Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy 50th, 1964

Author's note: This post originally appeared in January, when most of you were hibernating. Since today is my birthday (I repeat: today is my birthday), I'm posting it again, but with a special foreword.

Of all the cool stuff that happened in 1964, there was one I forgot to include in this list. My savvy brother, Michael, reminded me of this when he presented me with a 50th anniversary Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter 50th Anniversary Edition knife. This is the classic Buck knife of my childhood. My father gave me one of these, but somewhere over the years, it disappeared. I used that knife for everything from skinning squirrels to writing research papers in college. And now, thanks to Michael, I have its replacement, which I plan to keep for at least 50 more years. Then I'll trade it in for adult diapers. Happy Birthday, Buck 110.

It’s finally here--the celebration we’ve all been waiting for: the 50th anniversary of 1964, perhaps the most important year in the 20th century. Any retrospective of a great year will require the omission of many events that may, to some, warrant mention, so while we’re getting ready to review the good stuff, let’s not forget some of the lower-order news items that happened during the first true year of Generation X--things like Barry Goldwater’s run at LBJ, Cassius Clay’s pummeling of Sonny Liston, the opening of Shea Stadium, the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which seems to be under assault in warm-weather milieus), The New York World’s Fair, Pete Townshend destroying his first guitar on stage, My Fair Lady, and the first BASIC program written for computers.

Those events alone would constitute a momentous year, but they’re just the appetizer to an extraordinary turn of the calendar. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a pastiche of events that shaped and influenced my development long after we trudged through the rest of the 60s and on into the loathsome 70s. Here then, in no particular order, are the highlights of 1964--or, as we call it down at Pro Bono Publico, my favorite Latin watering hole, “MCMLXIV.”

The Beatles. Any discussion of 1964 must begin and end with the Fab Four. Mop Top mavens know that by the time John, Paul, George, and Ringo debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show they’d already conquered the east side of the Atlantic, but we all know how important the American market is to rock’n’roll music--we invented it. And I’m not going to drivel on about how The Beatles rescued us from our lugubrious post-Kennedy mourning. But because music is so important to Americans, and because The Beatles reinvented rock’n’roll while simultaneously creating pop music, their impact on 1964 can’t be overstated. Think of it this way: at the beginning of 1964, the number one record in American (according to Cash Box magazine) was Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again.” Let that detonate in your head for a moment, and try not be perplexed by the need for an exclamation mark after “there” but not after “again.” By the end of 1964, The Beatles had held the top spot for 22 weeks--almost half the year. Not only that, but they had the ninth highest grossing film that year, with the release of A Hard Day’s Night. It’s not an overstatement to say that The Beatles were an atomic bomb in American culture, shaping us still to this day.

The Ford Mustang. There is nothing that characterizes Americans better than their love of the automobile, and there is no more iconic or important automobile than the Ford Mustang. Not only is the Mustang the most recognizable car to sprout from Dearborn, it’s also the first pony car, a new class of automobile that would go on to influence car design up to today. Like The Beatles, the Ford Mustang influenced and shaped the language of our culture.

Smoking and Health. You probably know this report by it’s common name, The Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking. This was the report that codified what smart people knew all along: smoking like a chimney was deadly. To a lesser extent, it cut the legs out from the notion that NOT smoking was somehow unpatriotic. Cigarettes (as mass-produced by tobacco companies) became locked with the image of our boys winning World War Two, so Americans felt it was their duty to smoke their brains out. This report revealed the real effects of smoking, and more importantly, it laid the groundwork for the acceptance of scientific study as a legitimate process for change. Almost half the U.S. population smoked in 1964 (the other half were children); that’s down to 18% today, which begs the question: Why?

Bourbon. Like the Ford Mustang, bourbon is an icon of our culture. This is the true American whiskey, spelled with an “e.” Nothing defines America like corn, and the only thing corn is good for (besides corn bread, corn flakes, and corn on the cobb slathered with butter) is making whiskey. It’s the ultimate expression of distilled spirits, full of character, produced by Kentuckians living in dry counties using charred American oak barrels, which are then sold to the French to make their wine taste better. Sweet justice.

