Landing Into a Burlington Spring

Once again, I arrived to a new place at a perfect time to see nature herself bloom into maidenhood. During my first day in Burlington, VT, my host Bram got his daughter to tell me that Vermont has extra seasons. Seven-year-old Tasha had just met me, so she shyly recited “summer, fall, stick, winter, mud, and spring.” Winter left mildly this year, so mud season wasn’t that muddy. I got to see the last throws of mud season my first few days here.

My first morning in Vermont led me to Ben Cohen’s farm house outside of a village called Williston. Along with Duane, the Executive Director for Sensible Priorities, we had coffee and pastries on his small, third floor deck. Ben later told me that he loved a good view (he winters in North Beach to enjoy the view in San Francisco) and his deck showed the splendor of the rolling Vermont countryside and the Green Mountains. Clouds rolled over us, a wind blew in, and then a single bolt of lightening flashed behind Ben’s head. Thunder rolled, and there was a small pelt of rain and then things calmed down to typical mud season grayness.

That was only five days ago and since then I’ve experienced a freezing 40s day while Ben and I set up the Carny Mobile at Central (Ben & Jerry’s HQ… or what’s left of it after the Unilever buy-out). Today was in the high 60s and sunny with clear skies and an amazing sunset over Lake Champlain (which isn’t an officially designated great lake). Purple and white wildflowers have sprouted up all over lawns and roadsides since then too. I first noticed these flowers while Ben and I worked with the carny games in his driveway. Lastly, all the trees are pushing up fresh green leaves too. On my walks into town, I’ve seen about a half-inch growth on some of the trees.

When I last visited Vermont, I spent 3 crazy days in mud, sadness, and relief at Phish’s last stand, Coventry. Mud season had hit early via three tropical storms that blew over right before the festival opened. All the planned fields of parking were fields of shit-smelling mud. My life-long friend and brother Mark helped me make it to the show, wanting one last goodbye to all our years of Phish shows (and hoping to cheer me up as my life began to unravel). The locals were super nice, the sunsets were amazing, and I promised myself that I’d return to Vermont soon. I didn’t know that I’d land into a Burlington spring as a mainstream activist and “CarnyMobile Performer” for Sensible Priorities.

I couldn’t find a better way to get back to this part of the world. Thanks to my puppetry experience (respect to Jonathan and Emily), I had the set-up and strike of the carny games down the first time Ben showed me. Like Jonathan, Ben is an idea man. I mentioned in my last posting that he had at least 5 art cars in his pocket. During our first meeting, he prodded me to help him think of other ideas that might help spread Sensible Priorities message in a fun way. What a fun challenge!

Props also go out to the Committee for Full Enjoyment, because there are people who see the world that way. Just yesterday as Ben drove the Mobile Crew back to our rigs, he said “I want to make this job as easy and as fun as possible for you guys.” Getting to see Ben’s idea come to life via my participation is full enjoyment indeed, and I’m glad that there’s flexibility to do this road show right.

Tomorrow is the big photo shoot at the Magic Hat brewery (a “friendly” venue for Aaron and I to work on our schtick). A professional photographer will be there to shoot the rigs as they’d look on the road, much like my orchard pic, and then will take photos of them in action with audience. Then there’ll be night-time photos of the games and rigs all lit up and ready for the midway. I hope to shoot some pics of my own and post them here.

Aaron, an activist from New York, drove the Oreo Mobile last year, so has a wealth of knowledge that he’s throwing at me. Already he’s given me tips on getting media attention, sharing a story about a man who stole the rig in upstate New Hampshire while a journalist chased after it (the NHHP didn’t arrest the man in sympathy to his opinions). His rig is performance-based while mine is participatory, so I think we’ll have different experiences on the road. Still, I look forward to seeing his performance: he stacks Oreos and moves them around much like Ben Cohen’s flash cartoon did.

Tomorrow will be our first time together, though driving our vans and trailers through town today and yesterday looked awesome. I can’t wait to see how they look set up and in action.

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