Greetings from Vermont! Today’s plan was to jump on the Long Trail and
hike to the top of Bromley, but Mother Nature messes with the best of
intentions. We woke up and it was me and Felice and rain on the roof
(although John Sebastian was nowhere in sight…) After cruising the
outlet shops, we entered the Northshire Bookstore and Felice noticed a
sign pointing to an area for laptop users, and upon confirming there was
free wi-fi, I scooted back home and picked up my laptop (Felice was smart
enough not to travel without hers…)
Actually, it’s not our house anymore. My mother sold it. To a gentleman
who agreed to let us continue to use it. And despite my mom telling me
he’d made the house his own, this proved to be untrue. When I entered
the storage closet and saw my father’s Rossis, my heart sank. He loved
this place. Moe Lefsetz, the least handy man to ever set foot on this
earth, used this Vermont domicile as his playhouse. I remember
encountering him sawing wood with a mini-chainsaw atop the marble
doorstep. Cancer got to him first, but I was always wondering if a home
improvement project would do him in.
Monday we drove around the Magic Triangle, the Hub, two appellations for
the Bromley, Stratton, Magic area that were heavily used in the sixties
but have since been abandoned. Like so many of the chalets on Stratton.
That was the pinnacle, the height of affluence, a home on the access
road, just beneath the base lodge. But those edifices now seemed puny in
comparison to those constructed by today’s he-men of the universe, the
big swinging dicks who raped our financial system and built temples to
themselves. All my memories, of playing bumper pool and throwing
freezer-burned ice cream outside of Sally Jayson’s window, were minimized
when I confronted the palace in my mind. It was small. The years had
taken their toll. I realized ashes to ashes, dust to dust was true. It
wasn’t only people, but our structures. We were only here for a limited
time. To be replaced by worldbeaters whose efforts trumped ours and then
too were replaced. It was depressing.
Tuesday we drove up to Middlebury. I felt strangely
disconnected from the college. Enough years had gone by that I’d
emotionally detached. Everything was familiar, but I now lived in
California. But when we dropped over the mountain via the scariest road
in Vermont, the fabled Route 17, and were confronted with Mad River Glen,
I was stunned how steep it was. Trumping almost all of Vail’s slopes. No
wonder I became such a good skier. The slopes, never mind the
conditions, in Vermont are hard!
After spending the night with my old college roommate Lyndon and his wife
Joanne in Waitsfield, we drove north on Route 100, stopping at legendary
Small Dog Electronics. Funny how a local Apple specialist can become a
national business via the Internet. Small Dog used to only service the
Mad River Valley. Now I’ve purchased an extra hard drive from the
comfort of my home in Santa Monica.
Then we followed some school buses through Waterbury, scooted under Route
89, and came upon one of Vermont’s most famous tourist attractions, the
Ben & Jerry’s factory.
I’d been twice before. The memories were exquisite. Of the tour guide
dropping a bucket to the production floor, where people dressed like the
sperm in that Woody Allen movie poured in butter pecan ice cream via a
giant fire hose and when we finally tasted the retrieved, not yet frozen
elixir, we were in heaven. Truly the best ’scream I’ve ever tasted.
But that was twenty years ago. Today, Ben & Jerry themselves are gone,
made redundant by Unilever, the conglomerate they had to sell to in order
to maintain distribution, and the factory has turned into a Disney-like
attraction, where they even charge you, although they did give us a free
scoop of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.
Before we shot over to the dip shop, where I concocted a Core Sundae
comprised of Chunky Monkey, Phish Phood and hot fudge, I went to the
history wall, where the story of Vermont’s most famous concoction was
They learned how to make ice cream from a five dollar correspondence
course from Penn State. Doesn’t matter if you went to music school, if
you’ve got a Ph.D., how does your music sound?
Ben & Jerry’s music, their ice cream, was damn good. They had immediate
success. If you don’t have immediate success playing music, maybe you
need to give up, view it as a hobby. Anyone can tell when something is
great, and most things aren’t. There aren’t numerous Ben & Jerry’s, only
one. An innovative team who did everything in their power to make it.
They needed to make it. Their education left them no other
They gave away free cones on their birthday. And every dip shop still
They started showing movies on the side of the gas station that was their
original facility. Eventually tying in other Burlington merchants and
decamping to an even better, rooftop location.
And speaking of the gas station, they had to move. That’s what happens
when you’re a success. Your customers drive you to expand. This was
after Ben & Jerry ran out of ice cream, the demand being so high.
The innovative marketing. Driving a converted bus cross-country and
giving away free samples. Said bus eventually burning up in Ohio.
Making a flavor, their best selling, named after a Grateful Dead member,
an idea that was proffered by a customer. Yes, a great band listens to
its audience. Fans believe, they only want to help.
But worldwide domination wasn’t instant. It took nearly two decades to
literally encompass the globe. This was after David Letterman did a top
ten list of the least popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors. This was after the
President named them Small Business Persons of the Year. Honors are
nice, but they’re only a step along the way.
Ben & Jerry were rock stars. Men who didn’t believe in the system, who
needed to do it their own way, who could only do it their own way. They
gave back, eventually making an ice cream bearing the moniker of
Vermont’s most famous band, which gave its share of the profits to
charity. Ben & Jerry were in bed with their customers. They sold stock,
the proceeds of which were badly needed for expansion, to Vermonters
only, who wanted to help their own, who were giving back by only using
the milk of Vermont cows, keeping the local farmers in business.
Don’t listen to Mr. Big. Telling you to put on nice
clothes and play the game. Create something great. And once you get
traction, utilize your most innovative, left field ideas to spread the
word. There are no rules when it comes to a music career. Other than
that your music must be great. No amount of innovative marketing can
cover bad music up.
After the Ben & Jerry tour we stopped at the Cider House, partaking of
the divine nectar and some cider donuts. Then up to Stowe, passing
through the Notch from Mt. Mansfield to Smuggler’s. We poked around Lake
Champlain, and as the sun set over the Adirondacks, we took that ride
down Route 7 from Burlington, through Middlebury and Rutland, all the way
back to Manchester, mountains on the left, possibilities to the right.
I left Vermont for those possibilities. And I’m not complaining, I’ve
got no regrets. But part of me is still here, part of me belongs in
Vermont. It’s great to be here.