I’d read about the Fairlee Motel and Drive-in earlier, and knew it was one of only two Motel/Drive-ins left in the country (the other being in Colorado). Still, we weren’t entirely sure what a Motel/Drive-in actually was. I imagined it would be a long, low series of typical motel rooms, maybe 10-12 or so, whose back windows faced the drive-in screen. We knew that each room was wired for drive-in sound, but little else for certain.
What we also knew was that drive-ins, with or without motels, are themselves an immense draw for us, and I would’ve happily gone out of my way to go to one in any case. As it happened, that’s just what we planned to do: I’d tried to make a reservation at the drive in/motel for this Saturday night, but the man on the phone told me he only accepted reservations for a two-night minimum stay. So we made a reservation at the next nearest motel and decided we would go to the drive in anyway and drool over the rooms there.
Driving on to our motel, which we decided to go to first to wash up at, then get something to eat and then head back to the drive-in for a movie, we stumbled upon the drive in right along our road. The sign out front proclaimed, “Vacancy,” so we turned in and rang the bell at the door marked “Management.” Some shirtless young men with wet floppy hair hooted and hollared and played ball in the parking lot as we waited for the door to open.

It did, and we found ourselves face to face with a more toothless version of our completely insane downstairs neighbor--the one who never wears a shirt himself, who is totally bald with funny ears and Ghandi glasses.
“Hi,” I said, smiling widely. “It says you have a vacancy?”
“Yes,” he said. He stood in the doorway and we still stood outside.
“Um, could we have that for just one night?” I asked.
“Because I called and you said there was a two-night minimum, but maybe that was just for reservations in advance?” I tried again.
“Right,” he said, finally, looking at us as though he was trying to size up how much of a threat we were.
“So, could we have the room?” I asked, wondering where this conversation was going.

“Do you need one bed or two?” he snapped.
“One,” I said, and then had misgivings, and clarified: “I mean, it is a double bed, right?” I knew better than to ask for king-size non-smoking here, from the looks of the place.
“It’s a full,” he said.
Great--smaller than at home. But I was undismayed.  “So can we have it?” I asked.
“Come in,” he said, and finally stepped aside so we could enter the tiny “office” with him. I’ve actually seen offices at mechanics--and I mean at cheap mechanics, not at posh Goodyears or things like that--that were nicer and larger.
The man was definitely toothless, all right. He handed me a piece of paper to write down our lisence plate number (like other people were clamoring for the parking? We’d seen more cows, pickup trucks, and tractors than cars since leaving the Shaker village). While I wrote stuff down and handed over my credit card (thank God--some civilization, at least), Robert read a brochure about the motel/drive-in and asked funny questions.
“So, are the movies included in the price of the room?” he asked.
“Yes,” the man said, squinting at us suspiciously.
“What a deal!” Robert said. He was being sincere--at $6 a person, he was genuinely pleased at being able to deduct $12 from the price of the room ($70) to arrive at the marginal price of staying there--or something like that, at any rate.
Robert went back to the brochure. The next time he looked up, he read aloud, “Close to fine dining,” and asked, casually, “So, where’s the fine dining around here, anyway?”
“Did you come through downtown Fairlee?” the man demanded.
Robert and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Maybe not. . .” I said.
“You’d know if you had,” he said, mysteriously. “Fine dining’s at The Third Rail, in downtown Fairlee. Go out here, go through downtown, and it’s the big yellow house on your left. I think I have a menu here somewhere--here it is.”
After that talkative speech, he passed us a blue folded take-out menu.
I opened it. “Oh, look, Robert,” I said. “They have buffalo wings.” The next thing down on the menu was mozzerella sticks, but I knew I couldn’t comment on that one with a straight face.
Robert skipped ahead in the menu to main courses. “Well, there’s steak,” he said.
The man handed us our key. “Checkout’s at 11,” he said. As we went back into the parking lot, one of the wet men whooped again. “Don’t mind them,” the manager said. “They’re divers.”
We puzzled over that one for quite some time. So, somewhat in shock from our odd encounter with a Vermonter, we walked to Norman and brought our stuff into the room. The room was small, but had a large window facing the screen, just as I’d hoped. As I put our stuff down on a chair, Robert said reflectively, “We are such city folks.”
