Our 2022 Road Trip #23: Moseying Around Montpelier

Downtown Montpelier as seen from the highway bridge coming into town. An above-average number of steeples poke upward.

We’d had plans to get a better view of Montpelier, but that didn’t work out.

We’re not high-end shoppers who get caught anywhere near boutiques, jewelers, perfumeries, fashion trendsetters, or home decor artisans unless they happen to be next door to the retailers we’d rather visit. And by “we” I especially mean “I”. Anne’s collecting habits are modest bordering on spartan, whereas I’m the one on the lookout for brick-and-mortar purveyors who cater to my hobbies and pop culture interests. Fortunately Montpelier had just the district for us.

Apropos of Vermont, that entire paragraph is recycled from the downtown Burlington chapter from the day before. The sentiments nonetheless apply here. If it ain’t broke, and so on.

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’d wandered the halls of the gold-domed Vermont State House to the extent of our hearts’ desire and their public accessibility, our next stop was lunch down the street at J. Morgan’s Steakhouse, inside the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

A four-story brick hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor, with red awnings and no customers seated at the outside tables.

The Steakhouse opened in 1996, and thankfully was open for lunch.

The place was mostly empty when we walked in, but they insisted on taking a name and phone number before seating us. I’m not clear why, but we’re glad they didn’t raise an eyebrow at two tourists in summer wear daring to set foot inside an establishment that has clearly served countless well-to-do businesspeople in its time. On rare occasion we can save up and dine as they do, but from a fashion perspective we’re monetarily outclassed. I’ve never even owned a suit.

Restaurant table with booth seats covered in red leather or vinyl. On the ceiling is a fancy, spiky light globe.

Sample booth and textured glass ceiling globe.

Service took a while from start to finish. Extra siting time was nice to have after walking the full length of the State House and some of its mall. By and large, everything was delightful, 10/10 no notes.

Fancy food plate per caption

For me: Crispy Orange Duck with a Vermont maple orange glaze, served with chef’s rice and green beans.

Fancy food plate per caption, but a much smaller portion than my duck.

For Anne: Classic Chicken Piccata and Crab with lemon, capers, and butter over capellini; served with red-skinned mashed potatoes.

Two members of a sewing circle, sewing while watching a TV offscreen.

In the adjacent hotel lobby, a literal sewing circle (I’d never seen one before! I thought they were the stuff of legend!) gathered around a wall-mounted TV. They worked on their latest projects while watching the January 6th hearings.

We left shortly after 1:30, by which time I was growing too leery of the street signs that warned us outsiders we weren’t allowed to feed the meters to keep the same parking space past the original 2-hour limit. With no way of knowing whether or not the local constabulary took this aversion to extra quarters deadly seriously, we returned to the car before any meter-monitors could roll up on us. We moved it a few blocks out, away from downtown and closer to the State House, where nary a parallel space was taken.

Anne got out of the rental SUV and stepped onto the grassy curb, which was several inches taller than the ordinary curbs back home. The edge of her door dug into the ground and stuck fast. When she pushed back to dislodge it, the rubber door trim snapped off on one end. I may have shrieked. The other end was secure, but we now had a loose part flapping around on a car we didn’t own. For the moment I pushed it back against the car, where the fasteners half-reinserted into their respective holes, not all the way. Auto repair is one of the thousands of topics with which my knowledge isn’t deep enough to be called “expertise” as defined by anyone above age 12.

With the job shoddily done, we left the car for a few moments and crossed the street to check out the official Visitor Center. Sometimes those have their own sights to see.

Ranch-style brick building, well-kept and with ample signage.

Note the directional signs listing mileage to other cities, albeit not necessarily pointing their respective directions.

A steel sculpture that resembles an oblong leaf standing on one end, leaning a tad, with metal loops on top.

Standing outside is Gregory Smith’s 2009 stainless steel sculpture The Wealth of Fools.

The center was small and had much-needed restrooms, but wasn’t a source of deep fascination. With not much else on the block to check out, we got back into the car and moved it one more time into the heart of downtown, trim still flapping on the passenger side. I found us a space, fed quarters into yet another meter (we’d brought plenty from home in case of toll roads, smashed penny machines, or meters exactly like these), got out and tried more concertedly to shove the trim’s fasteners back where they belonged. As Anne watched me lying on the sidewalk underneath the door, grunting and straining and making faces, a possible Good Samaritan stopped and asked if I was all right. From a certain perspective, I can see how I might’ve looked like a heart attack victim dying in front of his helpless, panic-stricken wife. I thanked him for his consideration and explained the situation. He went on his way and didn’t offer to help fix the door.

I got all the fasteners back in place except one. I threw it in one of the dashboard storage compartments, locked up the car and dismissed us to return to vacationing. For the next hour-plus we walked around the reasonably bustling sidewalks of downtown Montpelier and spent a few bucks where applicable. The storefronts were old and compacted, probably built decades ago and handed over from one generation of small-business entrepreneurs to the next, whether amicably or otherwise.

A green-painted bookshop.

Mandatory stop for reading matter at the Book Garden, where I picked up the fifth volume of Deadly Class.

A small-town record store with a big "VINYL" sign in their window.

A stop for tunes at Buch Spieler Records, where my CD purchases included David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Concrete Blonde’s Free.

Anne sits with a waffle cone in front of a snack shop.

Mandatory snack stop at Chill Vermont Gelato. Anne enjoys a waffle cone of lemon cheesecake gelato,, while off-camera I have a dish of tiramasu gelato.

As of tonight I’m having trouble verifying whether Chill Vermont Gelato is still in business. As of June 2022 they seemed to be doing fine.

Not pictured: the friendly gift shop where Anne picked up a few Vermont souvenirs — a couple of T-shirts for relatives, a magnet, and a Bernie Sanders sticker, which Anne added to her stack more for the memories and mirth than out of anything resembling solidarity.

A courthouse with a tall white spire.

Architectural standouts includes the Washington County Court House.

A theater marquee with "Jurassic World: Dominion" and "Top Gun: Maverick" now showing.

Another theater marquee for my collection. On one side, the same two blockbusters that had been showing at the Finger Lakes Drive-In in upstate New York back on Day Two.

Theater marquee, other side, which simply lists "LIGHTYEAR" on the top row and "ELVIS" on the bottom.

On the other side, the underlooked gem Lightyear Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s sparkling musical about a singing spaceman who’s manipulated by the sinister Colonel Tom Zurg.

A river flows through the city with blue decorations strung across, and purple flowers in the foreground.

The Winooski River flows through the heart of downtown.

We attempted one last item on our Montpelier to-do list: Hubbard Park Tower, a 54-foot observation tower that sits atop a high hill in the center of town and reputedly provides a spacious vantage point to see the city from on high. Finding the narrow alley that would lead uphill took two tries. Once I found it, its bumpy single-lane wended and weaved cozily through a neighborhood of hard-to-find street signs. We kept turning upward and upward and eventually found the dirt road that we think led to the park and the tower…with two cars parked in front of it, barring entry. There was no one around to ask whether this slight was due to a private party or recent fatalities or whatever.

We gave up, found our way back downhill, and decided we’d sufficiently done Montpelier. We headed back to the hotel in Waterbury to relax for an hour before the day’s final tourist activity, a very special tour that we very nearly didn’t get to do because of the pandemic. Remember that old thing?

To be continued!

* * * * *

[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!]

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