How to Behave in Vermont (for the very short period you live there)

Vermont is not a frivolous place. People are very serious. And they expect you to be serious, hard-working and to be able to take care of yourself. I don’t fit in. Yes, yes I did take that train that used to go from Vienna to Athens by myself (before Yugoslavia turned into the countries previously know as Yugoslavia) and I know how to use a machete. I have built furniture. But I hate doing that kind of stuff. If you gave me the choice between being a sober, hard-working, respectable person or a loaf-about who has martinis delivered every fifteen minutes, I’d say “two olives per glass please.”

Which is why I need to leave Vermont. In the town I live in for example, the bus station has no bathroom. Now I figure that a bathroom would be a basic element of a bus station – seems to be that would pretty much be the first thing one would build. But not in Vermont. And why is that so? Because who are at bus stations? People who are Vermonters who have only come a short distance, and thus wouldn’t need one, or people who are coming from a long ways away. Out-of-staters. Do Vermonters, in general, like out-of-staters? No. So why should they make their arrival more comfortable? Hence no bathroom. The other group of people at bus stations are those leaving, and if you are such a no-good-nik that you are leaving this wonderful place, you don’t deserve any amenities either. It all makes sense when you think about it.

Another example would be the bus system in my town. The buses don’t run on time. The bus I take to work in the morning arrives within a 6 minute time frame. It’s on a half-hour route, the roads are not changing their positions over-night, the speed of the bus is pretty constant, but arrival times vary. I have taken buses many places (UK; Norway; Germany; England; France; Denamrk…) every place else managed to figure out how to get buses where they should at the appropriate time. Not my fair town.

I spent most November twilights standing by the road waiting to take the bus home. Some nights is was 5 minutes early, some nights it was 15 minutes late and some nights it didn’t come at all. So I gave up, found my hiking boots (I hate hiking, my father bought them for me despite my protests) and resigned myself to walking home from work every night. And as I slogged though the cold, sleet, snow, rain, and ice I realized that this was, in fact, the master plan of the bus system. To get people to walk.

“It’s nice out,” I could just hear the chorus of heartily, all-weather Vermonters crying. “Lovely weather! and it’s so good for you to be out and exercising. We’ll just keep those bus schedules so erratic that all you malingerers will be forced to enjoy the benefits of our pure air. Then only people who really need the bus system will use it.” As I said, if you just think about it a bit – it all makes sense.

I’d love to discuss all this with a Vermonter, but every time I’ve said something less than complimentary about Vermont, I’m asked to leave the state. Vermont is the only the second place I have lived where, if you say anything less than glowing about the weather/ people/ landscape, etc.. people invite you to move. You can venture comments about Germany’s cloudy weather and homicidal little old ladies in the bakeries and no one bats and eye. Remark that the people in D.C. are power-obsessed and everyone agrees with you. But say that you find Vermont roads a bit under-designed, perhaps even designed by blind cows or mentally deficient engineers, and you will get a cold stare and a frosty “we like the roads the way they are. Have you ever heard the famous Vermont expression, ‘Welcome to Vermont, now leave.’”

Only one other place that I have visited has so little tolerance for frank observations: Minnesota. And the issue there is rampant Lutheranism. I’m not sure what the problem here is. Honestly, you’d think people who ate so much maple sugar would be pretty sweet.