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Stronger Than the Storm

August 15, 2013

You know that old line they say about the weather in a whole bunch of places? “If you don’t like it wait an hour and it’ll change.” That was our experience in Vermont today.

Any good road trip requires a fair amount of flexibility, and that’s been especially true this time around. Today it became essential.

The one positive that’s come from all the fun stuff we’ve missed out on because of bad weather or bad timing is that we’ve got time to spare. So for once we didn’t set an alarm or set up a wakeup call. We woke up late enough to miss breakfast at our motel, and we’ve already gone through the cereal we brought with us, so for breakfast we improvised: Chex Mix! It’s 50% Chex, right? So it can’t be that bad for you.

The sun was shining, the sky was a beautiful blue, the mountains were green, and the Vermont state capitol was small (It’s the smallest state capitol in the country) but stately, with brightly colored flowers centered along the main entrance and a shiny gold dome on top that was reflecting the gleaming sun to an almost blinding degree.

Vermont State House

Better yet, it’s accessible. Most state houses are surrounded by so many other government buildings that there’s nothing but government for several blocks in every direction. Not so in Montpelier: the shops of downtown Montpelier start on the next block. Montpelier High School is just two blocks away. And incredibly, there’s metered street parking right in front of the building. We literally parked right in front of the state capitol; this is something you cannot do in any other state. I thought it was really cool. Sam was more concerned with doing his Rocky impression on the capitol’s front steps.

With no time pressure, I figured this would be a good time to get a haircut. I had been searching for a barbershop in cities all over the northeast for the past week, and every one I found was either closed or too busy. Sure enough, there’s a barbershop–striped pole and everything–two blocks from the capitol, and it was open, and they took me right away. We were in and out before Sam even had a chance to get bored. We were 2-for-2 in improvisation, and it wasn’t even noon yet.

Our plan for the rest of the day was to go to Stowe and take a gondola ride to the top of Mt. Mansfield, which is the big mountain there. The weather was beautiful, we drove with the top down, and on the way there I was thinking to myself that after three tries we’d finally be able to get a great mountaintop view.

Along the way we passed a Cabot store. I’m a big fan of their cheeses. More important, Sam is a big fan of their cows. At the Portland Sea Dogs game there was a guy from Cabot running around with a large inflatable cow. Sam asked him about it and he explained that he gives one out to a fan every game. Sam didn’t end up getting the cow, but I mentioned that Cabot is headquartered in Vermont so he’s been asking nonstop if we can go to Cabot. The actual creamery is out of the way and probably doesn’t stock inflatable cows, so we didn’t go. But once we saw the store I figured it couldn’t hurt to stop in and look for a cow. They didn’t have inflatables but they did sell squishy stress cows, one of which is now in thr trunk of our car. 3 for 3.

A Hamster and a cow walk into a bar ...

A Hamster and a cow walk into a bar …

Is wasn’t much longer before we arrived in Stowe. As we parked the car at the base of the gondola ride, we noticed that the clear blue sky had been replaced by ominous clouds covering the top of the mountain.

Mt. Mansfield

By the time we got into the gondola it was raining. By the time we got to the top of the mountain, we couldn’t see a thing.

Yet another beautiful mountaintop view

Yet another beautiful mountaintop view

Our next stop was going to be Smuggler’s Notch for various fun mountain activities, including a ropes course. But it was raining so hard that outdoor activities were out of the question. It was time to improvise once again. Luckily, we had a pretty good alternative: Circus Smirkus, a nonprofit one-ring circus where all the performers are kids. When choosing activities on our road trips I try to avoid things that we can do at home, like zoos and science museums, in favor of unique local experiences. Ringling Brothers comes to New York every spring, but Circus Smirkus is only in Vermont, and they’re performing for only a couple more days before shutting down for the season. It seemed like a perfect fit for a rainy afternoon. But there were two problems:

1) We didn’t have tickets.

2) The show was at 2 p.m., it was already 1:15, and the show was back in Montpelier, which is a 45-minute drive from Stowe.

I called the circus and they said they still had tickets available but only via walk-up on site. So we headed back to Montpelier, driving in rain so hard it was sometimes blinding for several minutes at a time. Meanwhile we hadn’t eaten lunch, and now we had no time to stop. So we improvised yet again: peanut butter, straight from the jar. Sam managed to reach both the peanut butter and the spoons while I drove. Creamy for him, Super Chunk for me. It wasn’t glamorous, but it did the job. And Sam was thrilled that he was allowed to eat right out of the jar. 4 for 4.

We got to the circus just as it was starting, bought our tickets, and because of the small venue we were much closer to the performers than we’d be at Madison Square Garden even in the very best seats. And the circus was great! The show was called “Oz” and used the plot of The Wizard of Oz as a backdrop for all the action. The performers were fantastic, Sam laughed and oohed and ahhed, and by the time the show was over the sun was starting to peek out again. We had such a good time that we viewed getting rained out of Smuggler’s Notch as a net positive.

Finally it was time for what might have been our most interesting stop of the day: my old friend Val’s house in Burlington, VT. Val and I were tight in high school but we haven’t seen each other in 20 years, and I was about to show up on her doorstep for a meal and a bed. With my 11-year-old son. I had no idea what to expect.

It ended up being a really nice reunion. Val and her family couldn’t have been more welcoming. Dinner was delicious, and I don’t have to remember my room number or take the key card with me everywhere I go. The best part was that Sam and I finally had peers to hang out with. As much fun as these road trips are, and as much fun as Sam and I have together, I end up starved for adult conversation and Sam ends up longing for kids to play with. Tonight we both got our fill. Val’s kids are younger than Sam but it didn’t matter. They played flag football, they played with the family’s chickens (they have six), they talked trash about opposing NFL allegiances, and after dinner they got completely absorbed in a Wii game. Meanwhile, Val and I got to compare notes on classroom technology (she trains teachers on tech stuff for a living), parenting, the local politics of diversity, and stuff to do in Vermont.

Today was one of the last days of our road trip, and it was a really good one. It wasn’t the most thrilling or the most adventurous, but we were finally able to use the rain to our advantage, we got a uniquely Vermont experience, I got to reconnect with an old friend, and Sam made a few new ones.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2013 8:28 pm

    Thanks for stopping at the store! Sorry you missed the tour. It’s pretty interesting (if I may say so myself) – here’s the video you would have seen so now you can learn our story! If you send me your shipping address, I’ll send you a surprise 🙂

    • ABH permalink*
      August 16, 2013 1:33 am

      Wendy at Cabot, I’m impressed.

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