“When you arrive in Essex Junction, I’ll be holding up a sign with your name on it.”
I was speaking on my cellphone to a tourist coming in that night on the Amtrak Vermonter. He and two other people would be exploring Burlington over the weekend. “So, what is your name?”
“OK, I’ll give you my first name. It’s Marlin — with an ‘i’ like the fish.”
The train pulled into the station right on time at 8:45, and so did I. A middle-aged man in white Bermuda shorts and loafers, sans socks, walked up to me with a hand extended, saying, “You must be Jernigan. Thanks for being here. The other two gentlemen are right behind me.”
As we shook I said, “And you must be Marlin — like the fish, not the Brando.”
The two others joined us, bags in tow. One was a little older than Marlin and likewise in shorts. The other man was somewhat younger and quite handsome, with a square face and symmetrical features. Unlike his friends, he wore slacks, and his pastel polo shirt had a quarter-sized, embossed logo with which I was unfamiliar. Marlin said, “Jernigan, this is Bob, and this is Bob.”
I shook hands with the two Bobs, saying, “Well, this will be easy to remember.”
Marlin took shotgun, the Bobs climbed into the back, and we set sail. As we came upon the Champlain Valley Expo, we could see the carnies abuzz with activity despite the late hour — opening day was fast approaching for the late-summer lollapalooza. “Oh, isn’t this just charming,” said the older Bob. “I just love Vermont.”
And thank goodness for that, I thought semi-cynically. That’s what keeps the tourist pump pumping.
“So, Marlin tells me you all live in New York City.”
Bob the Younger said, “Yes, Marlin and I just moved to the neighborhood they call ‘East Harlem.’ It’s very up-and-coming.”
“At least that’s the word on the street,” Marlin interjected with a smile.
“Anyway, it’s a big change,” Bob continued. “We resided on the Upper East Side for years.”
“East Harlem,” I said, calling up my indigenous NYC memory bank. “Didn’t it used to be known as Spanish Harlem?”
“Yes, it did,” Bob the Younger replied. “And there are still many Latinos and people from the islands living there.”
“What do you folks do for work down there?” I asked.
Marlin said, “Bob and I are both doctors, and our friend, Bob — he’s an interior-design person.”
The older Bob leaned forward and placed a hand on Marlin’s shoulder. “Well, of sorts,” he amended with a chuckle. “Thank you, Marlin.”
“That’s St. Michael’s College,” I pointed out, seamlessly moving into tour-guide mode. “It’s a Catholic school, whatever that means these days.”
Bob the Younger asked, “Ethan Allen was from Vermont, is that right?”
“He sure was. He was a hero of the Revolutionary War. To this day, they name gas stations and motels after him.”
“Well, that’s just it, isn’t it?” Bob said. “Didn’t he own a lot of land? I’ve read historians who posit his motivation may have been more commercial than patriotic.”
“Well, Bob,” I kidded, speaking as if terribly affronted, “I, for one, refuse to succumb to such cynicism. Ethan Allen will always be my hero. Heck, he and Benedict Arnold — before that dude went bad — captured Fort Ticonderoga, the first significant victory for the American side. What’s less recalled is that, soon after his triumph at Ticonderoga, and with his judgment, let’s say, clouded with hubris, old Ethan led his Green Mountain Boys on an ill-fated mission to seize Montréal from the Brits. I believe he spent the rest of the campaign as a prisoner of war.”
“Ah, yes,” Bob said, “that does ring a bell.”
“But the thing is,” I continued, clearly on a roll, “Vermont has so much to be proud of. For instance, we were the first state to outlaw slavery. And in 2000, I think it was, we were the first to pass civil unions for gay couples. Now, of course, 10 years later, many folks consider civil unions a second-class compromise for full marriage rights. But, back then, it was incredibly controversial and gutsy. And, recently, we did pass gay-marriage legislation.”
Marlin turned to me with a warm smile and said, “Jernigan, don’t we know, and we appreciate it. Bob and I came up here to get married this spring. I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to us. We’d been together for 28 and a half years!”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” I said. “Where was the wedding?”
“That’s a story unto itself,” Bob the Husband jumped in. “Apparently, everything closes up that time of year. Our first choice was the Equinox in Manchester, but they were closed, too.”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding my head and chuckling, “that’s what happens when you want to get hitched during mud season.”
Marlin said, “Well, we eventually did find a perfectly lovely B&B outside of Rutland.”
“And it was a picture-perfect wedding,” the older Bob chimed in. “Everyone had the most glorious time.”
I dropped the trio at their B&B, not minutes from downtown, and waited in the driveway while they checked in, dropped their bags and freshened up. Then they took my recommendation of Leunig’s on Church Street for a late dinner. Yup, I thought, these cosmopolitan New Yorkers are definitely Leunig’s types. Tasty as they are, the turkey-bacon subs at the Kountry Kart Deli would just not cut it for these guys.
When I picked them up the following morning for their tour of Shelburne Farms and day at the Shelburne Museum, Marlin told me about the great kerfuffle on the Marketplace the previous night while they relaxed in Leunig’s’ outdoor seating area enjoying their meal.
“Jernigan, it was like a movie. All of a sudden there were police cars everywhere, blue lights blazing. And then a young man came charging down the street, not feet from where we sat, with two policemen in hot pursuit. Lord in heaven — this is not what one associates with Vermont!”
“Oh,” I said, “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you about that. No, those were all actors. It’s a little skit they put on for the tourists during the summer. I think it takes place, like, every two hours.”
“I see,” Marlin said, with a wink. “Something like the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World?”
“Exactly,” I replied, and I knew it was going to be a grand day hanging out with these three guys.