BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — The waterfront restaurant is slammed for lunch, and the oldest waitress — by far — is buzzing around with iced tea, fried haddock, Bloody Marys, and Asian chicken salad.
“Awesome, great to see you,” the 58-year-old McSeagull’s waitress says, smiling and waving a menu at a familiar customer.
“Are you . . . ?” another patron asks, cocking his head, unable to finish the question before Ann LePage provides the answer. “Yes, I’m the governor’s wife,” LePage says. “We’d love to take care of you.”
And so it has gone this summer for three double-shifts a week for Maine’s first lady, who said she took the first waitressing job of her life — and a perpetual-motion one at that — to save enough money to pay off a car.
“I want to do something on my own, just to prove that I can," LePage said Monday. “I wanted something, I wanted to work for it, and I went out and got it.”
If this is a publicity stunt to soften the image of a controversial governor, it’s hard and hectic duty. Co-workers, mostly college age, shake their heads as Ann LePage bustles about the restaurant, order book in hand, craning her neck to check on her tables.
Governor Paul LePage is often viewed as a stubborn and pugnacious grouch, but his wife seems to have carved out a parallel universe here at the edge of a beautiful harbor in mid-coast Maine.
“She’s just a normal person — a kind, wonderful person,” bartender Melissa Ruel said while serving a gaggle of thirsty tourists. “She’s a very hard worker.”
Ann LePage wears a black McSeagull’s apron and shirt that proclaims “Eat, drink, and flounder — just for the halibut.” She changes shoes between the two shifts, a 14-hour odyssey in which LePage is almost always on her feet.
LePage said she once worked as a loan-processor at a bank, but that she has primarily been a stay-at-home mother. Between them, the LePages have raised five children.
“She’s from a different generation,” said Jackie Barnicoat, the restaurant manager. “If she’s not waiting tables, she's cleaning. It’s been an awesome experience for all of us.”
LePage said she is saving her earnings to pay off a Toyota RAV4 that belonged to her mother, who lived with the LePages during a terminal illness and died in October.
Word of that goal has gotten around. So much so, Barnicoat said, that a Toyota dealer from Texas called the restaurant and tried to sell LePage a car.
And on Monday, a woman from Houston walked up to LePage and handed her a $20 bill — for the “car fund.” Linda Lively, the donor, included $10 of her own money in that contribution and another $10 from a friend back home.
“We both worked really hard for our cars, and we want to help a woman in need,” Lively said, smiling broadly between bites of her salad.
Paul LePage, a fiscally conservative Republican and former businessman, is the lowest-paid governor in the country at $70,000 a year. He tried but failed this year to boost the next governor’s salary to $150,000, slightly above the national average of $135,000.
“A governor earning $70,000? That’s ludicrous,” said Laurie Milton, a cousin of Ann LePage’s from Florida who was making her first visit to McSeagull’s.
Ann LePage did not say whether she agrees with Milton, but she acknowledged that the money is good at McSeagull’s, where her daughter averaged $28 an hour last year, including tips. And by working double shifts — from 8:30 a.m. to about 10:45 p.m. — LePage is maximizing her bounty from the overflow tourist business in this small town, where she and the governor own a second home.
“It’s been a great, great season, and look at that view,” LePage said, sweeping her arm toward the harbor. “It's like working in paradise.”
But paradise is not immune from politics. Barnicoat said some customers were displeased that the restaurant hired LePage, whose husband supports Donald Trump and has made enemies during his two terms as governor.
In addition to a scorched-earth relationship with Democrats in the Legislature, LePage has uttered a long string of incendiary comments. LePage has said he would tell President Obama “to go to hell,” that the Internal Revenue Service is “the new Gestapo,” and that out-of-state drug dealers impregnate young white girls when they do business in Maine.
At McSeagull’s, Barnicoat said, politics are left at the door.
“Look, there's nothing Republican about the food we serve,” Barnicoat said.
On Monday, even Bert Ely, a customer from Virginia who wore a hat that mocked Trump, could only laugh and enjoy the moment as LePage served his party of four.
Barnicoat said complaints have dwindled, and that LePage is now something of a celebrity at the restaurant, even though she’s a celebrity who carries a pail of soapy water to wipe down the windows, doors, and tables when she’s not busy.
LePage sometimes has waiting lists for her tables, and postal workers call the restaurant when they have another stack of country-spanning mail for her.
“I think this is great. It gives her a chance to meet the folks her husband is serving,” said the Rev. Dorothy Curry, an Episcopal priest from San Diego who spends time on nearby Squirrel Island.
LePage said she expects to work until Columbus Day, despite being “tired and useless” when the second of her back-to-back double shifts ends on Friday nights.
And there is room for improvement, she conceded.
“My biggest challenge is I eat no seafood,” LePage said. “I’m from Maine, but I can’t tell one from another. My recommendation is always the fried haddock sandwich.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.