When I was about ten years old, my dad took my sister, her best friend, and I to lunch at Howard Johnson’s. I had long found the bright orange roof a source of fascination; a momentary roadside distraction on long car trips. What could possibly lie within that was deserving of such a noticeable exterior?
The lunch was undoubtedly a last-minute whim of my father’s, but for me, it was an opportunity to satisfy my long-simmering curiosity. Inside, we found a largely ordinary restaurant with one noteworthy exception; they sold salt-water taffy. Now, at the time I considered myself an aficionado of candy and an expert on all things sucrose-filled. I had never seen salt water taffy before and the name, as well as the homely packaging, intrigued me. Looking back on this long-ago afternoon, I suppose we must have been on a weekend trip of some sort; perhaps to Atlantic City or some other ocean-side resort. Certainly no candy store in Manhattan would have sold boxes of taffy-–and definitely not taffy made with salt water. I was not leaving until I had tried it.
Luck, as it turns out, was to shine on me that day. My father, absent-mindedly browsing through menus and lists of specials on the table while we girls chatted about girl stuff, discovered a flyer upon which was spelled out in colorful print "Is it your birthday? Let us know!" My sister’s birthday was not for another four months, but when the waitress came to take our order, he barefacedly informed her that we were celebrating a birthday that day-–and pointed to the astonished 8-year-old across the table. Her eyes widened and she exchanged shocked, then conspiratorial looks with her friend.
Lunch came–-unremarkable grilled cheese sandwiches if memory serves-–and afterward, a free ice cream sundae served by a singing wait staff. We were sent on our way with an entire box of salt water taffy as a gift, and for the next three years, until we moved to a new apartment, we got a birthday card from Howard Johnsons four months early.
Which brings me to the point of this journal; if you’re short on cash and didn’t have your heart set on a cozy B&B or a chic hotel, Howard Johnson’s on Shelburne Road (close to downtown Burlington, but even closer to the Shelburne Museum) is not bad at all. Clean rooms, friendly staff, free parking, and affordable prices make the Shelburne HoJos an unremarkable, but convenient place to hang your hat. Just don’t tell them it’s your birthday.