Sunday, April 17, 2005

Some odd little tastes of home.

I grew up in Bangor, Maine. It’s a nice enough place, but not terribly exciting. Sure, technically it’s a city, but with a population of under 40,000, it’s pretty small. All the basics were there – malls, movie theaters, restaurants, museums, and the like – but it wasn’t a very happening sort of place. If you wanted to do something really fun, you usually had to travel 2 hours south to Portland. When I was a kid, I used to paraphrase Luke Skywalker when I described my town to people: if there was a bright center of the universe, Bangor was the place that it was farthest from.

I’ve long since grown up and moved away, and with age and a certain amount of distance come wisdom. And this wisdom has led me to an important conclusion about the city of my birth: I was right all along. Seriously, Bangor is dullsville, especially if you’re under the age of 40 and would like to do something after 9 p.m. that doesn’t involve the consumption of pancakes at a nearby truck stop (not that there’s anything wrong with pancakes, mind you). It’s probably a wonderful and safe place to raise a kid, but it’s a terrible place to actually be a kid.

It is the sort of place that keeps showing up in the weirdest little corners of history and pop culture, though. I like to keep track of such things, if only to prove to myself that things really do happen there once in awhile. Here are some of what I think are the more interesting examples:

Literature:
- Most famously, Bangor is the home of Stephen King
. I don’t know him, but I have met him a couple of times (his youngest son was a year behind me in school), and he’s a nice guy. A true philanthropist, too – donates money to a lot of important area causes, but doesn’t plaster his name over everything. I like that.
- A novel by Ben Ames Williams, The Strange Woman, is based on the madam of the a 19th / early 20th century Bangor area brothel. I’m also allegedly related to the woman in question (she may have been my great great aunt once removed or something).

Infamous historical events:
- The FBI guns down Public Enemy #1 Al Brady and his gang in the streets of Bangor in 1937.
- In 2004, a plane carrying the former Cat Stevens is forced to land at Bangor International Airport, and the ex-singer is denied entrance to the U.S. (BIA is on the site of a former SAC bomber base; the leftover huge runway & the geographic location make it ideal for layovers and refueling of international traffic, which is one reason why they had the plane land there and not Boston).

Comics, Toys, Fun:
- According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, George Tarleton, the poor schlep AIM turned into MODOK, was born in Bangor.
- The Atlas of the DC Universe (produced for the DC Heroes RPG), says that Fairfax, the location of the second Dial H for Hero series, is a suburb of Bangor (the Bangor of the DCU must be a lot bigger than the real one).
- Two GI Joe characters, Sneak Peak
and Crystal Ball, had connections to Bangor. Crystal Ball’s filecard said he was not only the seventh son of a seventh son, but that his mom was from Bangor. Sneak Peak’s file said that his real name was Owen King, and that his hometown was Bangor. It is widely believed that these two characters were either suggested or directly created by Stephen King, whose son Owen (the one I mentioned above) was a big Joe fan.
- True Comics #49
contains a one page story about how the city got its name (I’ll have to track this down someday).
- When the Human Torch and Spider-Man took the Spider-Mobile out for its maiden voyage, Spidey’s lack of driving skills prompted this panel:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

(Anyone know if there’s a specific reason for that joke? Maine drivers are infuriatingly over-polite, sure, but it’s they’re not nearly as bad behind the wheel as people from Massachusetts or New Jersey.)

Music:
- Roger Miller (and not, as Johnny Barcardi pointed out, Tennessee Ernie Ford) name drops the town in his famous hobo song, “King of the Road” (“Third boxcar, midnight train / Destination Bangor, Maine”).
- Sleep inducing alt-rocker Howie Day comes from Bangor (his music isn’t really my thing, but it’s still cool when someone famous comes from your town).

Movies/TV:
- Several Stephen King film and TV mini-series adaptations (Pet Sematary, Graveyard Shift and The Langoliers for instance) were filmed in the area (which makes sense, since he lives there, and also his fictional city of Derry is essentially a stand-in for Bangor). In fact, just about all of The Langoliers is filmed there, even the scenes that are supposed to be taking place inside LAX (I was an extra; easiest $100 I’ve ever earned… I pretty much just had to sit there for 2 days).

I’m sure there are still more examples, but that’s all I can think of now. I find it kind of amazing that for a city where it seems like nothing ever happens, quite a bit actually has. It’s the sort of thing that people in places like New York, Boston, Chicago or L.A. take for granted, I’m sure, but when you come from a relatively little place, anything that manages to occur is really quite big.
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