Why You Can’t Find an ATM in Vermont

Dear Past Self,

You know how sad you are right now?   Because you can’t afford that amazing private university in rural Vermont?   Don’t worry.   You’ll get there someday — as a tourist, not a student — which will ultimately be a better fit. Not least because it will keep you out of the life-altering, crippling debt carried by most people you will know.   Trust me.


Future Self

Vermont — The State

Which roadside accessory is forbidden in Vermont?   Allow me a paragraph and some bullet points:

My Vermont citizenship had been 15 years in coming.   Finally and unexpectedly, I made it to the Green Mountain State.   I lived in a town allegedly pregnant with tourists all summer long which locals scathingly reference all year.   In between training for aerial and acrobatic classes I devoured every hiking trail I could get my hands on.

And observed lots of cute Vermont quirks:

  • Legit Beauty Queen — at the  Running of the Bulls  Strolling of the Heifers parade, the crowned woman wore her hair pulled back in a ponytail. I loved being in such an unpretentious place!
strolling of the heifers as seen by budget travel blog Half the clothes writer Jema Patterson

A stroller ambles with his heifer – too cute!

  • Pastoral Pride Parade — I loved  that the region’s biggest annual parade centers around the state’s agricultural personality. I adored  the “Dairy God Mother,” and I learned the Vermont dairy farm average of 155 cows supplies 63% of all of New England’s milk.
  • Flower Power — a older friend in New Hampshire (originally from VT) told me that the “Hippies” currently giving Vermont its reputation as the most liberal state in the nation are a far cry from the original culture. He said the back-to-the-land movement of the 70’s brought tons of transplants to the state, forever changing the social landscape.   Hailing from a conservative Western community, I found the tie-dyed 4H club quirky but adorable.
  • Fiercely Local – while logistically annoying, I swelled with pride for Vermont’s tough stance on mega banks. Basically, there are none.   No Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, CitiBank”¦   just local and regional banks keeping money local and regional.   If your money is with a mega bank, good luck finding a branded ATM.  You get fee-charging money machines or have to hunt for cash back!
  • Fiercely Fair – the Brattleboro courthouse (my Vermont hometown) went down in history as signing off on the first civil union allowed in America.
rainbow flag

A local friend’s local father says Brattleboro is “the most liberal town in the most liberal state in the nation.” Maybe! It would give the left coast a run for its money. Sure was a great place to live! photo: wikimedia commons

  • Unadulterated Life — another example of commercialization refusal: billboards are banned in Vermont. I didn’t notice until a rest stop (complete with a biodome nursing greenhouse plants to recycle toilet water) pointed it out.   It does give road trips and old-timey, nostalgic feel.
  • Reforested Fortress — During the shepherding heyday of the 1800’s, New England was 80% cleared land, 20% forested. Now, it’s 80% forested, 20% cleared.   Especially in Southern Vermont, one is basically always driving through a gauntlet of trees.   Northern Vermont opens up a bit, looking more like western Oregon with a mix of pasture and forest blanketing the valleys between more-distant hills.   And random geological intrusions in the highway medians.
  • French-Canadian, Eh? — Many New England (and Vermont!) residents are descended from French Canadians whose recipes infuse the region’s cuisine. My friend’s jaw dropped when I told her I’d never had pork pie — a staple of her childhood and a prominent player at her French-Canadian grandmother’s dining table.   Of course we did not pass go, or collect $200 but went straight to the Red Arrow Diner for a slice of proper local comfort food.
red arrow diner milford

Is pork pie a good enough excuse to put a New Hampshire diner in a post about Vermont? photo: larry cultrera via dinerhotline

  • Bilingual Border — On roadtrips, I thrilled at being close enough to Canada to get French broadcasts and see U.S. Government signs in both English and French. #wanderlust

Cities of the Most Rural, Almost Least-Populated State

Before making it across upstate New York and visiting Niagra Falls, I spent a day working in cafes in Vermont’s capital — Montpelier –   and Vermont’s largest city, Burlington.    My memories of that road/work trip will be forever coated in the smell of fresh woodchips.   Things I noticed when not hunched over a latte and a laptop:

  • Put Some Bling On It – Vermont is as bad as New York when it comes to highway signage waste.   Every single delineator pole is labeled — i.e. 49.25, 49.30, 49.35. 49.4.   Every 4th delinator sign is larger in size.   FYI: not useful, ye civil servant decision makers.
  • Super Civil Discourse — Wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled open the door of the historic capitol building and took a self-tour of the halls and chambers. The countless, face to face, passionate conversations going on in the hallways surprised and pleased me.   Old timey paintings, hand-lettered office signage on glass windows, 1800’s inspired carpeting murals, and modern-day suits filled the intimate building.   Also pleasing: the returned smiles all over town.   I’ve said before New England isn’t the friendliest place in the world.   So refreshing to cross paths with a niche of people who share my social values!
vermont state capitol building in montpelier as seen by budget travel blog half the clothes' writer Jema Patterson

Hot tip: don’t try the front door. It’s locked.

  • The Pacific Northwest Teleports! — on the road to the heart of Vermont’s largest city (Burlington — population 42,000) I passed cute, historic houses and hill top views of Lake Champlain. The whole scene felt very “Vancouver, BC” (or Portland, Oregon or Seattle, WA)”¦ except not a teeming city.   Cool place!
  • Downtown Disappointment — sadly, Burlington has sacrificed its city center to standard commercialization seen all over America. The pedestrian mall felt like Santa Barbara full of mainstream shops: GAP, Banana Republic, Macy’s, etc.   Buildings downtown have had the city’s outer architectural charm renovated right out of the scene.
  • A Mountain of FOMO — staring at the Adirondacks across Lake Champaign, I cursed my rotten luck. Only one life to live and only so many mountains one can climb.   Maybe in an alternate universe those mountains and I will come together?

How can you not want to take off into those mountains?! photo: wikimedia commons

  • Real but Fake? — the road to Woodstock, Vermont (not the famous Woodstock, but I’m sure I’m not the first person to happily take a detour thinking I’d see something neat) is lined with a gazillion kitchy tourist stops. Anything people might want to do or buy on vacation has been built or supplied.   The facades are all commodification of a long-gone culture.   Felt like a theme park.   Or a foreign country where people dress up in native costume for the sake of tourists’ “authentic” experience with the hope of  drawing more tourists.   All very weird.

One last weird but cute Vermont thing?

They have the most adorable name for soft-serve: Creemee!

I never ate  a creemee:  temps were mostly  outside of ice-cream enjoying range when I left.  Guess I’ll have to join the summer throngs descending upon the Green Mountain State one year!  â™£

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