Vermonter at large

Aug. 21, 2008
By Mal Boright

Road stories: wind towers, gas prices and big time football

The foot first touched the gas pedal at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2. Destination: Ames, Iowa. Purpose: to take a carload of computer and other electronic gear to the student who two weeks ago had made the same trip to Iowa State University, his new residence.

(Note: One would prefer to be loyal to Vermont colleges and universities. But the cost of a decent education and other incidentals such as food and housing are dramatically less expensive outside Vermont and the Great Northeast.)

The route of preference was through Canada by way of northern New York to Cornwall, Ontario. Then it was onto the Canadian super slab called the 401, through Toronto and Kitchener, Ontario, and onto the 402 to Sarnia, Ontario. Next up was by Port Huron, Mich., taking Interstate 69 to I-80, through Des Moines, Iowa and finally, Ames.


6:45 a.m. It is, to borrow an old Laugh-In line, sock-it-to-’em time in northern New York. Regular gas at a station in Champlain, N.Y. is (gulp) $4.39 a gallon. At Alburgh, just before the bridge into the Empire State, regular was $3.98. And this part of New York, to put it kindly, is not exactly an enclave for the well-to-do.

7:14 a.m. Just on the western side of Ellenburg Depot, N.Y. is the first look at the big, white wind towers sitting on a hill to the west. A few miles closer, on U.S. Route 11, there are dozens of the big towers, some of the blades turning slowly in the slight breezes of this early morning. The clusters of towers give hope to this traveler that at long last there is some serious effort to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels, particularly oil. But, unfortunately, where one sees hope others see a spoiled view.

7:35 a.m. A stop at a convenience store in Chateaugay, N.Y., where one of the food servers says folks in the town and around are supporters of the wind farm that has appeared in their midst. However, one chap from Plattsburgh, some 40 miles distant, said his parents think the wind towers pose a blight on the area. Apparently, the occasional visitor is more offended than the residents who see them every day.

8:14 a.m. Indian reservation in northern New York.

“This is Mohawk land, not NYS (New York State) land,” announces one fascinating sign. Another building just beyond the sign on Route 37 has a sign reading, “Mohawk Tribe Administration. Administration, Health Care, Senior Citizens.” Wow, one stop for all those services. What a great idea for our town offices, huh?

8:25 a.m. Welcomed (key word) into Canada by a friendly Canadian customs officer.

8:40 a.m. On the 401, where the speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 mph). On a Saturday morning, traffic is light but most are wheeling along at about 70 mph.

10:51 a.m. Gas up at a 401 rest area, where petrol regular is $1.23 per liter — about $4.65 per gallon. Gas in Canada has been higher than in the United States for years, which accounts for why there are few Canadian-registered SUVs on the 401.

Another observation: Even when very busy, the service areas for food and other necessities are much more civilized and friendly in Canada than, say, those group gropes on the New York Thruway or the New Jersey turnpike.


6 a.m. After an overnight in Sarnia, Ontario, get on the adjoining bridge to the United States, where the U.S. Customs officer is friendly, without an attitude that some display. However, there is a Check Point Charlie feel to the process, in which you stop your car some 40 feet before the booth so a picture can be taken, and then hand proof of citizenship to the officer who enters information into a computer.

9 a.m. Regular gas in Michigan is $3.85 a gallon (those poor blokes in northern New York).

11:30 a.m. Get through “Chicagoland” (what they call the metropolitan area here) in good time, which is not always the case due to perpetual road construction and traffic. But this is Sunday morning and there are few truckers on the road.

3:30 p.m. Central Standard Time Arrive in Ames after the long haul across Illinois and the corn belt of Iowa. Gas here is $3.81 for regular and $3.64 for ethanol.

5 p.m. Entrance to Iowa State is dominated by Jack Trice Stadium, home of the Iowa State football Cyclones. Yup, big time college football rules the roost, even though State teams have not been very good the past couple of seasons.

On local television this night, a reporter at University of Iowa’s press day asks an Iowa lineman how he likes doing two workouts a day in 96 degree heat. The answer: “It’s better than the last two months in the weight room.” Yes sir. Student athletes (hah!) now working practically year ’round at no pay — a smattering of education — while their coaches and universities roll in dough and lure the sports-crazed alums into forking over the big bucks for new buildings or support for the football program.

7 p.m. After a meal at a good restaurant where prices on the average are $2 to $4 per item below Chittenden County, the manager of the local Holiday Inn allows as to how business in the hotel has been a bit off for the past few months, probably due to the rising gasoline prices.

“It would be nice if we had football year around,” she said wistfully.

Williston resident Mal Boright has been an editor, columnist and reporter for several Vermont newspapers. He has since returned from the land of “big time college football” to continue covering local sports as a correspondent for The Charlotte Citizen and the Williston Observer.