Ex-mailman finds new business on Vt. country roads
By Bryanna Allen
STAFF WRITER | August 07,2014
Bryanna Allen / Staff Photo
Vermont Backroads Tours owner and driver Kelly Socia stops the tour van to walk across and explain the history of a covered bridge in Pittsford Wednesday morning. The bridge is part of his “Covered Bridges Tour” that explores a half dozen covered bridges throughout the state.
When Kelly Socia took on his first job as a pizza delivery boy and got lost one night on an old Vermont logging road that spit him out near a pond, he couldn’t have known that, in a way, it would tie back into his life more than 20 years later.
Socia recently spent his last day as a mail carrier at the Rutland City Post Office, a job he’s had for more than two decades, to pursue his career of giving tours of Vermont in his van.
Although a completely different change in career direction, Socia brings his enthusiasm everywhere he goes. From the mailboxes of Rutland to the dirt roads of Woodstock, he does it all with energy.
He spent years dressing up as Santa Claus to deliver the mail, adding a new piece to the costume each day as the holiday drew closer, getting waves and honks from kids walking to school and parents driving to work.
“He has always been so full of life and stories,” said Chris Greeno, former co-worker at the post office. “He’s not your cookie cutter kind of guy, every day is an adventure and people love getting to know him.”
And getting to know the people, homes and quirks of the state has given Socia knowledge of the hidden treasures of Vermont — knowledge he shares with his touring company.
Socia’s company, Vermont Backroad Tours — soon to be renamed “Kelly’s Vermont Backroad Tours” — takes tourists on the roads less traveled in Vermont, seeking glimpses into what Socia calls the “real tourist attractions” in the state. Some of these glimpses include covered bridges scattered throughout the Rutland area, sunset tours with dinner at a local restaurant and microbrew hopping, sampling Vermont’s handcrafted beers and wines. Socia had the idea for the company after taking a scenic tour of San Francisco years ago.
“People waited in line for hours to view the city,” Socia said, winding his tour van up a road in Chittenden, a U-2 song on the radio. “I thought, why wouldn’t people do that for a tour of the countryside.”
Another driving factor to start his business was a reoccurring nightmare he’d had several times a year for half of his life. In this nightmare, he’s getting denied access to college because of a failed high school statistics class back in 1974. The dream made him panic and left him wanting more from life.
So Socia took a computer class at the Community College of Vermont, passed with flying colors and started his tour company on top of being a full-time mail carrier for the city, husband and father of two.
“Getting that good grade changed me,” Socia said. “I haven’t had that nightmare since.”
And he ran with that feeling to start his business.
Socia’s first tour was a family of three — too small a number to come across as successful, so Socia stuffed his van with family members.
“I rounded up my wife, children and various people I knew,” Socia said, laughing and pointing out a fox darting across the road. That first day had started out rainy, but as the tour group got out to stretch and enjoy a mountain top view, the sun shone and a rainbow appeared.
“I could not have planned it better,” Socia said. It was a sign of encouragement that Socia needed to continue his new business with determination. He expanded his business to include “Christmas Lights Tours” and bachelor and bachelorette parties — tours including wining and dining at local restaurants with a safe ride home, music and scenic routes.
Although leaving behind his mail service is difficult for those who worked with him, they also appreciate what he has to look forward to.
“He has worked hard, put a son and daughter through college,” said Cam Gilligan, a former co-worker. “He made work fun and now he deserves to have all the fun he can with this next part of his life.”