Lobsters on a Plane

Andrew Evans discovers how to bring home the ultimate souvenir from Maine.

It felt like a trick question on the SAT: You’re visiting the coast of Maine and loving all the delicious fresh lobster. You decide that you want to bring some home to share with your family. Lobsters must be alive in order to be cooked safely and taste fresh. To stay alive out of water lobsters must be kept cold and wet. Your trip back home consists of a one-hour drive to the airport, a 90-minute flight to LaGuardia, a five-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., plus all the in-between waiting time that adds up to a twelve-hour transit. What do you do?

Well, it took some phone calls and asking around, but Mainers have been smuggling lobster all over the place for years and they showed me how it’s done… Find out after the jump.

First off, I bought three gigantic lobsters right at Bangor International Airport. They sell them fresh from a tank inside the upstairs coffee shop along with Styrofoam coolers and freezer packs.

TSA was cool with me taking the lobsters on board (“Not a weapon”), but the no liquids rule meant I had to ditch the freezer pack. The lobsters had to sweat it out for the 40 minutes I waited to board the puddle jumper, and then I pleaded with the flight attendant for some ice. He finally relented, figuring nobody wanted cold beer at 8:30 a.m., and we laid a plastic bag of ice under the fidgeting shellfish with all the other passengers craning their necks for a peek.

It took me another hour to get from LaGuardia into the city, where I paid two bucks for a bag of ice at the Sbarro’s on Times Square. New Yorkers were nonplussed by my resting the jetlagged lobsters on a Broadway sidewalk, pouring the melted water from the box, re-stuffing it with ice and wet newspaper, and then manipulating the clamoring claws back into the economy class cooler. Two hours later, I performed a second ice change in a locked men’s room stall at Penn Station and then boarded my bus back to D.C.

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I made it home by nine that night and as I instructed, there was a pot of boiling water on the stove and a hot loaf of garlic bread in the oven. My lobsters seemed a tad tired from their long travels but they soon perked up. Twenty minutes later they were blushing bright red and steaming on a plate. Was all the hassle worth it? Yes–my three fresh lobsters plus all my shipping and handling were still half the cost of a single lobster in a local restaurant.  And they tasted much, much better.

Have you ever gone to great lengths to bring home a souvenir? Let us know in the comments below. To see how well Maine ranked in our annual Destinations Rated issue (hint, it’s good!), click here.

Photos: Lobsters travel from Maine to plate, by Andrew Evans.

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