YARMOUTH, Maine — John Holmes was driving on the new Exit 15 interchange on Interstate 295 when he noticed graffiti on the rock wall that flanks the exit ramp.
He was not pleased.
“I was fit to be tied,” Holmes said last week. “I felt personally attacked.”
Holmes and several other Yarmouth residents brought the issue to the attention of the Maine Department of Transportation, and now the graffiti — which says “YHS 13,” presumably an ode to Yarmouth High School’s Class of 2013 — is scheduled to be removed this week.
Ending a tagging tradition for the high school graduating classes, however, may prove more difficult.
Recent graduates of Yarmouth High School have been painting similar messages around Exit 15 for decades. Students from North Yarmouth Academy and Greely High School have done the same thing, YHS Principal Ted Hall said.
But the $6.1 million construction project that created a new, northbound on-ramp this year has made the presence of graffiti appear more egregious to some residents.
“Come to my town, we’re good people, but don’t mind that 4-foot-wide, YHS graffiti tag on the brand new rock wall,” Holmes said facetiously. “This is not some places in York County, where you might expect it.”
The DOT uses a soda blasting machine for graffiti removal, said Timothy Cusick, superintendent of operations for the department’s Region 1. The process usually takes a couple of hours, but that can vary significantly based on the paints and surfaces involved.
Graffiti removal is not a high priority for the DOT, unless there’s an offensive word involved, Cusick said. In this case, the volume of complaints required action.
“There are costs involved,” Cusick said. “The stuff we buy for the machine isn’t overly expensive, but it’s time consuming, and that’s the problem. We could tie a crew up there for a few days when they should be doing more important work.”
Holmes said when he spoke informally about the matter to the Yarmouth Police Department, he was told the graffiti was a time-honored tradition, just kids being kids.
But Holmes doesn’t agree. He called the Exit 15 interchange the “gateway” to Yarmouth, and said it should be treated with respect. He’d like to see some justice.
“It’s kids being stupid kids,” said Holmes, who owns Gulf of Maine Yacht Sales and sent two children through the Yarmouth school system. “Not that we’re going to draw and quarter this guy, I’m not looking for anybody to get fined, but I want them to be embarrassed, big time. And I want other people to see that this kid, or kids, have been singled out for something they shouldn’t have done. Learn a lesson from somebody else’s bad behavior.”
The fact that these annual acts of vandalism are committed by high school graduates makes it harder for the school to get involved, Hall said.
“We have no jurisdiction over kids who have graduated,” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s a great tradition, because I think it’s pretty ugly, frankly, but it’s something that has always appeared after graduation and it’s stayed up there for years,” Hall said.
Hall said the school has not addressed the issue with students, but that perhaps it would as graduation draws closer. He said he didn’t know who was responsible for the most recent graffiti.
Next to the YHS 13 tag, in smaller letters, there is more spray painted text. It reads, “PAR 2.” Holmes embarked on some detective work, but said he found that no member of the Class of 2013 had the initials PAR. [As slang, PAR also means “something to be expected” or a sign of disrespect.]
For now, he’ll have to satisfy himself with the knowledge that his concerns have been heard and are being acted upon.
At least, until next time.
“If they do it again after we clean it, we’ll attack it again, eventually,” Cusick, of the DOT, said. “But we won’t rush right back out there. We’ll notify the police and see if they can find out who’s doing it. Kids aren’t quiet. They always brag to their buddies.”