About two weeks before I was supposed to land in Vermont I got in contact with Jake and Michelle. They were friends of Mark and Connie from New Orleans, who were friends of my parents. Jake said that they were about to set out on a long vacation, biking around New England with “no set itinerary.” Already I knew they were my kind of people. Jake told me I was welcome to stay at their house anyway, he’d just tell the house sitter when to expect me. About 24 hours before I was supposed to show up at their door to meet the sitter, Michelle emailed me with an idea. They were camping near Middlebury, what if I met them there instead? I thought it sounded like a terrific idea, and drove across New Hampshire and Vermont to end up in Branbury State Park.
When I arrived, Michelle had just hopped into the shower after a long bike ride the two of them had completed together. Jake and I began to set up dinner, including some veggies I had picked up at the local roadside produce stand at Jake’s request. Michelle got back from the shower and the three of us feasted on a wide array of chopped up fruits and veggies. She mourned over a handful of tomatoes she had left on the dashboard of their van in hopes that they’d ripen in the sun. Instead she ended up with mush under the skins. Each tomato squished in your hand like a water balloon.
This was the end of their camping trip – the three of us would be spending the following night at their apartment in Burlington. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to add their leftovers to our veggie feast, including some extra Indian food and scraps of delicious cheese. Jake kept offering me things – drinks, extra food, utensils – and joking about how he wanted to make sure he got credit in my blog for being nice. “I just want it to be known that I offered her a paper towel when you were in the shower,” he told Michelle.
As we finished dinner, Michelle began throwing all the dishes together in a cooler, insisting that nothing really needed to be cleaned since this was their last night of camping. I set up my little tent and the three of us wasted the night away staring at the campfire. It was nice to finally share a fire with someone.
The next day Jake and Michelle planned out their bike route. The two of them are avid cyclists, and they couldn’t fathom getting through the final day of their trip without at least a few miles of riding. I helped them clean up the camp and they gave me tips on how to spend my day. Michelle scribbled her suggestions for me for Burlington on a small sheet of paper, and they were off on their bikes.
It was only about an hour drive between Branbury and Burlington, so I had plenty of time to kill. I began with Jake and Michelle’s recommendation for breakfast – the Three Squares Cafe in the nearby town of Vergennes. I feasted on french toast covered in fresh fruit, cinnamon whipped cream, and a healthy serving of Vermont’s famous maple syrup. I walked down the three blocks of interesting town that made up Vergennes and began to realize how disgusting I felt. When every night is a new bed, it’s easy to lose track of how often you should shower. I had clearly gone too long, and there was enough grease in my hair to prove it. I started to wonder if I would be able to make it all the way to the evening, when I would have the chance to shower at Jake and Michelle’s apartment in Burlington.
Undaunted by my personal feelings of yuck, I continued with my list of recommendations. After a lengthy stop in one of the most interesting museums I’d ever seen (more on that in the next post), I had made it to Burlington. Michelle had listed off several places to visit and things to do. I drove down to the waterfront, hoping to find a public beach where I would be able to jump right into the lake. If I couldn’t take a shower, at least I could get soaking wet. But I couldn’t find a parking lot, much less a nice stretch of lake access. I took another look at my scrap of paper listing the fun ways to pass one’s time in Burlington. I flipped it over to the back and realized that Michelle had written the words “No. Beach for Swimming.” No beach? Numbered beach? I pulled out my phone and started searching the map of the city.
I raced up to the north end of town with renewed enthusiasm and had no regrets about paying eight dollars for parking when I got there. I changed into my swimsuit and piled my belongings near someone else’s empty beach towels. I always try to leave my things near other people in the hopes that it will deter any potential thieves. I don’t know how well it works but I didn’t care at that point. It was hot and I was sweating. I practically ran to the shore and dunked my head into the cooling waters of Lake Champlain. It was wonderful.
I floated along, watching the other beach-goers and excited children. I scratched at my head to push the water between the individual hairs. It had been hours since I first realized how much I wanted to jump into a lake, and it was well worth the wait. After a few minutes of floating and soaking, I went back to the shore. I spread my towel out on the sand and laid in the sun, occasionally getting too hot and jumping back in the water. What a beautiful day it was, what a much needed rest. Being covered in lake water never felt so cleansing.
