend and took one look at me with the instinct of a caring mother, "You look like you could use some breakfast."
"So, why didn't you show up last night?" said Ben.
"Oh, well I couldn't find your place. Nobody in town knows where your street is. I didn't get here till quarter to eleven. All the lights were out and I didn't want to knock"
"You should've! We were up reading until after eleven. We've got reading lights. You could've slept in the guest house." I bit my lip, recalled my frigid sleep, and as I sat down to a piping hot plate of breakfast, removed the toque from my head in a show of attempted respectability. Judy's jaw dropped as she gazed upon the personal grooming catastrophe upon my head. She put the plate of toast on the table, placed her hands on her hips and shot me a stern motherly smile. "Kyle, would you like a hot shower?"
"Yes." I replied, as if obeying an order.
Breakfast was unbelievable. Warm toast. Warm eggs. Warm bacon. Warm conversation. Hot coffee.
Their house overlooks the most stereotypical Maine landscape you can imagine. A picture perfect lake bordered with pine trees and rolling hills. The same lake that Judy helped clean up a few years back for a project that garnered her a medal of honor from the governor of Maine. Ben takes water samples on nearby rivers as a volunteer. Ben told me great story about a pair of loons he watches cruise around the lake. I looked across the table at Ben's shirt. It featured a picture of a loon on the water with a title: Watchic Lake. I inquired, "Ben, is that Watchic Lake out there?"
"Yes." He replied.
"Is that loon on your shirt the loon you were just talking about?"
This was getting better by the minute. Not only were Ben and Judy hospitable enough to invite me into their lakefront Maine home, Ben wore a t-shirt that showed the waterfowl viewable from his lakefront Maine Home. This was too good to be true. I'd just gone from being a frozen car-raggled scumbag to a guy with a belly full of breakfast in a warm house with two of the friendliest people of all time. As far as freelance postcard delivery goes, this was heaven. I felt like the next thing Judy was going to look over at me and invite me to stay for a week.
"So do you want to stay for a week?", said Judy, without a hint of sarcasm.
"Uh, yes. Of course. Who wouldn't? It's just that I've got to go back home. My girlfriend's got some stuff planned for us this weekend."
"Well, the door is always open. Come back anytime with your girlfriend."
Ben looked down at his shirt, then glanced up at me with a smile. "Hey, I think I've got another one of these shirts—would you like one?"
This was heaven.
Judy told me how she grew up in Minnesota, Ben in Connecticut. They met in California and then moved to Maine. Now officially retired, they spend much of their time traveling the globe, checking off places from their personal list. They're the kind of couple airline executives dream about.
Ben came back into the room with a shirt in his hands. "Well, I couldn't find a t-shirt, but I've got a sweatshirt with a loon on it. How does that sound?"
"It sounds like the best thing I've ever heard."
He passed me a nice white sweatshirt that featured, as promised, a loon and the caption: Standish Maine. Judy looked over at me, "Hey, and you won't freeze tonight if you sleep in the car."
Breakfast was inhaled and Judy and I strolled downstairs. "Here's the shower. Feel free to use our towels." She then gave me a sly look and pointed down the hallway, "And right down there is guest room you could've slept in last night. A heated guest room."
"Yes, next time."
I looked past Judy and saw a map of the world on the wall. The map was absolutely peppered with hundreds of orange pins. Nearly every state was hit, as well as South America, Africa, Asia, everything. It was like a game of RISK and they were winning handily. I turned to Judy and asked, "Are these all the places you've been?"
Judy looked over at me, with her confident sly motherly grin and said, "So far."