Friday, July 31, 2009

Morning brought overcast skies and the promise of rain, which reflected our moods; no one really wanted to get up and depart Montreal. So we slept in. By around 10:30 though, we had to face reality (with a terrific breakfast). To save time we went downstairs to the hotel's restaurant. I checked with the owner of the place to see if we got some sort of deal, being guests and all. He said we could order anything on the menu for seven bucks (Canadian) apiece. Vienna got some sort of bagel and lox combination (along with home fries that dipped nicely with Dijon sauce) while Jenny and I selected some more light and flaky croissants, mine with a plate of wispy thin Swiss cheese slices, and we all felt satisfied that we'd gotten an OK deal. Add the price for fresh juices (oh, those flavors, which included peach, pear, and apricot) and the bill would be acceptable. Since we had a bit of extra local currency to burn we wrapped up with a chocolate course of pastries and cordials. Only then did we understand that the owner meant seven dollars apiece total for anything we bought! What an awesome place.

Then it was time to thread our way out of town toward Vermont. Jenny pointed out a familiar sight, a "muffler man," which upon closer inspection appeared to be some sort of Canadian variant. I'll need to research this further, but this seems like more of another version than a cousin from the same family. Oh, those wacky Canadians. Reaching the border we found a longer line of cars waiting to cross. We didn't mind too much however, since we focused our attention on a tiny dog who lifted herself almost entirely out of the driver-side window of a car next to us, cocking her head and focusing her eyes intently, delighted and fascinated with all the sights and smells of the place. Reaching our own interview we again encountered disconnected questions seeking to assess nervousness and probe for inconsistency, a weird experience. And then we were back in the USA.

Vermont is indisputably lovely. We began our visit with lunch at Libby's Blue Line Diner, a solid return to the thematic purpose of the trip. Libby's is set up on a hill and yet does not seem all that unique from the outside. Inside is another matter: a true diner with homemade muffins and local conversation and endless coffee. Jenny and I shared a heaping (labeled 'small') plate of onion rings while I attended to a cup of meaty chili and a root beer float. Only Vienna got a raw deal, being served a disappointing Caesar salad that even "Iron Stomach" Jenny concluded was pretty lousy. The people running the place were so nice that we didn't have the heart to complain, though in retrospect I think it would have been kind to tell them. Our next step was the World's Tallest File Cabinet, which happens to be in nearby Burlington. Jenny's day job, and the fact that we didn't have a chance to search Scranton while driving through Pennsylvania for Office landmarks, drew us to the towering line of individual cabinets that possesses (Jenny tells me with confidence) 38 drawers.

The rest of the day was spent driving south along state roads while keeping our eyes set for lakeside communities. Jenny and I imagine that Vermont will be a terrific half of a "two-state solution" to our retirement plan: spending spring/summer in the northeast and fall/winter in the southwest. That latter pole will situate us near favorite sites like Monument Valley, Arches National Park, and the Grand Canyon; the former positions us near to great cities of the Eastern seaboard (not to mention Montreal, further inland) while allowing us to enjoy a quieter, more relaxed New England lifestyle. Owning the homes offers Jenny a chance to do the kind of nesting that she loves, assuring me regular road trips between. With this shared goal in mind we poked along the shores of lakes, imagining our future selves in various houses that Vienna remembers as being idyllic.

One essential option lies just north of Castleton along Lake Bomoseen, if only because it's so near the Birdseye Diner, the next scheduled stop on our tour. The Birdseye, a recently refurbished Silk City Dining Car, is shoehorned within more formal buildings along a Main Street of diagonally parked cars and strolling locals. As we walked in, a server was thanking a patron by name with expectations that they'd see each other next week. Snatches of overheard conversation affirmed that this is a tight and friendly community. Vienna reported that she'd had enough diner chow for the day, choosing to dedicate her time to chatting with a friend over the phone, so it was up to Jenny and me to sample their fish and chips and a gooey grilled cheese (made with Vermont cheddar, of course). We wrapped up our meals with a plate of guiltily good chocolate-chocolate cake.

Lodging for the night was nearby, a perfect place for our tour: The Red Diner Guesthouse. Jenny found the place online and, wow, did she win the prize for best catch. The cabin is a refurbished diner with grand views where the drive-through windows used to be. Now wood-paneled, stuffed with books and videos and knickknacks, the two-bedroom rental is the definition of swell. The Guesthouse sits across a lightly traveled country road along a burbling creek, so there's plenty of peace and quiet on the menu.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.