The Old Port

Speaking of missing stories– I’ll bet you’d like to know a little more about the Portsmouth typo hunt that we did with ABC World News, wouldn’t you? The piece that aired didn’t exactly show much of the hunt.

This was the day of our Portsmouth reading, August 12, and we’d only just nailed down the arrangements the night before. Benjamin and I were struck by the fear that, within the narrow timeframe that we’d have with ABC, we wouldn’t actually be able to locate the typos that we knew were lurking somewhere in my town, so we did a little prescouting that morning.  Is that cheating?  Maybe a little.  But when the crew arrived a couple of hours later, we were able to take them right to the troublesome spots and attempt to get them corrected.

In case you’ve never been to Portsmouth, it really is the jewel of New Hampshire’s little coast, a beautiful town with a thriving arts scene and many independent businesses.  I’m so glad to be living there with Jane, and I miss both girlfriend and town right now, but before I get too wistful, I’ll just roll on to describing our hunt.  The first typo was one that we hadn’t scouted out beforehand, in fact– I just noticed it while being obliged to stare at the same window for a good ten minutes while the cameraman got some posed shots.  Eventually an error swam out of the sea of text, trailing a vile trail behind it:

We went inside to alert the real estate agent at the counter, and she took our observation in good humor and promised to see to the error.  Our own corrective tools would not have been kind to the laminated sign.

Our next typo find happened at the popular pizzeria downtown, Flatbread.  Whenever guests come into town, Jane and I invariably take them to eat at Flatbread, and we’d had a few people visit this summer, so I’d had prior opportunities to take note of a typo just inside the front door:

I was apprehensive about pointing this typo out to the staff.  There wasn’t any way we could easily fix it for them, and what if they got angry that we’d brought it up, and sabotaged my next pizza order?  They might put the nitrates back in their famous nitrate-free pepperoni and mushroom pie, just to revenge themselves upon me.

My fears were put to rest, however, when we talked with the manager and his reaction was both amused and favorable.  He explained that a local artist had made the signs and thus he’d have to consult with the artist about making an amendment.  He even had the beginnings of an idea for fixing the spelling, by making the s into an e and perhaps wiping out the leftmost painted tomato to make room for the new s.  So cheers to you, Flatbread.

And speaking of cheer, we headed next down Bow Street and off that street onto Ceres, home to an array of dockside shops and eateries.  Here Benjamin and I had noticed a small error in the window of Annabelle’s, an ice cream shop currently looking for help:

When we ventured inside the shop, the girls at the counter listened to our observation and gave the go-ahead for us to fix the typo, without a moment of hesitation (or if the moment had existed, it must have occurred during the ABC producer’s quick preconference).  We discovered that the sign was not a dry-erase board, as it had first appeared, but rather regular marker on a papered-over corkboard.  Thus wiping away the offending letter would not be as simple a matter as it’d first appeared.  No matter, a dash of corrective elixir would prime the board for the correction.

Pretty good result, and keep that number in mind if you’re on the coast and are handy with an ice-cream scoop.

Finally, heading back up the Bow incline, Benjamin and I directed the TV crew’s attention to an inconsistency we’d spotted in the name of a favorite hangout for Portsmouth wharf rats and deckhands.  Most of the signage at the street entrance read “Harpoon Willy’s”, but there was one sign that had forgot something:

We descended the wooden stairs down to where the restaurant/bar held court on the Piscataqua, and asked the manager if we could add the apostrophe to their sign.  She gave us a flat stare and said, “No, you can’t.”

Such immovable dismissal was not unknown to us, and we looked at each other and began to back off.  But then the manager laughed and said, “Just kidding, of course you can!  This is Harpoon Willy’s– there are no rules!”

Not only a willingness to fix mistakes, but humor as well?  I think I have a new favorite spot along the river.  The manager may have been aware of the benefit of favorably responding to us, given the national news crew at our heels, but hey, points for savvy.  We clomped back up the stairs and set to work on the sign.


And that concluded our whirlwind tour of Portsmouth’s typos, suggesting from our small data sample that the town is relatively free of error, and that when mistakes do occur, people are highly likely to be willing to address the mistakes.  I’m proud of the reactions in my new home.  Maybe for the next hunt in the neighborhood, there’ll be enough time to pop over the water into Kittery and finally confront that missing apostrophe in the Warren’s Lobster House sign… “The Seacoasts Finest Salad Bar” isn’t going to cut it.

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