Vermont! At last! Naturally our first stop was a pop culture reference from our childhoods.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Since 1999 Anne and I have taken one road trip each year to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. After years of contenting ourselves with everyday life in Indianapolis and any surrounding areas that also had comics and toy shops, we chucked some of our self-imposed limitations and resolved as a team to leave the comforts of home for annual chances to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
For 2022 we wanted the opposite of Yellowstone. Last year’s vacation was an unforgettable experience, but those nine days and 3500 miles were daunting and grueling. Vermont was closer, smaller, greener, cozier, and slightly cooler. Thus we set aside eight days to venture through the four states that separate us from the Green Mountain State, dawdle there for a bit, and backtrack home…
After we descended Mount Defiance’s winding road, direct routes from upstate New York into Vermont were very few in the vicinity. We entertained the option to pay for a ferry across Lake Champlain. Alternatively, we could drive farther north up the lake’s coast and cross a free bridge. The latter, twistier route was thirteen miles longer but potentially shorter in minutes if the ferry were running slowly, had just taken off, or already had a long line waiting to board. The ferry crossing was too far into the woods to see and gauge it conveniently from the fort area. Between the two routes, we had no idea which was better qualified to win the title “the scenic route”.
Among the first things we noticed was of course all the greenery. Lush, verdant, leafy, bushy, stalky super-flora abounded all around the foothills of the Green Mountains and the many farms and tiny towns we crawled past. Also noticeable: all the highway speed limits dropped down to elderly driver ranges. Interstates were few and far away from us for our next 24 hours. In case we out-of-towners got any funny ideas involving flouting or flaunting, police cars were likewise in curious abundance on this early Sunday evening, perched here and there beside the roadways. They seemed to have far fewer law-keeping distractions than the police in literally every other city we visited on this trip.
I kept myself patient and calm and legal as the pastoral landscapes segued into the slightly more populated campus of Middlebury College, where the speed limits spiraled farther downward enough that bicyclists ought to beware the capricious swing of a radar gun. Then again, resident bikers are probably okay with automotive restrictions in general because low speed limits are one easy way of discouraging car ownership so that one day their entire population might reject cars altogether in favor of more bicycles, skateboards, solar scooters, sleds, horses, ostriches, rickshaws, Pogo sticks, power piggybacking or whatever. So we played their little “road safety” game. Their pretty turf, their petty rules. The maniac driver in me could hibernate for now.
For various reasons we don’t stay anyplace resembling a bona fide bed-and-breakfast (closest we’ve ever come was one time years ago at the rustic inn at Turkey Run State Park, which was gifted to us), but this time we had a geeky reason to make an exception. Slightly southeast of Middlebury stands the establishment in our lead photo, the Waybury Inn. Once upon a time in 1982 it rose to a sort of stardom in the opening credits of the CBS sitcom Newhart, where it was the stand-in for the Stratford Inn, the workplace owned by main characters Dick and Joanna Loudon, played by Mary Frann and TV’s Bob Newhart. I was a big fan of the show as a kid until September 1988, when I got an after-school job at 16 and lost track of all my favorite prime-time shows for years until our family could afford a VCR. By then, alas, Newhart was history.
(Tangential fun trivia: Newhart is one of only three (3) stand-up comedians I’ve ever seen perform live, and the other two sucked.)
Newhart ended after eight seasons, but the Waybury Inn remains in business to this day. It’s the sort of inn so cozy that each of its twelve (!) rooms are named, mostly themed, and available for specific reservation. It was far from the rest of our Vermont to-do list, but Newhart fandom dictated we had to do at least one night, even though Newhart himself has virtually nothing else to do with the place personally today. This wouldn’t be our first time seeking out a tourist attraction based solely on its prominence in a sitcom’s opening credits — longtime MCC readers may recall the time we chased down a few of the roadside oddities that preface every episode of Parks & Recreation.
Originally dubbed the Green Mountain House, the inn was built by one John Foote in 1810, 19 years after Vermont was granted statehood and right before the War of 1812. Since 1999 it’s been owned by a married couple with a combined 50 years in the hospitality biz. As you’d imagine, they’re facing the exact same problems as every other service-industry business in 2022. We were happy to be patient and settle in for the experience.
We arrived around 6:00 and had to wait a moment for the front desk clerk — we didn’t catch her name, but let’s call her “Joanna” — to enter and welcome us. Joanna got through the usual paperwork, gave us the key for the Mount Mansfield Room along with an idea of the general layout, confirmed our stay included a free breakfast, and assured us their restaurant would still be open whenever we were ready to come down for dinner. This all sounded fantastic to us, especially since I thought the restaurant would already be closed. But I kept mum about how our reservation was supposed to be for their specifically bear-themed room. When I’d reserved it months ago, a bear theme sounded like the perfect ironic in-joke after last year’s Yellowstone trip, in which we drove the entirety of that enormous, wildlife-friendly park without seeing a single live bear despite their reputation for having some.
The Mount Mansfield Room was on the second floor near the top of the long, steep stairway. We travel as lightly as we can, but our modest luggage collection was a pain in the neck to heft upward the old-fashioned way. We could use the exercise anyway.
The room’s centerpiece was a queen sleigh bed that fit the two of us just so. The bathroom had an old-school clawfoot tub, no shelves within reach for holding your toiletries while you’re scrubbing, and a curtain that clung tightly to you in the narrow cleaning space provided. We also had minimal open space in the room for luggage-tossing. We tried to be civil while dividing up our devices for recharging, as we seemed to find more doilies than outlets.
