EMMET MEARA

Rockland used to be tough — now it’s a tourist trap

Posted March 06, 2017, at 3:06 p.m.

Rockland’s Main Street. You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.

We dropped in on In Good Company, a highly sophisticated spot for wining and dining on Main Street this week. I had a few drinks with former police Chief Al and some gals from the USO. On a freezing cold night, we stared out the frosted window and shared our combined 60 years of Main Street memories.

Main Street was hardly sophisticated when I was the reporter for the Bangor News and Chief Al ran the police department. You cannot imagine how wild Rockland was in those days. There were motorcycle gangs, daily fights in the Dory Lounge and weekend brawls that filled the Monday pages. Murders were hardly rare.

When I went to interview Gov. James Longley at the State House, he asked a question before I could. “What’s going on there in Rockland?” The fishing fleet filled the harbor and the fish rendering plant filled the air with a choking odor which some likened to baked vomit.

It was a fabulous place to work.

There were more Main Street stores covered with plywood than operating businesses. The BDN office was at 419 Main Street, right next to the space now occupied by In Good Company. I sat in our window one afternoon and watched Safet Likay walk across the street after shooting attorney Peter Sulides. I knew Likay because he had already shot at Camden Attorney Steve Peterson and I covered his trial.

The restaurant room we sat in was once the newsroom of radio station WRKD. They were our next door neighbors. When I came to town, Tommy Molloy ran the radio news department and you didn’t go home until you listened to his 5 p.m. news broadcast. Tommy didn’t miss a damn thing and you had to chase down many of his stories.

I remember that WRKD used taped news and weather from some statewide service. Often, they would report it was a sunny day when it was raining. They would report a clear day when it was snowing. We took great pleasure in calling them up with weather updates. “Look out your damned window,” we would yell.

The height of sophistication in those days was a cheeseburger and fries at David Achorn’s Ye Olde Coffee Shop right across the street. Someone tried to bomb the place one night while Achorn was vacationing in Florida.

As I said, it was a great place to work.

Now, you would not recognize Main Street. There are sophisticated restaurants from one end to the other. Primo’s sits at one end and Sammy’s Deluxe on the other with a dozen places in between. There are more art galleries than eateries, led by the well-respected Farnsworth Art Museum and the spanking new Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Down East Magazine has just chosen Rockland as the best place to live in the state, edging out Portland, if you can believe that.

I hate to admit it, but Chief Al left the city in far better shape than he found it.

So we sat at the highly sophisticated In Good Company, traded lies and supped on basil pesto crostini and hummus on crackers. I drank a sublime chardonnay, Black Stallion. Dessert was a wonderful crème brulee. The formidable wine list, which we hardly read, would have impressed Vermont Jon Bailey, former sommelier at the Samoset Resort. He used to live two doors down from In Good Company. He has given up the wine business to “buy junk and sell antiques,” he says.

The names and faces from 60 shared years paraded by our memories. What a great night. We recalled as many characters as we could and toasted those who deserved it.

When the bill came, the USO girl and I had managed to spend $62, and went home hungry.

Talk about sophisticated, but I’ll be back.

Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News in Rockland for 30 years.

 

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