Essay: Get Ready for the Flatlanders — or Maybe Not | Essay | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Essay: Get Ready for the Flatlanders — or Maybe Not

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© ALEUTIE | DREAMSTIME
  • © Aleutie | Dreamstime

Midtown Manhattan couldn't be more opposite of Vermont. It's the busiest section of the most populated city in the nation. Who would be crazy enough to work there?

A much younger and naïve me. I was a magazine editor in the early 2000s. My building was between Penn Station and Macy's Herald Square — the meat in a tourism sandwich.

One day during the peak of the holiday season, the sidewalks were so congested with people from all over the globe that pedestrian traffic crawled. As I returned late to work from my lunch break, it was evident the pressure finally broke me.

"F*#%ing tourists!" I exclaimed as I plopped down at my desk.

My coworker calmed me down with words of wisdom that I'll never forget.

"Those 'f*#%ing tourists' are the reason why our city bounced back from 9/11," he said. "Without them, this would still be a ghost town, and we might not have jobs right now."

Although Vermont will thankfully never have the population density of Midtown Manhattan, the roads inevitably get busier with out-of-state vehicles at certain times of year. Please don't hold it against me, but I'm one of those people with the ubiquitous beige-and-black New Jersey license plates.

Wait! Please stay with me on this! There is a point to this story.

According to the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, "Visitors spend more than $2.5 billion in Vermont each year, and the tourism industry employs more than 32,000 Vermonters." With the pandemic expected to reach a crescendo this winter, COVID-19 could be the terrorist in Vermont's economic 9/11.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this prediction. I'm happy to hear that Vermont's hospitality industry is receiving $75 million in additional relief, but officials believe that it may not be enough. I understand their concern, as I'm about to share with you the inside story from a visitor's perspective.

As a member of a ski club that has owned a house in Vermont since the 1950s, I enjoy visiting on a regular basis, all year round. In my opinion, you are the champions of craft beer and have the most respectful citizens and the greatest scenery in the East.

However, the 2020-21 season will most likely be the first in 15 years that I won't be skiing in the Green Mountain State, or anywhere else. Aside from the impossible 14-day quarantine, it's just too risky to be in close quarters with other people.

My beloved lodge was built for an army-barracks-style sleeping arrangement, with beds in side-by-side and bunk-bed formation. Up to 46 people per night share bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and a few hangout rooms. It's not glamorous, but it gives us middle-class skiers and snowboarders who can't afford our own vacation homes a place to crash after a long day on the slopes and a long night of drinking Lawson's Finest Liquids.

This year will be much, much different.

The lodge has been completely revamped to meet the latest strict health regulations. Only 10 members per night are currently allowed to sleep there this season. Plastic partitions and hand-sanitizer dispensers are everywhere. Face masks are mandatory inside the continuously disinfected house.

Our roughly 175-member ski club will certainly take a financial hit this season, as it did in the last one when we abruptly shut down in mid-March. Because my wife works in a nursing home, we cannot gamble the possibility of bringing the deadly virus home, even in the safest environments. Therefore, we're not taking that risk.

Furthering the economic impact, my ski club is just one of about 40 in a statewide organization. That's a lot of people from ski clubs in my area alone that will have many fewer members traveling to Vermont this season. This doesn't include school trips, family vacations, random groups of friends, etc., that will also keep their money in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or wherever they're from.

I'm not trying to impose fear. As Vermont is my home away from home, I stay attuned to your local happenings through news media and message boards. Recent activity on Reddit gave me the idea to write this article. Here's why:

Every year around this time, I view memes and read posts poking fun at "flatlanders" like myself and our inevitable return for the winter season. It's mostly about how we clog up the roads with traffic because, apparently, we haven't figured out how to drive in the snow.

Wait, this sounds familiar. I've now become one of those "f*#%ing tourists" that I used to complain about!

I can't blame you for the ribbing, though. Indeed, there is a certain breed of New Jerseyans that keep the negative stereotypes alive. When you have some 9 million people living in a tiny state, the odds are great that a small fraction will either be obnoxious or fail to grasp the concept of driving in snow. Or both.

That's why I avoid Killington.

Just kidding! Killington is a beautiful mountain, and I love the artistic gondolas, but I prefer the less-crowded mountains farther north. It's nothing personal.

The point is that tourism is a two-way street. We flatlanders rely on Vermont to help maintain our sanity. In return, we keep your economy growing by pumping our hard-earned money into your restaurants, breweries and art galleries.

The same goes for visitors to my state. Although the Jersey Shore has returned from an economic battering courtesy of Superstorm Sandy, it once again has been afflicted — this time through the pandemic. And although Manhattan made the seemingly impossible return after 9/11, it too will rely on visitors to crowd the sidewalks after this nightmare ends.

I truly hope Vermont and its businesses endure the pandemic, as well. When the dust settles, we flatlanders will be back to support you. To say that I miss Vermont is an understatement.

So, when you see out-of-state plates this winter season, please keep an open mind. Most of us are visiting Vermont to escape a bad scene, not create one. After all, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Phish's Trey Anastasio were originally visitors from New York and New Jersey, respectively.

Being fellow Americans, we'll help each other out and survive this together — as we should.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Missing Vermont"