After changing back into dry clothes I realized I was famished. I had been so focused on getting clean that I had skipped lunch. I still hadn’t heard from Jake and Michelle, who were planning on going paddle boarding after their ride. I figured we wouldn’t be getting together for dinner, and turned to my list for suggestions. The first choice was a burger joint called The Spot. When I arrived I found a sign on the door indicating that while they are normally open on Wednesdays, they would be closed early on this specific Wednesday. I didn’t think it was a big deal and I moved onto the second option, a pizza place called Bite Me. When I arrived I found out that they were only just starting their pizzas for dinner service, and weren’t officially open for another hour. My last possibility was El Cortijo, a Mexican restaurant just off of Church Street (the local pedestrian drag). I found a decent parking spot and walked towards El Cortijo with trepidation. It’s not often one must turn to their Plan C just to find a decent meal. Fortunately for me, they were open and happily taking customers.
Just after I had finished up my meal I got a call from Jake. They were at the apartment, showering and generally getting their act together. I ended up joining them and a friend of theirs for a second dinner to celebrate Michelle’s birthday. After dinner the four of us walked down to a place called The Skinny Pancake, known for its delicious crepes and live music. Jake was excited to see tonight’s act “Joshua Panda and the Hot Damned.” Joshua Panda is a young singer-songwriter with a nice smile and the sort of tousled hair that only attractive musicians can pull off. The Hot Damned appeared to be just one other guy, and both he and Joshua sat in chairs with their guitars on the outdoor patio of the restaurant. Jake is clearly a huge fan of Joshua Panda, and he stopped talking the moment we sat down so he could listen to the music. Michelle kept poking fun at him for being such a fanboy, and the best Jake could muster in response was an embarrassed blush.
Not long after we’d sat down an older woman handed each of us a flier for Joshua Panda. She wore a long, white, see-through lace dress over a hot pink tank top and matching shorts. On her finger was a large ring with a flashing light on it.
“Are you his mother?” Michelle asked, taking a flier from the woman.
The old woman laughed. “No, it’s funny, many people ask me that. I’m his devoted fan and . . . spiritual connection.”
I looked at the flier, which was a hand-drawn depiction of the singer that honestly didn’t look anything like him.
“This is how I see him,” the woman told Michelle, indicating she had drawn it herself.
She wandered off, passing fliers out to everyone in the restaurant and being sure to snag people as soon as they sat down. As I sat there enjoying the music, I casually examined the flier. I realized it contained no actual information other than his name. When the woman returned to our table later, we got to talking. I told her I was leaving for New York state the next day.
“Oh! Take me with you!” she said with a smile, placing both hands on my arm.
“You don’t like Vermont?” I asked.
“Look at me,” she said, stepping back and holding her lace dress out to one side, “I’m a little flashy for Vermont.”
Michelle and her friend opted to head out early to get some ice cream, leaving Jake and me to watch the rest of the show and split a crepe. Near the end of the night I got up to go to the bathroom, and as I was leaving Jake said, “Wait until you see the hallway.” The long and zigzagging hallway to the bathroom was decorated with the sights – and sounds – of endangered species. The whole thing was painted floor to ceiling with tigers and birds and rhinos, and the sounds of the jungle played over hidden speakers.
When the show ended, Jake told me he wanted to go up to talk to Joshua. Jake runs a nearby ski resort and was planning on putting together a partnership with The Skinny Pancake where musicians like Joshua would play a gig at the restaurant followed by a gig at the resort the next night. Of course Jake adored Joshua so much that he suddenly became shy and couldn’t work up the courage to talk to the man. We left and Jake assured me that he thought it was better for him to talk directly with Joshua’s management.
That night at the apartment Jake and Michelle set up the futon couch for me and I got to take that much needed shower. I never got to see their house up near the resort, but I had much more fun hanging out with them than I would have were I left to my own devices. And it was nice to experience the people side of Vermont. The northeast has a way of being so liberal it’s conservative about it. There was public art on the streets, but it was very precise, very intentional – never chaotic. I came across a bench that instructed me not to sit for too long, since other people might want to use the bench. It was a piece of public service so concerned with serving the public that it was asking the public not to use it. I think I may head up to the area again someday to see the famous turning of the fall leaves and re-visit my new friends. Until then, it’s probably best that my time in Vermont was so short. I may be a little flashy for Vermont, too.