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The City that Never Sleeps (Well, Just a Little Bit): Portland at 3 a.m.

portland, maine, at 3am, photos by john spritz

Three o’clock in the morning is when a city is most still, most calm. One day’s activities have ended and the next day’s have yet to begin.

New York City may never sleep, but Portland does close its eyes for a bit in the middle of the night. At 3 a.m., the first thing one notices is the lack of people and traffic. When else can one experience Congress Square, or Longfellow Square, or Monument Square, with no vehicles passing through, none at all?

A few nighthawks are around, of course. Allison, at the reception desk at Maine Med’s Emergency Center (17 patients have been checked in since midnight). Kevin, working the 4 p.m.-4 a.m. shift in his taxi near the Eastland Hotel. Josh, behind the counter at the all-night Irving station on Commercial Street. And the police. And the street-sweepers. And the baker rolling out dough at Standard Baking.

But in general, on a mild Wednesday night in February, town is tranquil. Down by the water, no boats are yet moving in or out of the docks. The Casco Bay Line’s ferries are quietly moored under a crescent moon – it’s still a few hours until the first ferry departs. Even Becky’s Diner is empty.

At 3 a.m., the town’s statues reassert themselves. In Longfellow Square, the seated poet gazes down a quiet Congress Street. Outside the Nickelodeon Cinema, the lobsterman statue has a usually busy intersection all to himself.

Most office buildings are dark, but the refrigerated trucks keep up their hum here and there, and the B&M Baked Bean plant seems active. Then, as the hour hand moves towards four, a few more cars appear, a few more people hurry down the streets, a few more lights flicker on…and a new day starts.

Photos by John Spritz

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