By D. Allan Kerr
I was one of those who thought Maine’s new governor, Janet Mills, had a nice idea when she announced she was installing a “Welcome Home” highway sign here at the border town of Kittery.
Then I saw the sign.
It says “MAINE – Welcome Home” in white letters on a field of blue. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
My wife is one of those people who usually don’t get annoyed by the little things (except for gum-snapping), but the first time she saw this near our exit off I-95 she said: “Seriously, that’s the best they could do? Looks kinda lame.”
Apparently some people like it. Plain and simple and not flashy at all – just like Maine, they proclaim.
“Maine’s beauty speaks for itself,” they say. “We don’t need fancy signs to attract visitors,” they say.
But I thought back to some of the cool “Welcome” signs we saw on a road trip we took out west a few years ago. We saw some really creative and unique greetings, and believe it or not they helped shape our first impression of the state we were driving thru.
I recall crossing into Minnesota and being welcomed by a giant stone monument in the shape of the state, with its name slashing boldly across the upper half. And I don’t intend for this to sound mean, but I remember thinking, “Wow, who would’ve thought Minnesota could come up with such a cool welcome?”
And South Dakota had a sign featuring an image of Mount Rushmore and what I thought to be a clever and appropriate slogan: “Great Faces. Great Places.” Get it?
Now, I understand the argument of those who proclaim Maine is beautiful as it is and therefore doesn’t really require some man-made enhancement. But on the other hand, shouldn’t the state offer a visual welcome reflective of its uniquely rugged beauty and character?
As a new adherent to the phenomenon of Facebook, I posed this query there recently. Actually, what I asked was whether the new Maine sign was too “meh.”
Not surprisingly, people offered a whole wide range of opinions. But I was surprised when some commentators waxed nostalgic for the old slogan, “The Way Life Should Be.”
Personally, I always thought this sounded a bit pompous for Maine. I imagine some guy from Idaho driving his family north on I-95 and seeing Maine tell him he’s seeing “The Way Life Should Be” and huffing, “Well, I think Idaho is the way life should be!”
Of course, a few folks commented on the irony of having this sign erected over the old Danish Health Club years ago, when it was reportedly operating as a brothel. (I’m sure there are those who would agree that was “the way life should be,” but I don’t imagine these are the people Maine is hoping to attract today.)
Few people lamented the absence of the “Open for Business” motto preceding the current sign. Speaking for myself again, this seemed a sort of soulless and overly commercial greeting – which might have been better suited at the old Danish Health Club.
Some don’t seem to appreciate the whole “Welcome Home” concept of the new sign, but I think I get it.
Maine has long had the oldest population of any state in the country, and ranks close to the bottom in terms of population growth. The buffoonish antics of the state’s previous governor didn’t exactly cast Maine in the kindest light.
Now, embarking on a new era, it makes sense to present Maine in a more friendly manner. Perhaps young people growing up here can find incentive to remain, and perhaps those who have departed will find their way back.
Hence, welcome home.
But imagine being one of these young expatriates coming home to Maine for a visit and seeing this exceedingly bland sign hail your return.
One of the more hilarious observations in the Facebook debate was from a guy who wrote, “If the Welcome to Maine sign were a beer…” and then posted a photo of a plain white can with the word “Beer” stamped on it.
If we really want folks to feel welcome in Maine, it wouldn’t hurt to put a little effort and imagination into it.
(April 7, 2019)