As soon as the autumn weather starts turning the leaves to orange and yellow and red, another familiar sight pops up on roads and villages around Vermont — long and metal with tinted windows.
For people who would rather let someone else — and not a family member, for heck’s sake! — do the driving for hundreds of miles over several days, charter buses are a great way to tour the state and the New England region, with stops at historic sites and all the right tourist spots.
Tour buses visit places all over the world where people actually live, work and grab lunch on a day-to-day basis. It just so happens that Stowe village is a stop on many a tour.
For residents, it’s a little like living in an aquarium, where people come and watch us for a while.
The charter buses roll into downtown Stowe from all four different directions. Some stick to Route 100; others loop onto Mountain Road; and the stealthiest slink up Thomas Lane, along Pond Street and up School Street, as if the only true way to enter Stowe is to approach the iconic Community Church straight on.
Through the tinted windows, you see eyeballs peeking out as the bus comes to a halt, wherever their drivers can fit 45 feet of steel, rubber and cloth seats occupied by sightseers who are here for 28 minutes. The more disruptive buses park along the right turn lane from Main Street onto Mountain Road.
Following a hiss of hydraulics as the bus settles into position, the doors open and out step the passengers, up to 50 of them on a full bus, many of them hungry, many of them in search of a refrigerator magnet.
Think about it: In high foliage season, you can spot three, four, five charter buses around town, unloading their payloads. That’s 200, 250 extra people all at once.
If you’re a restaurant owner, this is not the time to run out of soup. If you serve coffee at your establishment, you might want to have a couple of urns at the ready.
This is not the time to walk two or three abreast on the sidewalk, no matter how smooth and new the sidewalks are after a summer of construction. In fact, if you live here and want to get from one end of Main Street to the other, this is a good time to practice your slalom turns — give the walker a smile and a friendly greeting, swing around their left, give the next one a hearty hello and swing around to their right.
Be the one who helps the out-of-towners navigate a crosswalk.
Vermonters who live in small towns tend to have an “I live here” mentality when it comes to crosswalks, stepping boldly into the road and locking eyes with the driver to make him stop, not you. Unfortunately, many Vermonters have that same “I live here” mentality when it comes to driving, and ignore a pedestrian who clearly looks uncertain if he or she can cross the road.
When you live around here, you have plenty of secret places to go and take in the wonderment of fall foliage with your family, with that special someone, by yourself far from the madding crowds along the popular leaf-peeping routes.
When the charter buses swing by around lunchtime, it’s a good time to people-watch, to sit on a bench as people walk by. When 200 people all of a sudden materialize and spike the population for half an hour at a time, you’re seeing a lot of money coming into local businesses.
It’s a perfect time to be an ambassador for your town and for your state, to smile and make small talk. Because one of these days, at another time and place, you’re going to be the tourist.