A Yankee Notebook, Columns

I Can’t Sleep in a $500 Room

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – I’ve lived a great percentage of my life in towns or places that people go to for vacations or getaways. This means that I’ve lived in some lovely places, and also that when it’s been the occasion for a getaway of my own, the traffic has always been light, coming in the opposite direction on both Fridays and Sundays.

The problem has been that on the occasions I planned to stay put, but had company coming, it’s been from difficult to impossible to get a dinner reservation, a room at a hotel, or seats on any excursion.

That was the situation this past weekend. Bea, my companion, had been planning on visiting, but right in the middle of the week she texted me, “I just realized it’s a three-day weekend. Whoopee!” I had the same initial reaction; but then I began wondering what in the world we could do to keep busy. We couldn’t just sit here talking for hours. The last time she visited on a holiday weekend, I planned a ride through historic Smugglers Notch, where my little roadster would be at her very best, and I could expatiate on Vermont’s geology and the Embargo Act. We took off in high hopes, but traffic was backed up for half a mile onto the interstate at the Stowe exit. As Siri often used to say, “Recalculating.” We went home.

As this past weekend approached, I started casting about for possibilities. There were the very attractive options of either of two very French resorts just north of the Quebec border, but the price tag in each case was more than a bit daunting. As Tim Sample, the Maine humorist, says, I can’t sleep in a $500 room. I have to jump up and down on the bed and run the shower and TV all night to try to get my money’s worth. So Quebec was out. Two inns across the lake in the Adirondacks were completely booked.

Then I remembered a sturdy bicyclist I’d met at the Canadian Ski Marathon some years ago. Each year, he told me, he and his Montreal-based cycling club, came south to ride up and over all the Vermont notches. Aha! There was one day taken care of. We’d take the roadster up over Lincoln Gap, a spectacular drive, and return through Appalachian Gap, almost as exciting. Problem one-third solved.

Then came the rain, several days of it. But we made the best of it, in Hagar, who purred softly, kept us dry, and had room for Kiki. We also made the worst of it, by climbing over the wrong notch in the clouds, getting lost (a map is next to useless if you don’t know where you are, as is GPS if you can’t get a signal), and enjoying a lusty disagreement about what we’d done (we were both wrong, but she was wronger. I hope she never reads this report with my conclusions).

That evening, searching the internet, we discovered there were still vacancies for the following evening on the Spirit of Ethan Allen, a dinner-dance-sightseeing vessel out of Burlington. My friend loves boat rides; so, putting the wrong-notch argument away for another day, we signed up. The ship left harbor on calm seas under clearing skies for two hours or so of a really good buffet, a couple of glasses of wine, and for me, a sunset view of the mountains of home.

This morning, the day of our newest national holiday, we had nothing planned. She needed to leave by about noon to join the traffic jams headed home toward Boston. The sun was finally back. After breakfast (she’d commented often on the pleasure of looking out any window here at my home into a sea of lush, waving green) she suggested a walk in our local park. I was certainly game; and Kiki, once she’d twigged that an outing was in the offing, was all over the place, whining eagerly.

Our city has a gem of a park. A heavily wooded, hilly former pastureland, studded with springs, and laced with trails, it’s the daily resort of dozens of dogs and their companions. After a while, it’s sort of a big, happy family in which potential tensions and disputes melt into tail-wagging and fanny-sniffing. We shuffled up the so-called New Trail, which I now favor heavily for its lack of toe-snagging roots and rocks. With an eye on the time, we turned around and got Bea back to the house for her noon departure. Then we waited for updates on her progress toward that swirling bowl of traffic not far southeast of us. At least she had dry roads and sunshine. Finally, at 4:13, we got the message, “Bad traffic! Home now,” and a couple of emojis. Whew! All buttoned up, and everybody safe at home.

I just realized that I’ve spent the weekend as a tourist in my own neighborhood. It was very pleasant, actually. I couldn’t help but notice that the natives were quite friendly.

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