PORTLAND, Maine — The best part about being a Maine journalist is having the excuse to meet interesting people every day. It’s what gets me up in the morning, no question about it.
This state has an endless supply of fascinating folks. Thankfully, I get to talk to and photograph many of them.
Sometimes, I get to dreaming about a safer job with better money and banker’s hours. Then, I imagine sitting at a desk all day — every day — inside, breathing air someone else has already exhaled. Imagining that life makes me twitchy and lightheaded. I actually get nauseated.
That’s when I pick up my cameras and head out into Maine, my home state, where I’ll never run out of gripping characters.
Looking back, here are some of the most captivating people I met in 2019.
Randy Carver Jr.
This 22-year-old built Maine’s biggest professional wrestling empire. He started Limitless Wrestling in 2015 with a savings account and a $700 loan from his mom and dad. At the time, he was 18, just out of Penobscot Valley High School and living with his parents in Lagrange. His first wrestling show was at a Brewer banquet center. It was a success and he paid his parents back that night.
Curtis is a patented inventor. When I met her, she was perfecting a seaweed-based, all-natural sexual lubricant made especially for Mainers planning on heading, uh, “Down East.” Curtis’ Sea ME Lube would be made from sustainably harvested, local Irish Moss seaweed. She was also thinking about making preservative-free, frozen “Lube Cubes.”
Orson Horchler, who operates Bondeko carpentry, only hires new Mainers to help with his construction and remodeling jobs. Horchler remembers his own difficult immigrant experience, coming from the Paris suburbs 20 years ago. He wants to give other immigrants the help he never got.
It looked like his boxing career was over after a logging truck’s grappling claw mangled his leg. But with good doctors, months of difficult rehab work and an iron will, Streeter got back in the ring. In November, he won a unanimous decision over Argentina’s Miguel Angel Suarez in his first fight back. The super welterweight boxer from Raymond is now 10-1.
It was supposed to be just a simple job. Groff was hired to help film some interviews for a documentary, then go home and cash the check. Instead, he was awed by a family’s courage, love and creativity in the face of unspeakable tragedy. That’s when Groff decided to give the money back and work for free. He ended up taking over the project, co-directing it and helping fundraise over $23,000 to see it through.
On his back, Ouellette has a life-sized tattoo of Star Wars’ most hated character: Jar Jar Binks. In May, a picture of the unlikely tattoo hit the internet, causing a great disturbance in The Force. Ouellette then received death threats, adulation from a porn star, questions about his marital status and more grief than anyone deserves.
Coming here from Iran in 1978, during a blizzard, Bahmani spent his first few nights in the United States stranded in an airport. Eventually, he made his way to Maine where he earned a business degree, learned English, got married and had a family. Now, Bahmani owns the last cafe in the state where you can legally enjoy a smoke and a beer at the same time.
I met this little boy at the Expo. I had an hour at lunchtime to find some asylum-seeking folks willing to tell their story and be photographed. He took my picture as I took his picture. It was an exchange, a small connection I won’t forget.