Burlington, Vermont- Part 1

An Afternoon Marred by Expectation

Why Burlington?  I hadn’t an inkling as to why I chose this place.  Maybe passing references to the Burlington Coat Factory in my youth had long ago etched a subconscious interest in this obscure Vermont town.  A place so far North that they have coat factories does seem radically different than the year-round Gulf Coast sauna that I grew up in.

Never mind this post-rationalizing drivel, I got in my car to fall back in love with adventure.  To fall back in love with writing.  For the last 6 weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the highs and lows of teaching.  Writing and traveling have fallen by the wayside.  An experimental jaunt 4 hours North seemed a fitting cure.

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Burlington, Why Not?

I envisioned being blown away by the tranquil water of Lake Champlain and enthralled by the flurry of activity in the hippie mecca that spawned the likes of Phish and Ben & Jerry’s.  The problem with it all is that I came with the idea that this experience would somehow eclipse my prior travel experiences.  I was staring straight through the muddled lens of prior knowledge.

There’s a scene in Wall Street 2, where a financial professional asks a senior colleague what amount of salary would prompt him to finally exit the rat race.  The executive replied, “It’s simple, more.”  Even on a spontaneous road trip, this spirit of wanting more for the sake of more predominated my thoughts.

Oblivious to the dazzling yellow and orange leaves of a New England fall, I stared at Lake Champlain.  The fiery sun glistened off the cool, easy waves and I couldn’t help but compare it to Auckland, New Zealand’s peaceful harbor.  I stared down the vibrant Church Street marketplace and immediately noticed the absence of the cobble-stone pavement of Portland, Maine that I had enjoyed a month earlier.

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How could I have missed this the first time?

Ri-Ra an Irish Pub

 Our vow is recorded,

our banner unfurled,

in the name of Vermont,

we defy all the world.

Without a damn clue what the practical meaning of the green scarf above the bar meant, I settled into a tight spot next to a 30-something man wearing a greasy backwards Michigan hat.  My first impression was that this was a washed-up frat boy clinging to a past life through desperate support of his alma mater.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After a few Traveler’s (a pumpkin ale that I would highly recommend), conversation turned to careers and life choices.  Mike was visiting friends while on furlough, a temporary government shut-down casualty.  It just so happened that Mike was a highly motivated trade advisor to the Obama administration.

This relative level of prestige briefly impressed me but what left a deeper impression was how he got there.  Mike, like myself, spent years in his twenties having bits and pieces of his soul sucked up by the professional services world, albeit in the more glamorous mergers and acquisitions area.  One day, Mike sent his resume to a friend working in Washington, D.C.  The next day Mike’s friend went for a brisk jog along the Potomac River with a close friend who worked for the Democratic Party.  By the following day, Mike’s resume was on the top of a stack of close to 1,000 resumes.  Mike got the job.  Mike loves his job.  When opportunity comes knocking, open the door.

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The sun never sets on a day of travel without learning something new

 

Welcome to the weird- The Hartford Chronicles

I moved to Hartford a couple days ago.  I moved to Hartford a couple days ago.  Had to say that twice just to make sure it was reality.  Already this place has struck me as the weirdest place I’ve ever been.  Let me explain.

“Varsity”, a long lost friend from high school, labeled as such for his penchant to show up on nearly every sport’s roster, was in the area.  I was tasked with finding something for us to do.  We set out on foot and immediately noticed that something was amiss here.  Block after block of wide, inviting city side-walks almost completely devoid of people.  We were surrounded by ancient, beautiful brick buildings.  The best way to describe it was a museum or maybe one of those tiny replicas of cities encased in glass.  It was as if we were ants walking in a display case while the behemoth metropolises of Boston and NYC observed us with delight.  The only sounds heard were police sirens and eerie opera music emanating from an auto shop.

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Gorgeous red-brick building…with no one inside

After having had enough of strolling around in post-apocalyptic Boston, we decided to try our luck with the local bars.  The Russian Lady had endeared itself to Yelp so we decided to give it a go.  The place was empty.  I appropriately ordered a White Russian and Tabby, the bleach blonde bartender, placed it onto the “Hammer and Sickle Vodka” coaster along the bar.  “How’s this hammer and sickle vodka?”  I asked without really needing or wanting the answer.  “Terrible”, she replied.  The first glimmer of that Northeastern bluntness I had been so eagerly awaiting.  “So what the hell is there to do in Hartford?”, I asked in a more serious, seeking tone.  The conversation quickly devolved into a stern warning to never, under any circumstances, go into Bushnell Park after dark.  Bushnell Park is the main city park (and, per Wikipedia, the oldest publicly funded park in the US).  I had earlier gotten my tourist fix by snapping numerous daytime pictures of the beautiful park.  However, it’s apparently filled with crackheads at night and, as I learned, sometimes in the morning as well.  Tabby fondly recounted walking her dog at 7 am on a picturesque Sunday morning.  She was greeted with a homeless man attending to the finer things in life directly beneath the iconic arched entrance to the park.

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Not exactly what the esteemed architects of this beauty envisioned

After a couple of drinks there, it was time for dinner.  We headed over to the The City Steamer, a cool restaurant near my apartment that brews its own beers.  The doorman quickly told my friend, “no muscle shirts”.  We both burst out laughing.  Varsity is a tall, somewhat gangly figure who isn’t exactly packing the pythons.  We could, however, sit in the bar area if we wanted.  We found this funny as well, given our recent discussion on the haves and have-nots of Hartford.  Hartford is the insurance capital of the country so, naturally, the haves work in insurance and the have-nots don’t.  White haired insurance executives in the dining area and bearded men in cut-offs in the bar area.  A simple, albeit close-minded, social order.

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A “White Hair”

After an enjoyable meal, we elected to try our luck with the bars again.  This time we found a place much more alive.  Being from Texas, we instinctively gravitated towards The Rocking Horse Saloon.  Decent live country music and 40s of Old English in brown paper bags.  I didn’t even bat an eyelash.  Yep, this is Hartford.

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Yep, they’re up here too