“Car coming!” bellows an older man in a black hat and T-shirt. “Car is coming!”
“Car coming!” echoes Deb Shephard, just a few feet away, voice sure and projecting. “Everyone, it’s coming right through there.”
People part for the car, but it might be that they are really moving for Deb in her bright yellow sunhat that sits atop her short gray bob and her big stripe sweater in yellow and white.
The car is a Corvette. It’s one of dozens that have come and parked on the grass this early Saturday morning. And the woman, Deb Shepard, is possibly just as much of a force as the luxury cars neatly parked before her a part of the Vette’s of Coastal Maine’s annual Bar Harbor tour.
“Deb! You’re doing a wonderful job!” someone yells.
The one thing you might not expect about Deb Shepard as she surveys the lines of Corvettes parked on a Bar Harbor field Saturday, June 4, is that she isn’t just a Corvette lover; she’s organized an entire weekend event for the Vettes of Coastal Maine. They’ll be parked here for a couple hours before driving to designated areas. Their owners will go to lobster pounds and restaurants, cruise up mountains to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, and then have a hoe-down where people will receive tiny plastic horses, part of the weekend’s theme.
This specific event on Saturday morning is about sharing the love of their cars with the public. It’s free and usually happens every year, but COVID threw up a roadblock for the last two.
“We’re back, baby!” yells a man, lifting his cane.
“We’re back,” another one echoes.
As Deb stands on a 10-foot-tall grassy knoll adjacent to the baseball field on the outskirts of town, surrounded by Corvettes and those who love them, she sighs and smiles. “It’s great. It’s going great. And it’s so good to be back here with these people and these cars.”
Treading carefully down the knoll other women call out, “Be careful, Deb!”
A man in his seventies stretches out his arms and crouches, knees cracking. “I’ll catch you if my knees hold up.”
“You better catch me anyways, mister,” she calls back.
Sandy Bougouis stays on top of the knoll, laughing. “Everyone’s so fun here.”
For Sandy and Deb, and a lot of other people here, the event is all about community that’s created around the love for a car.
“Little boys will open their mouths, just gaping as we drive by,” Sandy says as she takes some photos of cars with her phone. “It starts young. It’s so funny to see. It’s almost instinctual.”
Two doors and holding just two passengers, the unabashedly macho American sports car has represented adventure and freedom for generations since 1953. Sandy thinks that for most of the people attending, it still does. There’s a mystique, she says. There’s just something that captures hope.
Sandy’s husband always wanted one, she explains, but he was too responsible and couldn’t rationalize spending the money on himself. Now that the kids are grown up, she still had to convince him to go for it. “He’s a good man, devoted his whole life to us. He never clubs. No drinking. It’s just me and the car.”
Theirs is a deep firebird red, and they haven’t had it too long, but they love it.
“It makes him happy,” she says.
“Oh.” She smiles and lowers the camera. “It makes me so happy, too. It’s an adventure.”
“Car coming!” a man in a black hat shouts as another Corvette slowly enters the field. People quickly part this time even without Deb. They stand and gawp just like those little boys Sandy talks about.
The Corvettes converge for a summer-fun-filled weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine, a town known for eco-friendly tourism, hiking up mountains, kayaking in ocean peninsulas, a town known for being the opposite of big engines and macho. People here believe in hybrids and solar panels more than luxury cars and engines. Still, locals flock to the field, taking photos of cars with hoods open, yawing with the owners who sit near the cars, positioned in their folding chairs.
The Corvettes wedge into lines on the grassy field that hosts pick-up soccer games on Wednesdays and dog most of the rest of the week. Stuck here for a while, the cars wait silently between the MDI YMCA’s gray and Civil War blue box of a building and woods that stretch up to the small mountain locally known as Strawberry Hill. Kids play softball in an adjacent field; others run around in the playground that the Bar Harbor/MDI Rotary Club built down the street. They drift over, solitary parents, couples, players once their game is over, families tired of swings and slides. When they get to the event, they walk through the lines of cars, marveling at all the cars all together like this.
Though it’s almost summer, and you can smell the sea salt and clam flats from Frenchman’s Bay in the air, the colors all blend from greens to blues to gray and that’s including the ballplayers’ uniforms. That is until you get to the Corvettes and their owners. The colors range from torch red to hypersonic gray; rapid blue to caffeine metallic and amplify orange. They stand out.
Everywhere they go on the long weekend, the Corvette owners are greeted with stares, claps, and questions. And at each stop, Deb and co-organizer Dan Dorion make sure that community is created, friendships formed and forged not in the heat of an engine or an argument, but by the simple love of a car and the adventure it represents.
To find out more, check out the Vettes of Coastal Maine’s website.
The Vettes’ next Bar Harbor tour is June 1-4, 2023.