Goldfinger. This is the best of the Sean Connery Bond films. Based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name, the film straddles the dark nature of the first two Bond films and the goofiness of later incarnations, especially Roger Moore’s interpretation of James Bond. Here in Goldfinger is an outlandish plot (Auric Goldfinger plots to steal the gold from Ft. Knox, and where the U.S. Army fails, an Englishman saves the day--puh-lease!), strong women with misogynistic names (Pussy Galore actually works at Goldfinger’s stud farm--get it?), gadgets from Q (the Aston Martin DB-5 with an ejector seat and revolving license plates), ridiculous evil sidekicks (Oddjob as the deadly Korean with the boomerang killing hat), and Sean Connery’s hairy chest. The movie contains what I believe it the best scene in all of Bondom: 007 is strapped to a table in Goldfinger’s lair while a laser cuts a path to his double-oh meat and two veg. Bond, clearly concerned, says, “Do you expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger says, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Pure genius.

Finally, on September 23, Bruce Springsteen celebrated his 15th birthday. The Boss was having a tough time at home. Having seen The Beatles, he saw his future, and his future was rock’n’roll. We don’t know how Bruce celebrated his big day, but he probably paused for a moment when he felt another important event happen: my birth.

Happy 50th, 1964, and Happy 50th to all the cool kids born that year.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Brief History of Innkeeping in 2013

Water: The Irish knew what to do with it. From their abundance of water, they created uisge beatha, the water of life: whiskey. Here in Vermont we turn it into snow, and snow was certainly a big part of our year in 2013. With a solid skiing winter, we actually discovered that we were too busy at the inn. That may sound weird, or un-American, to some, but we have our business model that works, and that business model says Shawn and Chantal get to ski during the week, and work their butts off on the weekends. Working that hard during the week is certainly a privilege, but it cuts into the skiing and threatens us with a harsher tax bracket.

With the diminution of the ski season, another kind of work appeared. We own a two-family down the road, and one of the tenants stopped paying rent over the winter. By spring, the apartment was vacant, and in need of work--lots of work. Three months, two new bathrooms, one thousand square feet of wood flooring, 22 feet of 60/40 solder, hundreds of trips back and forth between Stowe’s two hardware stores later, the apartment was ready. And I was exhausted.

Summer brought the steady flow of hikers, bikers, fishers, runners, shoppers, antiquers--the usual suspects. It also brought more water, this time in the form of water. The summer featured three near-tornadic episodes that inundated Stowe and its environs with torrential downpours. There were times when the water poured so furiously into the basement that people were actually paying to ride Class V rapids into our home. This happened again in August (unfortunately just before the Antique and Classic Car Show), and in early September. A lot of time was spent pumping water from the basement.

In March, I traveled to Boston with writing waffenbrudder Chris Millis to present at the AWP Writer’s Conference. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Alchemist Brewery and picked up a couple of four-packs of Heady Topper. Unfamiliar with the legend of the brew, Millis indulged my exhortations. When we made it to Beantown and cracked a couple of Headys, Millis became an instant convert to the Clan of the Vermont Beer. He wasn’t the only one.

If 2013 was anything in Vermont, it was the year of Heady Topper. Leading the charge in the Vermont microbrewery craze was the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, home of the world’s number one rated beer, Heady Topper. Along with Hill Farmstead Brewery in Craftsbury, Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, Lost Nation Brewery in Morrisville, Crop Bistro in Stowe, and Trapp Family Lager also in Stowe, the Alchemist drove a new kind of traveler to Vermont last year: the beer tourist. Folks drove up from all over the Northeast to fill their trunks with great beer, and while they were here, a lot of them stayed with us at the Auberge and spent their money in town. We didn’t complain.

A major inn project was checked off the list when Chantal and I managed to get the entire back of the inn painted in the fall. There was a lot of scraping, a lot of sanding, and a lot of me hanging off ladders, but it’s beautiful now, and it really makes the building shine, especially when seen from River Road. That means, of course, that the front of the building is probably ready for another coat of paint.

So what are we looking forward to in 2014? The big even will be Brendan’s graduation from high school. He’s finished applying to all the schools he’s going to apply to, and he’s already heard back from a couple (University of Main’s Marine Biology program: Yay! Maine Maritime Academy’s Marine Science/Small Vessel Operations program: Yay!), and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for this lovable, brilliant young man. A smaller even will be the culmination of my 50th year on Planet Earth in September, but let’s not make a big deal out of that.

This is our 14th year of innkeeping. We know what we’re doing, but we’re always looking for ways to make this life interesting for us and our guests. We’ll continue down this path for as long as doing this makes us happy, and we can share that happiness with our guests, our friends, and our families. Happy New Year to all.