Clippings: What makes a big night in Middlebury?
Here’s how you know that you’re not a member of the Eastern Elite, only an observer.
The vice president of the United States simply passed through town last Thursday, and I, like a lot of people, felt a tingle of excitement. Little Middlebury was buzzing like Mayberry.
Joe Biden flew to Vermont to promote research into curing cancer at a UVM event at in Burlington on Friday. But, as the Elite are wont to do, he also planned a stop at a fancy home in Cornwall on Thursday night to host a $5,000-a-plate dinner to raise money for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign (it takes a lot of money to defeat a “billionaire,” you have to look in every nook and cranny for spare change).
Since this is 2016, the vice president’s trip to Burlington was all over Facebook. You could see his plane touching down at BTV. You could see his motorcade snaking through suburban Chittenden County. You could read the comments from the haters wishing he would go home or drive by a book depositor (ghastly stuff), and from admirers who just wanted to know where they could get a look at Uncle Joe.
Some people who were not part of the Elite got closer brushes with Biden. A guy from Addison County I know was returning home from the city with his mother when he found his car swamped by vehicles with blue light bars illuminated. After the long line of state troopers and other security passed, he pulled in behind the caravan and headed south — simply trying to get home. Caught up in the excitement, he voice texted his wife the news that he was following the vice president down Burpee Road in Bristol, then up River Road in New Haven. Eventually he realized that if the Secret Service monitoring the airwaves heard his constant updates they would probably raise some red flags that could result in my friend being late for dinner.
He surely was right to be concerned; Biden’s security detail was anything but low-key. First off, they came to Vermont days before the big guy to scope out the area. They mapped routes, they checked in with Porter Hospital to make sure that it could answer any emergency (it passed the exam), they had the host clean out the stores of maple syrup from the rustic-but-comfortable shed where the fundraiser was to take place. I heard that when they met with the local police chief they requested a helicopter for surveillance; not having one at his disposal, he suggested that they might have access to one. The helicopter hovering over Middlebury last Thursday evening was apparently courtesy of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Sitting at my desk at the newspaper at around 5:30 that evening, I heard the voice of Middlebury Fire Chief David Shaw crackle over the police and fire scanner: “To all members who were planning to help with the movement of the vehicle this evening, the time has moved up — report now.” It was a cryptic message. I drove through town to an evening meeting and saw familiar faces from the fire and police departments beginning to station themselves at key intersections with flashlights in their hands. As I passed by one guy, I rolled down the passenger side window and asked what was going on. He just waved his flashlight and told me to keep moving.
I knew Biden was going to be in the state, but I didn’t make the connection between the traffic control and Biden in town until my wife called and enlightened me (as she so often does). She had heard about the Cornwall fundraiser from her brother-in-law, who no doubt heard it from a neighbor or one of the many, many locals he rubs elbows with in a typical week.
Facebook was alive with news flashes and speculation. I saw that at least two local women commented that they had just seen Biden driving through Middlebury. Someone suggested that the fundraiser might be at Fire and Ice.
As I was driving through Middlebury after my meeting a couple hours later I noticed that the traffic control was really out in force. Getting to the top of Main Street in front of the Congo church I saw that a firefighter and a police officer had blocked all traffic northbound on Route 7. I was pretty sure I knew what that meant so I parked and walked over to chat with the fireman while we waited for Biden to come through. Before long we heard the sound of a helicopter swooping around overhead. Then a state police car with flashing lights roared up Main Street and left onto North Pleasant. The fireman held up his two-way radio, which was spitting out white noise — “They’re jamming all radio signals,” he told me.
Then the parade. One, two, three, four, five big cars and SUVs with flashing lights. Six, seven, eight, nine, 10 — it reached from the church down to the post office, and the line of vehicles was moving at a pretty good clip. Eleven, 12, 13, 14, 15 — they all had their lights on; there was nothing inconspicuous about this parade. Finally, two stretch limos roared by, each with a Seal of the Vice President of the United States emblazoned on its side. Then cop cars numbers 16 and 17, followed by a South Burlington ambulance (just in case) and a Middlebury PD cruiser.
Well, that was exciting. Sort of. Or exciting enough to make an evening in Middlebury. Before I turned to head back to my car I congratulated the firefighter on the Addison County Firefighters Association award he had won earlier in the year. He said, “Ya, you win an award and it gives you the right to come out at night and stand here and wait for the vice president.” Then he smiled, waved and went home.