Adrian: Summer Detour

Jun 30, 2017

Vermonters live in a bubble. And there are sub-bubbles such as those found around Montpelier and Burlington. Indeed a frequent quip is that “Burlington’s a great place to live because it’s so close to Vermont.”

However, the relationship of the Burlington area to the rest of the State isn’t unusual in the context of other rural/urban divides. One need go no further than our neighbor to the west to witness the contrast between Manhattan and the North Country.

Last summer our family wanted to get a little off of the beaten path so we went to West Virginia and just drove around. The mountains were familiar; but both the political landscape - evidenced by lawn signs - and the economic landscape of decaying, dying town centers, were definitely not.

President Trump received more than sixty eight per cent of the votes in West Virginia, the most in the nation. West Virginians were, and presumably are, hoping the President makes good on his almost certainly undeliverable promise to bring back high paying coal jobs.

And while it’s one thing to read in The New Yorker about poverty and its accompanying maladies of opiate addiction and overdoses; it’s quite another to see it up close. At the same time, it was clear that we had more in common with our fellow West Virginian Americans than we had differences.

Travel is - and should be - part of the human experience, and there are forms and styles to fit nearly every budget. You might hop on a bus and go just a few towns over; take off on a Kerouac style road trip; camp in the nation’s extensive national park system; or explore the many vibrant ethnic neighborhoods of our cities. But it’s often the trip - not the destination - that has the most meaningful and lasting impact on our view of the country.

To many, the current atmosphere in the nation seems dark. But to understand it, one must explore it. When Governor Chris Christie visited Vermont, he urged the audience to “show-up at places that are uncomfortable.”

And that’s sound advice - to include in your summer travels a detour to somewhere just a little bit unusual or inconvenient. Because if you’ve been looking for America for fear it’s been lost, you’re almost certain to find it where least expected.