Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Montpelier - 3

I started making regular trips to Vermont.  I really wanted to settle into a routine where I would leave mid-afternoon on Sunday and return Thursday, in time to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and work from home on Friday.

This never occurred.

My first trip up I got US Airways flight to Philadelphia, leaving around 2:45 or so.  This flight was on a regional jet, an Embraer 190.  It seems kind of strange to fly halfway across the continent on a “regional jet”, but that’s what we did.  The ER-190 is pretty comfortable, with 4 across seating in coach. It has a small first class section with one seat on one side and two on the other. 

I guess using the smaller airplanes enables the carrier to offer more frequent service.  Business travelers in particular are looking for their preferred departure times, and I guess this helps.  The ER-190 was a mainline US Airways flight, not one of the partner carriers.  The planes seemed a bit tired to me, and the service was not very snappy.  The planes have adequate under-seat storage, but overhead storage is at a premium.  I had no status on US Airways, but quickly learned that by signing up for their credit card option I could guarantee no worse than zone 2 boarding, which would enable me to get my roller bag on board.  I did not want to risk my bag failing to connect.

The roller bag worked out well.  I had a 21” bag from the Rick Steves Travel Store, and it worked well.  It is pretty light when empty.  I’ve had it for years, but the back-and-forth to Vermont stuff aged it quickly.  I would roll my shirts, and squeeze in a second pair of shoes, anticipating the extremely bad Vermont weather.  On the initial trips I took a heavy coat.  Later, I took a raincoat, almost a poncho, which I had picked up years before at L.L. Bean.  It could be squished down to a very small space in my bag.

My flight would usually arrive in Philadelphia at 5:30 or 6, sometimes later, and the outbound flight to Burlington left after 9, so there was no worry about missing the connection.  After a few trips, I found the best place to eat in PHL was at Vino Volo, which offers wine and smaller sized plates with really good food.  I have seen them around other places but not at DFW. 

The flight to Burlington was pretty full, but I was happy to see that it was an ER-175 operated by Republic Airlines, and not the dreadful CRJ out of terminal F.  The ER-175 is smaller than the 190, and at the time there were no first class seats, although they probably have them now. Republic has new planes, flown by pilots who are so young they look like they should be in high school, and some exceptionally attractive young flight attendants.  I won’t be critical, but on my airline of choice, pilots and FA’s tend to be, um, experienced.  The weather in Burlington was somewhat foggy, and we flew threw clouds and bounced around quite a bit.  We got in well after 10, and the airport was pretty deserted.  I have Hertz #1 Club Gold status, but in Burlington it hardly matters. You go to the desk like everyone else, but at least the information is already in the computer.

I didn’t understand the system and it took me a while to find my rental car.  Once I found it, and headed out of the airport, I was relying on memory of one trip where I was sitting in the back seat and it was daylight.  Now it was pitch black, and I had to rely on the extremely crappy poorly lighted Vermont signage to find I-89 to get to Montpelier.  And it was very, very cold.  Through blind dumb luck I managed to find the interstate. 

I-89 is unlike most interstates. It has four lanes, two in each direction, and for the most part the two sides are widely separated.  Most interstates are not that curvy and not that much up and down, but this one was built in the valley cut by the Winooski River, and it is a fast moving and violent river which didn’t flow very straight.  So the highway has a lot of fairly sharp curves for a road with a 65 mile per hour speed limit.  So I drove on this road, virtually the only vehicle on it. I turned on the radio and listened to a Quebec station (everything in French).  My concern was that this was the season when deer and, more importantly, moose were active.  And then later I learned that bears are active as well. With no lights, no one ahead of me, and the road so curved, had a large animal been on the highway I would have hit it.  Well, that happened, but not on this first trip.

I finally got to Montpelier, and then, of all things, I couldn’t find the insurance company.  This is incredibly stupid, but true.  When I was there before, the driver took the back way in because he didn’t like sitting at the light at National Life Drive, so I had not gone in that way.  There was a tiny sign indicating (I thought) the turn was ¾ of a mile away, when it was really saying turn right and it’s ¾ of a mile up the hill.  I didn’t even see the turnoff.  So here I am, driving around this little town, the state capitol, totally lost.  I pulled over and looked at the map on my phone.  Basically, I drove to the guest house navigating with my phone.  I was driving maybe 10 miles an hour, but there isn’t a hell of a lot going on Sunday night in Montpelier, so all I had to worry about was staying on the road.

I finally found the guest house, but it was pitch black out.  I had to use my phone as a flashlight to find the entrance, and again to see the keypad where I had to key in the code for access. Fun stuff.

The guest house itself is subject of the next entry.  

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