“Professional Building.” The words were carved into the granite lintel. Professional Building. Reassuring. I’d have hesitated to enter an amateur building. So enter I did. And I was whooshed back in time. Right into an old, sagging drugstore with a soda fountain. In the twenty-first century ... a soda fountain! I swear I heard laughter roiling the air from people named Emmie Lou and Boober; Harlow and Fern.
I was in a northern Vermont village. A late-morning lunch in this clean and ancient place seemed a great idea. I sat on a stool and asked for a cup of potato soup. As I waited, I looked around. There was a Coca-Cola machine—red and rounded with a here-and-there dent. On the wall behind it a handwritten sign announced, “5 cent Cokes are back: one per person, one per day.” A bargain to be sure. And unambiguous. You want a nickel Coke? Fine. Just don’t expect a second one. ’Til tomorrow.
Off in the small kitchen (from which wafted intimations of grilled cheese and “we only serve well-done” burgers) I spotted uncut loaves of just-baked bread in glinting plastic bags. They were so appealing they could almost restore a carb’s good name.
As my soup vigil continued, my eye traveled to another sign on the wall: “New menus are out”—at first I thought this meant the new menus were gone, but I read on. “Be sure to check our newly added items.” “New” and “newly” felt a tad forced in their cheery adjective and adverb insistence in so old-fashioned a setting.
I had a favorite book with me and I could have opened it while waiting, but there was more to ponder from the wall in this aged drugstore soda fountain. I swiveled my attention a few degrees to the ice cream sector. This boasted the obligatory and universal chocolate and vanilla. You could enjoy “cookies ’n cream,” a flavor that troubled me because of its missing second apostrophe. Vermonters are usually so good at contractions. There was “butter crunch” and “rum raisin.” But then I spotted the regional reasons we love New England: “deer tracks” and “moose tracks” and ... “dinosaur crunch.” Now, those are flavors!
Okay, I confess that my first glance alarmed me into reading “deer tracks” as “deer ticks” and the notion of Lyme disease zagged through my brain. “Moose tracks” brought me back to whimsical reality. There are moose everywhere in northern Vermont. Artistically, that is. There are moose warnings along the highways. Moose silhouettes on sweatshirts. Paintings of moose on garages and barns. Little plush mooses in gift shops. Sorry ... shoppes. The beloved friends with whom my wife, Shelly, and I were staying even took us on an afternoon ramble along dirt roads in search of bona fide moose. We saw none, but in a village diner I enjoyed a cup of potato soup. I was thinking of that earlier cup when my latest cup arrived. Another potato soup. Steaming, creamy, exquisite. With a mysterious, faint crunch. I closed my eyes in pleasure and wondered, Is that a dinosaur crunch? Well, no. Just the crackers, I added.
I paid my tab—$1.95—and rose to leave. My gaze fell on one final hand-lettered sign. It was on the coat rack. The sign said, “Coat Rack.” I wasn’t surprised. Remember: I was in a professional building.