Jon de Vos: To Ben and Jerry’s by canoe
I’m a product of the West, the son of Arizona pioneers. As a kid in Arizona, it was obvious how precious water was. Nothing happened where it wasn’t wet. But when it was, the desert bloomed as nicely as Florida and, just like Florida, the weather is glorious in the winter. Over time, as Florida beachfront reached for stratospheric prices, millions asked themselves, why not move to the desert? And for most of three decades, they did, dragging their lawns and swimming pools behind their motor homes.Way before all this, prior to automobiles, the Colorado River was an uncontrollable torrent, the cascading craftsman of the Grand Canyon. It left Arizona’s southeast corner near the town of Yuma and supplied agricultural needs south into Mexico on its way to the Gulf of California. At Yuma, in 1900, the only way to cross into California was by ferry. Even at that, the Colorado River has never been counted among the nation’s top 25 rivers by water flow. Today, the seven Colorado basin states have sucked the river dry. If any water flows past Yuma today, it’s a salty, unusable trickle. There is a curious irony in the fact that I’ve spent my adult life watching the same treatment of the same river from its headwaters. We just got back from a trip to Upstate New York. It’s an area that, for Westerners, was largely impenetrable before the invention of the dashboard GPS. The water, the lakes, and the rivers were mind-boggling. Thousand Island dressing? It’s a recipe from an old hotel actually surrounded by a thousand islands in the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River just before it dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped at the town of Lake George, a town that seemed not too dissimilar from Grand Lake. Except that we drove alongside the lake for the next 32 miles.Our ultimate destination was a mythical land. We learned of it from a story handed down by mouth from father-to-son and mother-to-daughter.Our plan was to take a ferry across Lake Champlain and get dropped off on the Vermont side, somewhere around Burlington Bay. Then we would make our way up the Winooski river, nearly a hundred miles, including bends and portages, to the tiny town of Waterbury, Vt., home to the original Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory. But, alas, as they say, the best laid plans of mice always get screwed up. There was too much water. Record-breaking snow and rains left the ferry from Port Kent, N.Y., to Burlington, Vt., two-feet under water, closed until the next dry spell. We consoled ourselves at several of the Ben & Jerry’s outlets that pepper Upstate New York. We went to Lake George because it is home to one of only three Howard Johnson Restaurants left in America. Now wait, don’t bunch your undies, there’s a big difference between Howard Johnson’s the restaurant, and Howard Johnson’s the Wyndham chain of hotels. Wyndham boasts 462 Hojo hotels worldwide, 311 stateside, but there’s only three of the original restaurants left in two New York locations of Lake George and Lake Placid and a third in Bangor, Maine. For two decades, from 1960 to 1980, Howard Johnson restaurants boasted over 1,000 locations. They were the largest restaurant chain in the United States. But then, they too, were washed away by the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Starbuck’s that have flooded every intersection in America.Of course, it should be noted that Hagen-Dazs ice cream is also a New York product. Maybe I was swimming up the wrong stream.
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