It’s the start of another award season, the time of year when daily and weekly papers “poll” their readers to determine the best restaurants, shops, arts organizations and tattoo parlors, then publish special supplements and get tacky plaques made for the winners to put on a wall. It’s not really a “poll,” of course, more like a popularity contest or a competition to see which business owners know how Internet cookies work. It’s not news, either. It’s advertising, thinly disguised as something that matters.
But that’s all right. “Best of” lists can be informative. They’re great conversation/argument starters. They can even be fun — so I’ve heard.
I’ve never found them fun. But then again, I used to be one of the schmoes who had to read and count the votes — actual newsprint ballots, scrawled on by people in bars with bad handwriting made even less legible by alcohol. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I worked at Casco Bay Weekly, the editorial staff would hole up in the conference room with a couple six packs and spend hours passing thousands of ballots around the table, each counter taking a section, making chicken scratches on a tally sheet, like animals.
And if you think that’s inhumane, try coming up with something new to write about the video store and the coffee shop and Stephen King and everything else that wins every single year. That’s torture, and the same can be said of the experience of reading said copy, which is why no one really does. In fact, precious few people who haven’t won themselves can recall who won what even a week after the results are made public. They need to be reminded. That’s what the plaques are for, I guess.
The Bollard doesn’t do a “best of” contest. Most polls are conducted online these days — no more ballot-counting sessions — but I still don’t want to write those murderous blurbs. Besides, I think it’s more constructive to point out the worst things in town, in hopes the attention will prompt improvement. So here’s my short list of the worst Portland has to offer:
Worst Beer Name: Fuggles IPA. Rule number one when naming a beer: Don’t use a word that’s emasculating to pronounce when ordering in front of your drinking buddies. Shipyard seems to have finally recognized this, ditching Fuggles for the new Monkey Fist IPA — a marginal improvement, at best.
Worst Band Name: The Trickle Down. These guys are actually a pretty tight funk group, but their name — which calls to mind either failed Republican economic policy or the unfortunate urinary condition men of a certain age experience — is funky in the wrong sense of the word.
Most Tiresome Fad: Zombies/Burlesque (tie). They’re playing kickball. They’re on a pub crawl. They’re serving on the Portland school board. Seems like everywhere you look, somebody’s pretending they either want to eat your flesh or flash you the best parts of their own. Enough already! Give the werewolves and the real strippers a turn.
Most Narcissistic Publication (on Earth): Maine Magazine. The photogenic staff of this fluffy glossy seem to have one strict editorial standard: Their smiling faces must appear in every issue no fewer than three times. Enough already! Give the ugly people a turn.
Worst Intersection: Deering Avenue/Brighton Avenue/Falmouth Street. Portland has several strong contenders for this award, including past winners Woodford’s Corner, Morrill’s Corner, and the end of the old Veterans Memorial Bridge, but this six-armed monster in front of USM’s School of Law is this year’s champ. It often feels like you could study for and pass the bar in the time it takes to get through this intersection. The city is considering replacing it with a roundabout. I’ve never been so excited about a public works project in my life.
Worst Stretch of Road: West Commercial Street. Speaking of public works, will somebody please slap a fresh layer of tar on this bad boy? There are smoother roads in downtown Mogadishu. This section of Commercial Street bears a lot of heavy truck traffic, and, with the reopening of the International Marine Terminal, the potholes aren’t getting any shallower.
Dumbest Local Law: Anti-cruising Ordinance. Supposedly still in effect, according to signs on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, this ordinance, which bans drivers from circling the area more than twice within two hours, originally targeted one tiny segment of the population: horny gay men. Then a little thing called the Internet got popular, making this obnoxious anti-love law even more antiquated and obsolete. Time to either take it off the books or amend it to apply exclusively to ice cream trucks.