Harold Tripp, 65, is visiting his native town after 40 years away. He has come on foot and hitchhiking from Daytona, carrying his gear in an army duffel bag and a suitcase on wheels, and spending his nights outdoors.
Rockland has changed a lot, he says, speaking to The Buzz from a seat on his duffel bag by the side of Main Street.
The people he remembers, his aunts and uncles, have passed on. The house he remembers living in is gone. The stores he remembers visiting downtown are gone. There is less here now, it seems to him.
Tripp left Rockland at four years old. His father died when he was five. He lived with his mother in New Hampshire and dropped out of school at 16 to work in a greenhouse, growing and delivering flowers to help make ends meet. He wishes he had stayed in school, but at the time he “didn’t take it serious.”
At 20 he moved to Kennebunk, married, had a son, came back to Rockland briefly with his family, “bounced around” Maine and New Hampshire, had a daughter, and made his living driving long haul trucks. An accident cutting firewood put a splinter through his eye into his brain, leaving him with one eye and slurred speech, and ending his truck driving career. He began to drink.
He found work as a sternman on lobster boats in Maine towns. Then his lifelong wanderlust took him with his family to the Gulf coast where he found work fishing on big longline tuna and swordfish boats making 2 to 3 week trips, with just 2 to 3 days between. It was good money, but his binge drinking between trips led to divorce.
In the early 80s he came back to Rockland for a month or so, then bought a house in Lebanon, Maine and was reunited with his family for a couple of years there. His drinking continued. Then the house burned down after a night of partying and Tripp headed out alone on his Harley.
In Illinois he met Sarah. Together they moved to Mexico, Missouri, where they bought a bar with the insurance money from the Lebanon house. He ran the bar with Sarah for three years or so, but drinking even more heavily, he left Sarah and the bar and took off again on his Harley.
He bounced around “going nowhere” from town to town, a “big mouth idiot,” he says. “Nobody wanted to be around me. I don’t think I wanted to be around myself. Half the time I didn’t even know where I was.”
Finding himself back in Maine, he started trying to get sober with help from a rehab center in Old Orchard. First try, two months sober; second try, five months sober; third try, two years; and on the fourth try, eleven years and counting.
The rehab people helped him get SSI disability and he lived for five years in a 3/4 way home in Saco. His daughter was living in Virginia and encouraged him to come there to be near her, so he went, and found subsidized “section 8” housing. Rent was just $60 per month, which allowed him modest comfort on his $750 SSI check. “It had its good points, but I didn’t fit in, didn’t have much in common, didn’t want to be there.”
So a year and a half ago he went back on the road, this time without the drinking and without the Harley. He is having a good time, by his account. Occasionally he stops by old friends for a day or two, but mostly is on his own. He feels better having lost weight, from 240 to 140 pounds. He enjoys meeting people, and finds most to be good.
He does not read, or watch television. When he is not talking to people, he thinks. What does he think about? “Whether I am doing the right thing.” It is a constant struggle. He knows he will feel better if he has a drink or two, but he knows the consequences. “You only live once,” he says.
Tripp stayed in Rockland for a few days this week as a Visiting Fellow of the Old School, and a guest of WRFR. He joined the Rockland Metro show on Gentrification this week, but is off again, heading west. On next week’s Metro show, Wednesday, May 3 at 5 PM, the topic will be Traveling. To join the show, or to reserve a place at the dinner symposium that follows, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Buzz is published by community radio station WRFR-LP, which broadcasts on 93.3 fm in Rockland and 99.3 fm in Camden. To write a story for The Buzz, contact Joe Steinberger: email@example.com or 596-0731