Old Port Festival, the second Sunday in June.
The weather was beautiful this year – sunny and in the mid-70s. I decided to spend the day in my iBot wheelchair. We used the new accessible path in Thomas Knight Park to gain access to the Casco Bay Bridge, and in less than half an hour we found ourselves in downtown Portland.
This was my first iBot trip of the year to Portland. With the sun beating down on me and sapping the strength from my body, I couldn’t keep my hand pushing on the wheelchair joystick continuously. I had to stop and give my arm a rest several times. This wouldn’t have been the case as recently as last fall – more evidence of disease progression through the winter.
The sun took its toll on me, and I became sluggish. Through our travels around the Old Port, we happened to find ourselves close to our favorite summer watering hole. Kim said, “Why don’t we just go to Portland Lobster Company and try to get a seat in the shade? Lyle and Phil Divinsky and Friends are playing.”
“That’s a stupid name for a band,” I said.
“They’re supposed to be good.”
I suggested, “It will be insanely busy there, but if we bust through the crowd at the entrance and keep our eyes open, we may find a high top table.”
With Kim leading the way and repeating, “Excuse us… would you mind moving just a little bit… wheelchair coming through… and so forth,” we found ourselves in front of the stage.
Before we even scanned the area for opportunities, a nice lady asked, “Would you like to sit here?” She motioned to an open space at her table.
“He can sit here, and I’ll move to the other side of the table.”
“No, we couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“It’s not a problem.”
“We don’t want to impose.”
There may have been one more round of this maddeningly polite banter – I can’t remember – but the lady settled the issue by moving from the shaded side of the table to the sunny side. I maneuvered myself into the spot she had vacated.
Her son was the bass player in this oddly named but talented band. Lyle and Phil, who were father and son, took turns as the front man; both of them played the guitar and sang. A gifted lead guitarist and a drummer, along with the bass player, constituted the “and friends” portion of the group. These musicians whipped the crowd into a frenzy and then fed off our energy.
Friends of ours, Bob and Stephanie, texted us to see if we were at the Old Port Festival. We texted back three letters – PLC, and they knew where to find us. Before long Kim, Bob, Stephanie, and the lady who gave up her seat for me all began dancing in the tiny space between the band and our table. Strangers joined in, and it became a big, happy party.
Back when I was healthy, I never enjoyed dancing. In fact, I consider my inability to dance as one of the silver linings of having MS. But when there is great music playing, and I’m in a good mood, which were both the case on this day, my head starts bobbing to the beat of the music. When I’m elevated in the iBot, which I was, the chair reacts to my head movements, and in my own way, I am dancing.
The loud music made it almost impossible to carry on a conversation. It took forever to get a beer or use the bathroom. People bumped into us all afternoon. Yet none of these annoyances dampened our spirits. At one point, Kim and I made eye contact from across the dance floor and just smiled at one another. It’s a simple gesture, full of joy and love, which we need to do more often. The crowd partied until the band finished playing, and then we called them back for an encore.
As the band said goodbye, they announced that they would play at PLC every other Sunday all summer long. I said to the bass player’s mother, “I guess I’ll see you every other Sunday.”
Our day wasn’t over yet. Two more friends, Tim and Lynn, joined in, and the six of us went to Sebago Brewing Company, our favorite brewpub, for a light dinner, and then decided to go back to our house to enjoy a campfire on our patio. “It will take us about half an hour to walk home. If you get there before us, just make yourself comfortable,” I said. There are no wheelchair accessible taxis in the Portland area.
The ocean is cold this time of year in Maine. The wind direction shifted just a bit, and the walk home at 6 o’clock in the evening became uncomfortably cold. Although we didn’t bring jackets, we survived. Even without overheating, I still had some difficulty operating the joystick, but not as much as earlier in the day.
The six of us had a great time at our house sitting by the fire and cooking s’mores. What a wonderful day spent with my wife and our dear friends. Because I’m able to enjoy myself on days like this, I’m a lucky guy. I’ve still got it.
Notes on the photographs: The third picture down was taken by my daughter, Amy, and was picked up and featured by a local television station. It's a birds eye view from the Ferris Wheel shown in the second picture. The last three photos are random pictures of us at Portland lobster company over the years. Unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures on the day I wrote about in this post.