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The Best 2002
[The Best]


CITY LIFE


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THE FISH BOWL: WMTW’s radio personalities are on display for all of Congress Street to see.


Best Dog and Pony Show

We newspaper types have it easy. We here at the Phoenix, for instance, work way up high on the fifth floor, with a beautiful view of Casco Bay — and we’re virtually anonymous. We can come in, unshaven, disheveled, in jeans and T-shirts, hair askew — well, actually, we can’t do that because of a little thing we like to call a dress code, but, in another reality, there’s no reason we couldn’t look like slobs as long as we produced good-looking copy.

You’d think radio types would have it the same way. No one can see your early-morning grizzled chops on the radio, right? Well, the good folks on WMTW don’t have it so lucky. They do their shows right there on the corner of Preble and Congress streets, for all the world to see through a big glass window. Talk about taking the fun out of a job.

Thus, Bill Nemitz and Neila Smith, for instance, always have to look nice, despite the fact that their show starts at 5:30 a.m. Most people look like they just got hit by a bus at 5:30 a.m., but not Nemitz and Smith — then again, Smith doubles as an aerobics instructor and is probably so physically fit she doesn’t so much sleep as fall onto her bed and bounce back up.

Sometime, when you’re struggling to sleep, or walking shamefully home, go stare through their window for a while. Make faces. Moon them. Put your lips on the glass and make one of those puffer-fish spectacles of yourself. They’ll thank you for livening up their show.

 

Early Edition runs 5:30 to 9 a.m. on weekdays at 870 and 1470 AM, and at 106.7 FM.

Best Suburban ’Zine

There’s something inscrutable about Uncle Andy’s Digest. On its face, it’s an ad rag. But between the covers, it’s so much more. Filled with bawdy jokes, family photos, and familiar one-liners, Uncle Andy’s brings community publishing to a whole new place.

Let’s take a page at random: There’s a Coldwell Banker real estate ad, fairly straight-laced. There’s an ad for Pierre’s Auto Body Shop, not so straight-laced. The comics-style conversation balloons hovering around the heads of the employees leave the reader with the distinct impression that the editors have somehow made Pierre’s part of Uncle Andy’s shtick; that those balloons weren’t exactly on the original ad specs. (Even though, yes, the Pierre’s crew is talking about their own product.)

Sure enough, the familiar gray-scale balloons are present on a reader “testimonial” on the same page: a snapshot of two Marden’s employees reading the digest. “Angela, Thank God it’s Friday!” the older of the two women says. “Clarice, maybe that’s good for you, but I have to work this weekend!” the younger woman responds. Not side-splitting humor — just quirky.

Published out of Lewiston on a monthly basis, Uncle Andy’s just began distributing a Portland-centric edition in September. The Web site (www.uncleandys.com) claims “nearly 400” distribution points in Cumberland, Androscoggin, and Oxford counties; we found our copy at the Wake ’n’ Bakery on Rte. 302. So even if you have zero need for any of the goods being advertised, pick up a copy. Because who else is going to remind us all that: “I am nobody, and nobody is perfect; therefore I am perfect.”?

Uncle Andy’s Digest, 513 Sabattus St., Lewiston, (207) 783-7039.

Best Wacko-Watching Spot

Some cities are famous for their fashionably clad residents. Others are noted for hot music scenes, financial institutions, universities, industry, and support for the arts. Portland, though it possesses a smattering of smartly dressed citizens, several hip bands, too many banks, MECA, USM, and a working waterfront, ought to be known for its wackos. Anyone who’s walked down Congress Street on a sunny, summer day has been party to a sort of city-wide performance piece involving all the perennial themes: love, desire, belligerence, and paranoia.

Strangely enough, the very best place to witness the splendid parade of odd fellows that make our town unique is Starbucks, on the corner of Congress and Free streets. You wouldn’t think that this yuppified chain store would lend itself to being a spot from which to observe the human condition. But a couple of well placed armchairs in private alcoves directly across from Paul’s Food Market (wacko-central) allow for hours of voyeuristic pleasure. You only need purchase one small cup of coffee to park yourself in a comfy chair and witness the kinds of interactions normally reserved for the asylum or the stage.

In a city whose character defies zoning and the sort of compartmentalization of classes and types of people that has overtaken many other once-interesting towns, it’s ironically pleasing that Starbucks, a frontrunner in the purveyance of homogeneity, is one of the best places to kill time, stare out the window, and enjoy the reason most chain stores choose to relocate elsewhere.

 

Starbucks, 594 Congress St., Portland, (207) 761-0334.

Best Chance to Impersonate a Starving Artist

Shell out the hefty enrollment fee for one of Maine College of Art’s Continuing Studies classes, and you’re already on your way toward experiencing a dose of true bohemia. But that hungry feeling in the pit of your stomach as you forfeit a month’s worth of groceries isn’t even the best part of signing on for a little artistic education. Just wait until the third or fourth class, when you begin to feel comfortable with the new techniques you’re learning, and you get excited about your first original idea for a project. By week five or six, you’ll be pondering the viability of quitting your day job to become a full-time art student, and by week eight or nine you’ll be so frustrated by your creative limitations that even getting out of bed will seem like a futile gesture.

