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Bernie Sanders

Vermont A-to-Z

A 26-letter tour of your new home away from home


Published August 25, 2008 at 5:42 p.m.

Don’t know the Onion City from the Queen City? Think “The Northeast Kingdom” is a small Bavarian principality? Jeezum Crow, what a flatlander!

Use this handy-dandy cheat sheet to bolster your Vermont street cred — if it’s possible to have street cred in a state with 8660 miles of unpaved roads. Study this list and you’ll sound like a local in no time.

  • Anti-Billboard Law: Vermont looks different from neighboring states. That’s because there are no billboards here — thanks to a landmark 1968 law championed by a forward-thinking Republican lawmaker. You’re not in Kansas anymore.
  • Bernie Sanders: Bernie (right) started out as Burlington’s class-conscious mayor back in 1981; he won the election by just 10 votes! Now he’s the only socialist senator in the U.S. Guaranteed you’ll get goose pimples listening to him speak. But don’t be starstruck. And don’t call him “Senator Sanders” if you bump into him on Church Street — Bernie will do.
  • Creemees: This is what Vermonters call soft-serve ice cream.
  • Douglas, Jim: If people tease you about going to school in “hippie liberal Vermont,” point out that we’ve had a Republican governor since 2002, when Jim Douglas succeeded Howard Dean. It’s not that Vermonters don’t like Republicans. We just don’t like George W. Bush.
  • Ethan Allen: In 1775, Allen and his Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga from the Brits, making them Revolutionary War heroes. After the war, he settled on a farm in Burlington, and helped establish the state of Vermont. He’s the most famous Vermonter ever, so many things are named after him, including a furniture company, a limo service, a motel, a firing range and a strip mall.
  • Flatlanders: This is what native Vermonters call all immigrants to the Green Mountain State — even if the newcomers are from Colorado.
  • Girlington: The straight guy’s nickname for Burlington refers to the town’s alleged disproportionate number of cute girls. You’ll likely hear it in the first warm days of spring, when the ladies shed their long underwear, fleece vests and Uggs. Women also use the term to lament the dearth of dudes.
  • House of LeMay: (right) It’s not actually a “house” — the LeMays are a coterie of comical drag queens hailing from the fictional town of Beaver Pond, Vermont. They often gussy up for good causes. Their latest campaign? A voter registration drive for “The League of Drag Queen Voters.”
  • Instant-Runoff Voting: When Burlingtonians elect a new mayor, they put both their first and second choices on the ballot. Don’t ask for an explanation of how this enhances the democratic process, but trust us, it does.
  • Jeezum Crow: Vermont has its own accent, and its own quaint expressions. This is one of them. It’s reportedly an inoffensive way of saying “Jesus Christ.”
  • Kiss, Bob: Burlington’s quiet, self-effacing mayor was the first to be elected by “Instant-Runoff Voting” — see non-explanation above. Like most Vermont politicians, you can find him in the phone book.
  • