Mile Zero

“DO YOU GET a lot of folks staying here who are driving the route, Mr…” I look down at the name plate. “Mr. Peletier?”

I say it the French way, ‘Pell-a-ta-YAY,’ because Canada is just across the river, and because sometimes I just like to show off one of my few, meager skills. Also because I’ve just driven 485 miles in my Jeep to get here, and I am totally wired.

He makes a small face. “I’m not Mr. Peletier,” he says by way of greeting, rhyming it with ‘sneer’.  “He’s the manager.  I’m his brother-in-law.”

That’s what I like about the hospitality industry: It’s full of people who love people.

“Sorry. Do you get many visitors who are driving Route 1?  All the way?  Top to bottom? All 2,000-plus miles?  I imagine you must. It’s pretty cool.”

I realize I’m babbling, but in addition to road buzz, I’ve been studying the glass display case opposite the reception desk. It’s filled with coffee cups, stickers, Christmas ornaments and various other gewgaws, every one labeled ‘Mile 0, Northern Door Inn, Fort Kent, Maine.’

I hate this stuff, but it has my attention. Studying the trinkets, I’m beginning to worry that my little project – driving U.S. Route 1 all 2,446 miles from its starting point here in Fort Kent to its end in Key West – has become totally bereft of novelty. Sorry, dude, you missed the party.

“Yes, we get some,” he says, and my heart sinks. I know I’m neither the first to do this, nor the first to write about it, but I’m hoping it’s not so well-trodden that I don’t have something to add.

But my fears begin to abate as he goes on. “They like to be photographed next to the signs,” he says, waving in the direction of the two spiffy granite markers just across the street. “America’s First Mile” proclaims one; the other adds some details about mileage, and an artistic route map.

As he continues, it becomes clear that visitors come not to drive the entire route – at least none that he can think of – but to complete a photo circuit. One picture in front of mile-marker zero, the other at the terminus in Key West.

Technically speaking, Fort Kent holds no official designation as Mile Zero, although a look into the history of the national highway system indicates that that, indeed, is what the system’s founders were thinking (more on that to come). The Northern Door Inn diplomatically addresses the issue with their own sign, which on one side recognizes Fort Kent as the start, and on the other, Key West.

Somewhat relieved, I dawdle in the lounge, hoping to somehow celebrate my journey’s start. It’s barely 9:00pm, and I’m still buzzing.  I’ve visited the granite mile markers, examined the nifty new bridge across the St. John River and its customs post, interviewed the bartender at the Swamp Buck, and drunk a Manhattan and two large beers. But the only people to show up are eight muddy and exhausted ATVers who’ve just ridden all the way from Presque Isle. They say hi, but head straight for their rooms.

I take it as a sign. I need to get an early start tomorrow; I might drive all the way to Eastport, more than 200 miles southeast of here, before dark.  I follow their lead, and head for bed.

But not, of course, before forking over $1.50 for a sticker.


Go to Chapter 2, ‘C’est Maine, Mon Ami,’ here.

Photo: Pumpkins on the front stoop, Rockland, Maine.

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