We tested the sound for the drive-in; we appreciated the microwave and three-foot-high fridge tucked into a corner; we stared hungrily at the drive-in screen; and we tested the TV (remote, color, but only four stations: Christian with lines through it, horse racing with lines through it, golf with lines through it, or more horse racing with giant wavy lines through it). Having exhausted all exciting features of the room until the movies aired, we washed up and prepared to go to dinner. I particularly appreciated the separate hot and cold water faucets in the sink, neither of which you can keep on unless you hold the handle: this means that you can have scalding water on your left hand, then icy on your right, then scalding on your right, then icy on your left. I eventually used a paper cup to mix tepid water and then pour it from the cup over my hands. (I’m sure the Shakers would’ve tried to patent my handy invention.) Managing to tear ourselves away from the horse race, we finally left for dinner.
As instructed, we drove back through downtown Fairlee to the big yellow house. When we entered The Third Rail, strange toothless Vermonters whooped at the bar, watching the horse race. We felt even more foreign: what country were we in? We didn’t even get cell phone service around here, for heaven’s sake!
Dinner wasn’t bad. We had an artichoke-crab dip as an appetizer, with cubes of French bread, and a steak with garlic butter and half a smoked chicken (basically chicken shake ‘n’ bake) for our main courses, plus an exciting deep-fried cheesecake in a batter with caramel sauce funny thing for dessert. The service was slow, so we had awhile to soak up the atmosphere: the "Deliverance" people shrieking at the bar eventually left, because the horse race ended, and two little people entered. Robert refused to drink the water.
We asked our waitress, in fear that by the late hour of 8 p.m. everything in town would already be closed, if there was a supermarket anywhere. She told us to go straight down the street and it would be on our left after the light. So, following her directions, we did. We first passed what looked like a town square, with a large marble statue and fountain, but built in the front yard of a dinky little house. Then we passed an ice cream shack called the Whippi-Dip. I got very excited and had high hopes for dips: chocolate, raspberry, butterscotch, maybe. Chocolate dip is fairly common in New Englang, with cherry a close second. But if you want black raspberry or butterscotch, you basically have to go to little, out-of-the-way ice cream shacks. And the Whippi-Dip was indeed a promising name.
Just beyond the Whippi-Dip, I spied the “supermarket.”
“Here, turn in here,” I told Robert, realizing that he was about to drive on by.
“That’s a gas station,” he said, clealy thinking I was mad, but he turned anyway.
We sat in Norman in a gas station parking lot. At one end of the gas station lot was yet another ice cream shack, this one painted to look like cows, and called The Udder Delight. The cows began to seduce me, driving thoughts of the Whippi-Dip nearly out of my head. In front of us, the equivalent of Apu’s Quickie-Mart stood in another corner of the parking lot. This, then, was the supermarket open until 9.
More excited by the Udder Delight than the Quickie-Mart, we walked over to check out the ice cream. There was a long line of people. Under “Dips,” the menu merely said, “$.30.” Robert stuck his head up to the window to get more information.
“Excuse me,” he said, “What kinds of dips do you have?”
The dim high school girl working at the ice cream place seemed baffled. “Dips? Oh, dips. Chocolate and. . . . the other one.”
That didn’t help.
“So, what kinds do you have?” Robert asked again.
“Huh,” she said, thinking. “What’s the other one again?”
We eventually gave up holding up the line of people while she “thought” about it, and walked back to the deluxe supermarket, browsing the snack sections to find suitable movie-watching snacks. With a can of onion-cheese Pringles and a package of microwave popcorn, to take advantage of our microwave, we waited on line at the check out.
Two people in front of us, a woman was paying by check for a candy bar. The man behind her was paying by check for a bottle of windshield washer fluid. Robert and I looked at each other, with “Has no one ever heard of credit cards?” written over both our faces. We had a long time to think about the ice cream we’d soon be eating and the drive-in movies we’d see not much afterwards, while these people slowly paid by check. Ten minutes later, when we finally got our turn with the cashier girl, I attempted yet another ill-fated conversation.
“Hi,” I said, smiling widely. “Which is better, the Whippi-Dip or the Udder Delight?”
