Stu Tinker has spent nearly 40 years living and breathing Stephen King; first as a fan, then as co-owner with his wife, Penney, of Betts Bookstore in Bangor, and now as the foremost Stephen King tour guide for Bangor — aka Derry — on his own SK Tours.
Tinker, who until 2009 ran Betts Bookstore, where he specialized in all things King, leads tours nearly every day of the week in the warmer months and quite a few in the winter, as well. There are just that many King fans who want to come to Bangor to see for themselves the inspiration for so many iconic scenes in his books and movies — from Bangor International Airport, the setting for the TV movie of “The Langoliers,” to the Bangor Auditorium, known as the Derry Civic Center in the book “Insomnia.”
“It’s really amazing how many different people we get,” said Tinker. “We’ve had people from South Africa, New Zealand, England, Australia. All over the world. People will come to Bangor just to take the tour. I very rarely get local people; they’re all from away, and they come here just for Steve. We’ve been very, very busy.”
Tinker was an early fan of King’s. He read “Carrie” when it came out in 1974, and was hooked from the start. Tinker has led a number of Stephen King tours in the past, beginning in the early ’90s, when a Stephen King email fan group came to Bangor and Tinker led them on a bus tour of the city.
By the time he was ready to sell the bookstore, he decided to strike out on his own and lead small, five-or six-person van tours, of the city every day. Before running Betts, Tinker worked for a limousine service, where he ferried around rock stars including John Mellencamp and Cheap Trick after they played concerts at the Bangor Auditorium. He’s used to being behind the wheel. He started tours in the summer of 2010 and, now in his third season, he’s barely keeping up with the demand.
“I can do two tours a day, sometimes three,” said Tinker. “People ask a lot of questions. People want to take a lot of pictures. It can go up to four hours. We get talking and we can’t stop.”
Several major landmarks are included in the tour, such as the Standpipe, the Barrens — also known as the Kenduskeag Stream Trail — and the Paul Bunyan statue that comes alive in “It.” But there are plenty of other lesser-known spots, such as the Rite Aid on Union Street that figures in “Bag of Bones,” the apartment King lived in when he sold “Carrie” to Doubleday Publishing, and the spot in Mt. Hope Cemetery that was the scene of King’s cameo appearance in the film “Pet Sematary.” There are also a lot of new Derry locations in “11/22/63,” King’s critically-acclaimed 2011 book.
“There’s a wealth of information, though even some King fans don’t realize all of it,” said Tinker.
Bangor and Derry are virtually indistinguishable from one another, besides the fact that Bangor, as far as anyone knows, is lacking in demonic, super-powerful beings from another dimension. In the Stephen King universe, Derry is located just outside Bangor, though in reading his books, it’s clear that Derry essentially is Bangor — bizarro Bangor.
“Even though he didn’t grow up here, it’s clear he did his research, he talked to lots of people, he really absorbed what life is like here in every way,” said Tinker. “I grew up here, and he really hit the nail on the head as far as what Bangor in the late ’50s was like. It’s pretty remarkable.”