It’s entirely possible that all of this quaint narrowness is standard B&B room design. We wouldn’t know.
We headed downstairs and found our way to the restaurant in the back, which had plentiful seating both indoor and outdoor. I counted a total of six parties, including a lone gentleman in a shadowed corner who reminded me faintly of Bob Mould, and a threesome on the outer deck who were relentlessly cheery chatterboxes through the entirety of the night. We waited a few minutes for a host to say hi. Awkwardness mounted as none did.
We hoped perhaps we’d get a response if we approached from the outside instead. We felt weird simply charging through the inside dining room to the door, so instead we retreated the way we’d entered, exited through the inn’s front doors, took a few pics, avoided the construction scaffolding on the inn’s east face, and walked around to the outer dining area. Once again, no hosting occurred.
Increasingly concerned and hungrier by the minute, we headed directly inside and returned to our original waiting post. A few minutes later, Joanna emerged from the kitchen with plates of food and, after dropping those off with their intended eaters, ushered us to an outside table. And then an enchanting evening commenced.
While Joanna ping-ponged from one responsibility to the next, our waitress was the only other personnel we saw throughout the entire night. She warned us in advance they were out of venison, salmon, and The Special, which she declined to describe so we couldn’t mourn its loss. Later when we ordered dessert, we had to be informed the last Chocolate Bombe had just been sold to another table. We accepted that as a consequence of our late arrival and graciously deferred to the early birds.
While waiting for our food, we chatted with the waitress about our tourist status and some of our to-do list. She commended a few of our choices and recommended a particular museum we hadn’t heard of, as well as a particular lake whose name sounded to my ears like “Bombazine”, which I believe is the name of a Middle-Earth narcotic. When I brought up our intent to drive through Rutland later in the week (long story), she made a face and warned us the place could be “sketchy”. I appreciated her candor and noted the foreshadowing.
That said: the food was worth the wait. As of June 26th the Waybury’s kitchen was under the auspices of one Donna Siebert, its head chef of 40 years whose career dated to 1969, back when her parents owned the inn and she got her start as a 12-year-old dishwasher. Shortly after our stay, she announced her imminent retirement and welcomed her forthcoming successor. Judging by the results we were treated to, she’ll be a tough act to follow.
Afterward we retired to our rustic box for the evening, possibly the only place we’ve ever slept that didn’t have a TV. Judging by folks we’d witnessed at dinner and the following morning, we believe we were the youngest guests in the house. I thought about this as we spent the night surrounded by creaking. The floors creaked with every step. The doors creaked with every swing. The bed creaked with every move we made, every slight adjustment. The bathroom waterworks, which refused to dispense cold water for more than two seconds, creaked. I’m pretty sure the sheets, the A/C, the air itself, the ceiling, and the bedside wooden duck also creaked. Maybe all the creaking is a B&B feature, not a bug. For older guests I imagine it reminded them of their childhood homes. If nothing else, all that creakiness made for a good anti-burglary sensor system.
DAY FOUR: MONDAY, JUNE 27th.
We came down in the morning and reported for breakfast in a sun room that had its own dining tables apart from the restaurant. We and an elderly lady wandered around the tables and wondered if it was okay to seat ourselves. After a few minutes, in came Joanna to give us the okay. This morning she was our hostess, server, and chef. Again we waited patiently and listened to the rain outside, which we weren’t excited to rush out into anyway. We had no scheduled appointments, no timing concerns with later attractions, and no problem soaking in a bit more Waybury ambiance before we’d later return to our usual landscape of lookalike corporate hotels devoid of personality, personal touches, and Bob Newhart autographs.
(Not pictured: Anne’s “Vermont Classic Breakfast” — scrambled eggs, bacon, diced potatoes, still more fruit, and…she ordered an English muffin, but received wheat toast. When she mentioned it gently, Joanna apologized and later brought out such a muffin as well.)
After we finished and packed, the rain persisted. I had plenty of time to assist yet another elderly guest who was traveling solo, and lugged her Atomic Age-era gigantic metal suitcase down the stairs for her, not without some difficulty. I didn’t ask how she’d gotten it upstairs in the first place.
Down in the lobby, Bob Mould’s twin had set up a table and had clocked in for his day job as an AM radio host, broadcasting his show live from the Waybury Inn that very morning. We tried to keep our voices down as we checked out, and as Anne bought one of those souvenir postcards. I pulled the rental SUV up to the side door in hopes of minimizing our soaking, with limited results. And off we drove very slowly into the wild green yonder.
Later down the road, I checked the receipt and confirmed the bearless Mount Mansfield Room had cost the same as the bear room. Alas, once again, no bears for us — neither in our room nor in the surrounding woods. If there had been, I’ve no doubt Joanna would’ve found time to fend them off for us as part of the Waybury Inn multitasking promise.
To be continued!
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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]
Wow! Yet another great entry of MCC!. Thanks for writing it up and sharing it w/the world!
I am forced —forced!— to call your attention to what I can only assume to be an entirely minor typographical error. I gather you meant to write something like “broadcasting his show live from the Waybury Inn”. Does it matter? I don’t know! Maybe? Any reasonable excuse to thank you for an entry is one I’m willing to indulge in!
Any excuse for a live interaction with another human on this site is presently okay by me! Thank you for your assistance and readership and courage in breaking the silence! Typo repair is completed!