Out-of-towners find warm welcome after Christmas breakdown

Editor’s note: A year ago this week, a New Jersey family was traveling through Addison County when car problems forced an unexpected stopover. It may be unsurprising to locals how the “flatlanders” were treated here, but it is interesting and enlightening to see ourselves in the eyes of our visitors. This is their story in the words of the New Jersey man who found himself stranded on Christmas Eve.
ORWELL — ’Twas the night before Christmas 2009. Me, my wife Karen, and three children — Evan, 12, Hannah, 10, and Olivia, 9 — were glory bound to meet our friends at the White Plains Ski Club at the base of Mad River Glen (our favorite ski destination), in Waitsfield for a Christmas ski week. Our family rig, an older Suburban, was packed to the gills with groceries, ski gear, and we were excited for a long-awaited escape from fast paced suburban New Jersey living to breathe fresh Vermont mountain air.
The drive up was uneventful. It being Christmas Eve, not many cars were on the road and we were making great time to meet our friends at the clubhouse for a late dinner … until I saw my headlights dim for a quick second. I thought to myself, “That’s strange, I just put in a new battery,” and kept driving, thinking it was probably my eyes being road weary from four hours on the road.
After another 40 minutes heading north, my battery indicator light illuminated. Now, concern set in big time. We were on Route 22A and I saw a sign that said we were in Orwell, Vt., where it was very dark, the outside temperature was in the mid-teens, and there were no signs of any gas stations or places to stop for assistance.
As we drove into Orwell, I saw the Gas N’ Go and pulled over to try making a call. Of course, there was no signal on my cell phone. I knew we were in a tough spot because Waitsfield was over an hour away and Middlebury was 30 minutes. As I pulled over and came to a stop, the lights completely dimmed for three loooong seconds. I whispered a big explicative to myself followed by an “OMG this isn’t good.”
I knew that I had to keep driving with hope that the battery wouldn’t completely go on us, so I headed east toward Middlebury thinking there would be at least a hotel or somewhere we could get help and make a call.
About one mile after making this decision, I was excited to see a house up ahead with someone on the front porch and a few cars parked in front. Unbelievably, as I started to slow down, my headlights went completely dark about 300 feet before I reached the house. We were all aghast and as the Suburban came to a stop in front of the person on the porch … the engine died … and all inside electrical went off. One word described the feeling in our car: Freaky!
I told the guy on porch my predicament and he invited me into the house. Lo and behold, several family members, friends and young kids were just finishing their Christmas Eve dinner celebration. I apologized for interrupting, explained my situation, and asked if they knew of any motels that may be open in the area to spend the night, with hope that I could find someone to fix our vehicle within the next couple of days. The way everyone looked at each other, I knew the answer was “no.”
To my astonishment, the patriarch in the room, Mike Moore, stepped forward and said: “I think I have a solution for you. My wife and I aren’t going anywhere this weekend and we have an extra mini-van in our garage down the road a bit.
“Come with me to pick it up, load up all of your gear, and drive up to Waitsfield to meet your friends. Tomorrow morning, (Christmas nonetheless) I’ll come back with my portable battery charger to give it enough juice and hopefully get it back to my house. Leave Waitsfield early Sunday morning, meet me at my house and I my friend in town will probably have a Chevy Suburban alternator in stock. We’ll put in your new alternator and you’ll be good to enjoy the rest of your vacation.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Was this nice stranger St. Nick himself, or what?
The kindness didn’t stop there. After picking up the mini-van, I came back to the house to find that my kids were offered homemade Christmas cookies by a very nice woman named Kelly and her daughter. This gesture put my wife and kids at ease and it was nice to see them smiling. We were able to fit everything into the van and drove up in with the kids surrounded by bags of groceries, bags of ski clothes and we made it up to Mad River for a nice Christmas, after all.
Sunday morning I arrived at Mike Moore’s house and he explained that he had put a “Plan B” into play. His local buddy with the parts store was unfortunately closed because he was out of town for the weekend, so Mike called his friend at the auto parts store in Middlebury. Luckily, he had the appropriate alternator in stock for me — at Mike’s discounted commercial rate, nonetheless.
Mike offered I take his van to Middlebury to pick up the part, and he would ask another local friend — Mike Dundon who owns the Gas N’ Go where I first stopped — to see if he could put in the new alternator for me. Within an hour of great conversation with Mike Dundon and his lovely wife, Kathy, the mechanic came through for us and for a very fair price installed the new alternator in his heated garage, where he expertly restores classic cars (I never knew a Studebaker could be so beautiful).
Amazingly, I managed to meet my family by noon for a great day of skiing! Orwell, Vt., certainly is home to the Christmas Spirit!
Editor’s second note: Noam Shoshan this week said he has given his Suburban — now with 130,000 miles on the odometer — a 16-point check up in preparation for his family’s annual trip to Mad River. A year after what Shoshan called a “Christmas Miracle,” Mike Dundon barely remembers the alternator replacement, it was such a routine job.
Mike Moore’s wife, Linda, recalls the surprise visit they received while at her daughter’s house. “All my grandkids went out to the car and offered them Christmas cookies,” she said. “They had kids and we didn’t want them to miss out on Christmas.”
She said they weren’t worried about lending their mini-van to complete strangers, the Moores kept their Suburban after all. When asked why they went to such lengths, Linda simply responded, “We live in Vermont.”
Earlier this week, Mike was working and not available to have his photo taken. Linda said he wasn’t working Wednesday so he could pose for photo then; but there was one thing we had to work around. “He’ll be delivering Christmas presents to widows,” she said. “He’s a Mason.
“He’s a wonderful person, very generous and thoughtful,” she added.
Mike Moore himself found the New Jersey family’s reaction curious.
“He seemed so surprised,” Mike said of Shoshan. “Around here, you just do things for people.”

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