July 17th, 2007

BREAKING: HAMBURGER SUMMIT AGAIN SHUTS DOWN ENTIRE NORTH END OF BURLINGTON; Police Respond with Fat Guys in Golf Carts Bearing Pincers; Political Operatives Respond with SWAT Team of Their Own; And Of Course, The Long Awaited Viewing of the Emerald Gypsy

by Philip Baruth

Gaming Out the Weather:
The Unsettling Accuracy of the Eye On The Sky

the beach

When Odum and I fixed the date for this year’s Hamburger Summit, we did so blindly, weather-wise: no known technology can predict a day’s weather a month or more in the future.

But as we slowly moved into the 10-day window, I began checking my computer’s built-in weather widget, which serves up forecasts from Weather.com.

And the 10-day forecast got worse and worse.

It started with “Sunny and seasonably warm” about ten days out; with eight days and counting, the widget said, “Occasional rain.” But I told myself not to worry, because only the three-day forecast could claim any real accuracy.

Which turned out to be an even more intense bummer, because the three-day forecast eventually called for “Isolated Thunder-storms” and, in parts of Vermont, “nickel-sized hail.”

With one day to go, all of the national forecasting services agreed that the day would be a total loss as far as outdoor activities.

But in-state there was one lone voice of dissent: Steve Maleski and Mark Breen.

The Eye-On-The-Sky boys saw things fundamentally differently. In their world, rain would effectively blot out the morning, yes, but then — just around the time we’d be lighting the coals down on North Beach — the clouds over Northwestern Vermont and Burlington in particular would roll eastward.

And the sun would sit fat in a clear blue sky.

Needless to say, I went with the Maleski/Breen version of reality, because in any other we were all substantially screwed.

In fact, the day before the BBQ, I went so far as to throw up a last-minute post, assuring everyone who’d be traveling to the event that the sun would be strong and undeniable by the time they hit the sand.

I didn’t bother to mention in that last post that ten other forecasts were calling for rain, and lots of it.

And to be honest, there was a part of me that felt, you know, like John McCain.

the sign

But then, right around the time that Neil Jensen and John Odum and I got the meat packed down in ice and the coals ready to light — right around 11 am, right on schedule, right down to the minute — the clouds rolled eastward.

The sun began to glitter on the water. And the light wind off the lake kept the temperature just where you want it: high 70’s.

And it stayed like that until sundown.

me and odum

Now, I’ve written a lot of playful things about Steve Maleski over the years — hinting at his thirst for world domination, his use of secret weather-making satellites, etc. — but even with all of that humorous background, there was something about the clockwork nature of the weather yesterday that gave me a first-class case of the willies.

Because it turned out to be one of the best days of the summer thus far.

And that finally just freaked me the hell out.

Don’t Harrass the Hamburger Summit:
We’re Not Your Average Junkies, Mr. John Q. Law

People often mistakenly believe that the Political BBQ will be populated almost entirely by bloggers.

bill and neil

Au contraire: the beautiful thing about the crowd is that it’s a wild, variegated yet complementary mix of people. A good cross section of bloggers, of course: Haik Bedrosian, Steve Benen, Neil Jensen, Jack McCullough, Nanuq, John Odum, Cathy Resmer, J.D. Ryan, Bill Simmon, Charity Tensel, Michael Wood-Lewis, and VDB photojournalist Yusef.

Haik's crew

But a goodly number of political operatives as well. These are the people who give a good campaign that seamless, speedbump-free quality. People like Will Wiquist here.


And it turns out something strange happens if you invite these sort of people to a picnic: if the picnic runs into trouble, they make it go away. Because that’s their thing.

Case in point: about an hour into the event, with the grill smoking and conversation well underway, I look up to see everyone on the other side of the picnic table has their hackles up.

selene scents trouble

Someone or something is really killing the vibe.

So I walk over to investigate. And it turns out that one of the beach hall monitors — the sort of older gentleman who carries an odd grasping-tool as a symbol of authority — has discovered a few bottles of beer scattered among the majority of cans.

Which is, of course, Against the Rules.


And because he’s that sort of beach monitor, by the time I reach that end of the picnic the guy is talking about “getting my supervisor [snaps grasping-tool open and shut ominously] and shutting this whole thing right down!”

But this is no defenseless clam bake: we’ve got campaign staffers. And so before anyone can move, Selene Hofer-Shall is on Barney Fife like white on rice.

selene attacks

Selene and former City Council member Carmen Geoge effectively tag team the guy, until he’s mollified enough to throw the golf cart back into DRIVE and creep out of the picture.

A win-win situation, finally: the portly beach monitor goes home feeling like Clint Eastwood, we continue to pour the bottled beer out into plastic cups for the rest of the day, and the whole incident is history within 8 minutes.

Which points up the difference between serious candidates and amateurs: all serious candidates have at least one Selene Hofer-Shall on staff.

Two if they can afford it.

selene triumphant

The Beach:
Where All Summits Should Take Place

It has always seemed to me that you could fix a lot of what’s wrong in the world by negotiating at the beach. It’s hard to get worked up about differences in ideology with sand between your toes.


Or differences in hair style either. Peter Welch and J.D. Ryan had some great back-and-forth, and that, as Cyrus said in The Warriors, is the way things out to be.

JD and Peter

At the beach, it’s all good. So you get conservatives like Charity Tensel smooching up to rock-ribbed liberals like Christian Avard.


You get die-hard Progressives, like Burlington’s David Zuckerman.


You get people being good to their kids.

Jason doting

People being good to the planet.

Gorty and Arnie

People being generous with their skills at the grill, like the incomparable Maggie and Arnie Gundersen, who made it possible for me to talk this year, as well as cook.


People being.


People with no worries, suddenly, except whether or not they have mustard on their face.


Or whether they’re getting enough to tide them over on the long drive back to Colchester.


And I was watching all of this yesterday, and all of the sudden I begin to get this nagging suspicion that maybe all of this living and letting live has something — some fragmentary particle — to do with the odd behavior of the weather itself.

Maybe there is a higher power that wanted to see bloggers and politically minded types connect in a beautiful corner of the earth.

A power higher than Steve Maleski, I mean.


And maybe this power liked some of the things we had to say, and the way that we planned to say them: quietly, at a pitch not much higher than the breeze off the lake.


Or maybe it was just a bunch of people with an afternoon to kill, standing around a table of congealing salads, hoping their burgers don’t wind up killing them.


But either way, it was one of the best days of the summer. One of the best days yet of the year 2007. In fact, it was one of the top ten days of the century, as far as I’m concerned.

the van

And that was before I walked up the hill to where Don Shall had parked the Emerald Gypsy. What a dream machine.


We sat in this interior here, and Don and Selene Hofer-Shall and Will Wiquist and Haik and I kicked around the world’s problems a bit more.

But by that time, who could remember?

[Many heartfelt thanks to all who helped yesterday: John, Neil, Maggie, Arnie. And the intrepid photographers: the inscrutable Yusef, Don Shall and Christian Avard. The bulk of the photos you see here are Yusef’s, who went far out of his way to have them in my hand before the Summit had even finished; Christian has more posted over at Ibrattleboro. And Don’s treasure trove will be available in Part II of our story, next week. See you next year.]

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  1. on July 17th, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    […] It was a fun time, no doubt, even though I stayed much longer than I should have. If you want to see this rather non-photogenic group of people for yourself, have a look at iBrattleboro and VDB’s coverage of the event. See y’all next year. Bookmark to: […]

  2. on December 30th, 2010 at 10:49 am

    […] Here is Vermont Daily Briefing’s barbecue report. […]