The high school girl looked up, suddenly animated. “Udder Delight’s better, Whippi-Dip’s cheaper,” she said decisively.
“Really?” I said. “Which has more stuff--more flavors of dip, for instance?”
“Udder Delight,” she said again. “The Whippi-Dip’s okay just for a cone, but Udder Delight’s better.”
I thought her opinion was fairly clear at this point, but Robert was apparently unconvinced. “So, you feel that the quality of the ice cream at the Udder Delight is higher than that at the Whippi-Dip?” he attempted to clarify.
“I wouldn’t go to the Whippi-Dip unless I had no money,” she said.
“Whatsa matter, you malignin’ the Whippi-Dip?” asked the toothless middle-aged woman behind us, about to pay by check for her candy bar and Coke.
We left the two Vermonters fighting it out. We dropped the snacks in Norman and proceeded, without debate, to the Udder Delight.
I got on the back of the still very long line while Robert walked to the front and peered in the window.
“The other dip’s yellow,” he reported back. Fairly well assured that there was butterscotch dip in sight, then, and without needing to ask the ice cream girl again, we sat back and waited on line.
And oh boy, what a line it was. In front of us were four or five people, but the line took at least twenty minutes. At some I pulled out our cell phone and ascertained that there was no service here either. “Does anyone get cell phone service here?” Robert asked the people behind us on line. They chuckled.
“Oh, no,” they said. “Maybe, now and then, if you climb up a hill you can get something. There used to be a tower here, just a town over, but last year they pulled it down.”
We stared, aghast. “Why?” Robert asked. “Why would they tear it down?”
The people had apparently realized by now that we were not locals, unlike everyone else on line. “Hey, do you come to Vermont to see cell phone towers on the hills?” they asked.
“Yes!” cried Robert, but they didn’t believe him.
We eventually got our ice cream that night--a wonderful, rich vanilla soft-serve with a beautiful thick, crispy butterscotch dip. It melted all over, as dipped cones do, but was very satisfying, and afterwards we wended our way back to our motel.
We arrived at the motel around 8:45, and the place was buzzing. I think the entire town of Fairlee was there, and many of the inhabitants of the neighboring towns. Heck, where else would they have to go on a Saturday night? On our way to the motel, we passed four grade-school girls sitting in folding chairs by the side of the road. They were just sitting, looking out at the street (counting cars?) and at the empty field across the street (counting cows?). This is how exciting Fairlee is.
The drive-in lot was full, and the concession trailers were doing a big business--popcorn, sodas, french fries, beer-battered french fries, onion rings, chicken fingers, burgers, and candy. And beer--did we mention they sold beer? The funny diver-boys played catch with a football. A single basketball hoop and about six basketballs attracted a crowd of kids, from about 6 to 12 or so. Girls jump-roped. Families--kids under 11 were free, we later learned--wandered around the grounds, sometimes with the kids already in pajamas, but there were also couples (with tattoos and beer) on dates.
Since Robert still wasn't drinking the water, we bought a fountain Coke and joined the crowds wandering around. It was a nice night, cool and just starting to be dusky, and we took a few shots with a basketball and an eleven-year-old teammate. It was a good atmosphere: very relaxed, happy, and oddly vibrant.
Just before the movie was about to start, we walked back around the motel and went to our room. We propped up pillows on the bed so we could sort of half-sit-up to see, we made our popcorn and chilled our Coke, and the movie began.
The sound came through great, and we saw “Clockstoppers” and “Changing Lanes,” neither of which was absolutely horrible. I dozed through the predictable end of “Clockstoppers,” but woke up again for half-time. Intermission? I don’t know which it was, but it too was exciting.
There was a delightful cartoon on, probably vintage 1965, showing dancing hot dogs and sodas and things, which lasted for a full ten minutes. I was entranced by the hot dog performing on a little stand, and then jumping into the open arms of his master, the bun. Meanwhile, there was a trivia contest over the speakers with prizes--a very laid-back trivia contest, at that: the directions specified that the first question was just for kids, the other two were open to anyone, and that the first person to come to the projection booth with the right answer would win. “But hey,” the announcer added, “if you’ve won lately, give someone else a chance tonight.”



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Created: 6/17/02. Last Modified: 6/17/02.