Of course, individual results may vary.

For the mere sum (on average) of $365, you can immerse yourself in 14 weeks of instruction in one of 15 disciplines, including printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, metalsmithing, and photography. Most classes are offered in the evening — convenient for us workaday slobs — and all are taught by professional artists. Though you may have to shell out even more cash for supplies in some classes (like silver and gold in the jewelry program), the course fee generally gives you access to all the specialized equipment the college offers its full-time students. This, along with the specialized instruction, is really what you’re paying for. Because who has their own kiln out in the garage?

MECA Continuing Studies classes are offered during the fall, spring, and summer semesters, and usually fill up fast. Visit www.meca.edu/cs for a full line-up, or swing by the college and pick up a catalog. And hey, don’t quit your day job.

 

Maine College of Art, 97 Spring St., Portland (207) 775-3052.

Best Ripple Effect

ývery small organic farmer is a revolutionary in today’s economy of multinational agribusiness and genetically engineered foods. But for Richard Rudolph of Rippling Waters/Backyard Organics in Standish, “Just producing quality organic produce isn’t enough.”

Rudolph and fellow activist Craig Lapine are cofounders of the nonprofit organization Cultivating Community. For the past two summers, during the months of July and August, they have engaged a small group of high-school kids in all of the aspects of sustainable community agriculture. These “youth growers” received hands-on training in organic growing practices at the farm and at urban gardens, worked the farmers’ market, delivered food to low-income senior citizens as a part of the Senior Farm Share Program, and collected donations from supermarkets and restaurants for the Emergency Food System’s free food pantries.

“It is important to feed the hungry but it is not systemic. We are hoping that one, by teaching the students they will become more motivated and maybe become social activists themselves, and two, the community will become more active in food production. Eighty-five percent of Maine’s food is imported from out of state or third-world countries. Many people don’t have access to land. So we are trying to connect empty garden space with those people.”

The group has recently been awarded a USDA grant for $190,000, which will primarily fund the project for the next three years, allowing them to expand to a year-round program and increase the number of students. But, to continue in the long term, they need the support of the community. Join their CSA or buy Rippling Waters food from the farmers’ market or the Public Market. Volunteer at the farm and learn more about organic gardening.

“It’s not enough to be an arm-chair activist, theory and practice need to be linked together,” Rudolph states, “I started farming in part because there is so much political work to be done, and what better way to reach people than through food.”

 

Cultivating Community — growing sustainable communities through agriculture, enterprise, and service, (207) 553-2185 or (207) 642-5161.

Best Spy Game

Little known fact: On a sunny day, if the light is clear and strong, you can see the White Mountains from inside a windowless room at the Children’s Museum of Maine. But only if the lights are out.

You can also see the sun glinting off passing cars on Congress Street, and tug boats chugging in and out of Portland Harbor. Zoom in: Read a license plate number. Pan left: a panoramic view of 142 High Street — uniform rows of windows; rectangular glimpses into a tattoo studio, an apartment with lush green plants arranged on the sill. A lone seagull coasts by.

Amazingly, this is not a video feed; not closed-circuit TV; not stock imagery on a loop. The Children’s Museum is home to a device called a camera obscura, which is Latin for, fittingly, “darkened room.” One of only three in the country of its scope and power, the camera at the Children’s Museum works much like a human eye: Natural light that’s reflected off objects surrounding the museum is intercepted by a mirror in the building’s cupola, and reflected downward onto a round, white tabletop in the center of a dark room.

The result is like staring into a crystal ball — watching life unfold in other parts of the city, completely without the aid of modern technology. Although the museum has had the camera since Eastman Kodak donated it in 1994, staff members say it’s “the best-kept secret in Portland.” The museum primarily uses the camera to teach school kids about light, optics, the human eye, photography, and astronomy. Art students from USM and MECA also use the device to study perspective. (Of course, it also has more practical applications. “People have been in here and seen their cars getting ticketed,” notes one staffer.)

But you don’t have to have a purpose to enjoy the unique 360-degree view of the city that the camera offers. It’s a nice way to while away an early lunch break, a harmless bit of voyeurism that will give you a whole new perspective on the downtown area. Call ahead, though; because the camera works best in bright conditions, there’s really no set schedule for shows. And don’t worry about paying full admission to the museum if you don’t have any kids in tow — you can shell out $3 and just visit the camera room.

 

The Children’s Museum of Maine, 142 Free St., (207) 828-1234.

READERS' CHOICES

Best Bartender: Bob Conner at Ri Ra

Best Newscast: WCSH Channel 6

Best Newsperson: Kim Block

Best Nonprofit Group: Portland Media Artists

Best Photographer: Stewart Smith

Best Place to People Watch: Monument Square

Best Politician: Tom Allen

Best Psychic Advisor: Vicki Monroe

Best Radio DJ: Mary Persky

Best Radio Station (music): WCLZ 98.9

Best Radio Station (talk): MPR

Best Way to Find an Apartment: Portland Press Herald

Best Weather Person: Dave Santoro

Best Writer: Al Diamon

Best ‘Zine: The Café Review

Copyright © 2002 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.