Editor’s note: Former Gov. Angus King’s new book, “Governor’s Travels: How I Left Politics, Learned to Back Up a Bus, and Found America,” is on bookshelves this month (paperback, $16.95). Below is an excerpt, reprinted with permission of Down East books. In the excerpt, King and State Trooper Bob Slattery took the King family’s new 40-foot recreational vehicle on a test drive to Virginia in November 2002, two months before the family embarked on its cross-country travels. King was at the wheel.

The first leg — from Maine through New Hampshire and Massachusetts into Connecticut — was uneventful. I began to get the feel of the bus — how it accelerated, turned, and stopped. I was also learning how much fun it could be to drive, and how easy, once you got over the initial feeling that you were maneuvering an elephant down the highway.

So getting into Connecticut was no problem. The problem was getting out. For eight years the Maine State Police had looked after me very well, particularly when it came to getting from place to place. They were masters of logistics and directions. Want the best route to eastern Maine in a snowstorm? These guys know every fork in the road, as well as when the plows are likely to come by. So when our directions for this trip — nicely printed out in duplicate — said take various interstates south to the Merritt Parkway, then south to the New York Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge, well, that’s what we did. Unfortunately.

The warning signs were all around us. First, a guy went by beeping his horn like crazy. “Hey,” I said, “must be from Maine. Probably recognized me.” The ego of the politician at work obscuring the real facts. Next, we noticed that the bridges seemed to be getting lower and lower. Eventually we had to go through the arched bridges in the middle because the clearance on the sides was uncomfortably close.

Then we passed a stopped highway patrolman who immediately hit his siren as we blew by. “Must be after a speeder,” I offered (at least I didn’t use the “probably recognized me” line again). Oh, and I should probably mention that by this time night was falling and it was starting to rain.

Somewhere during all this, we passed a sign which read, “Low Bridge ahead — clearance 9 feet” (we were 12’ 6”, by the way). “What do you make of that, Bob,” I asked, mild concern creeping into my voice.

“No problem, sir,” Bob replied (remember, I was still in office at this point and was, therefore, still The Man, thus the “sir”). “That’s probably a bridge on one of the feeder roads after you leave the highway.”

“OK,” I said, not so sure.

Then came another sign, this one bright orange: “Caution — next bridge 9 feet.”

“What do you think, Bob,” my voice rising.

“GET OFF,” Bob shouted, and I headed for the exit with barely time to signal and no idea what we would find at the bottom of the ramp. We pulled into a parking lot just off the highway to figure out our next move (and to take a deep breath, if the truth be known), when the trooper we had passed several miles back flew by above us with his siren on and all lights flashing. Then we both knew — he was looking for us.

At that point, we had basically two options — stay off the highway and wind through the wilds of suburban Connecticut in a 12-and-a-half-foot-high 40-foot-long bus in the dark and rain and try to find our way to a real highway, or return the way we had come and take the spur back to I-95 we noticed when we got on the Parkway. By now we realized that going back on the Parkway was completely illegal. But we also realized that we could make it back in about 20 minutes (because we had made it this far) and this made the Parkway a lot more appealing than the unknown perils of option one.

So, back on we went — gingerly. And sure enough, as we pulled up the ramp, there was the sign we’d missed the first time: “Merritt Parkway — commercial vehicles and vehicles over 8 feet prohibited.”

Former Gov. Angus King lives in Brunswick. He will host a presentation and cocktail reception for his new book on July 29 at Portland Public Library; presentation from 6:30 to 7 p.m. in Rines Auditorium; reception at 7:15 p.m. in the Atrium. RSVP: [email protected] or call 871-1700 ext. 723

 


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