It began as most Summits do: weather preternaturally sunny and mild, a small regatta of milk-white boats bobbing at the surfline. GMDers Odum and Sue Prent joined VDB for the first phase (Taking The Beach) at 9 am; table and prime spot beneath the Tree of Wisdom secured, we moved to phase two (Hunting And Gathering), and arrived back from the store at just 11:30. We unloaded the vast stores of food and drink, and prepared the grounds according to the ancient rituals. And very soon the political campaigns and the fixers began to pour in, all flying their election-year colors.
We lit the grill, and began to cook the meat as our ancestors did: slowly, over an open flame, can of Labatt’s close to hand. Well, you know, not that our ancestors drank Labatt’s. They were probably into their own super-local micro-brews.
But still, the traditions are potent, and they were observed.
And given that it’s a Presidential year, and we have one or two hotly contested primaries, there was a good deal of fat to chew: why, exactly, does Mitt Romney take a $77,000 tax deduction for his wife’s dressage horse, and when, precisely, will we be able to have a serious discussion about reviving the ban on assault weapons, if only here in the great and peaceful state of Vermont?
At first glance, it seemed like the same demographic as all the other Summits: bloggers, journalists, politicos, readers, junkies, and slightly unsettling guys who wander in from the far corners of the beach when word gets out there’s free beer. Case in point below:
But then about 30 minutes into the day, a strange thing happened. Folks began to drift in from the State Democratic Committee meeting, which had just wrapped up in Montpelier, and they were bringing with them very late-breaking, very interesting political news: Attorney General Bill Sorrell had failed to secure enough votes for an endorsement, leaving his primary opponent TJ Donovan as the only candidate endorsed by the Party.
And given that at least three or four of those Committee folks had come straight to the BBQ — where they were joined by Donovan himself — it was only logical that the reporters chasing the bigger story would wander down to the beach, and pull up a burger themselves.
Before anyone knew it, the scene suddenly looked more like the entryway of the Statehouse than the shadiest corner of North Beach: TJ was answering Terri Hallenbeck’s questions, and doing his best not to make too much of the windfall that had just fallen into his lap; GMD blogger Caoimhin Laochdha was roughing out a chin-puller for the front page and uploading it from the picnic table; fellow GMDer Euen Bear was doing a stand-up with Channel 5 at the edge of the sand; and the rest of us were trying to wrap our minds around the various local and statewide ramifications of the event.
It was an intriguing moment, with the feel of a micro-watershed: something in the physics of the Vermont political landscape had just given way, but no could be certain precisely what. But we subjected it to the standard ruthless process by which men and women in dorky t-shirts chew up political news, drain it of its nutrients and juices, and spit out the husks.
TJ was clearly the favorite at the event, partially because he has a history of attendance. In fact the first Hamburger Summit coincided with Donovan’s first hotly contested primary, in 2006, for Chittenden County State’s Attorney. So his political career and the Summit have come to maturity simultaneously.
But Sorrell was not without supporters, and the discussion rose and fell, as it should in a democracy.
It was a first, in its way, the first time the Summit had itself become the locus of breaking news, and for a while the hub-bub dominated the day’s festivities. Will the Sorrell non-endorsement eventually be remembered as the biggest story of the primary season? Probably not. But it had a certain heft, and we were glad to have had it visited upon us by the Gods of July.
God forbid political junkies should have nothing to discuss.
But finally the hot tide of news rolled back, and the breeze continued to pour through the Tree of Wisdom, and everyone forgot the tetchiness of primary season, and just gave thanks for the length and shape and quality of the summer afternoon.
As always, thanks to those who created the day, and to those who archived it for future generations: VDB photographer Yusef (photo #7 above, far right), and longtime reader Don (photo #1, smudging VDB’s smoking hot minivan with his beach shorts). The Hamburger Summit is an event that depends upon the kindness of strangers, but even more than that, on the endless and illogical generosity of friends.
Deep thanks to all in both categories.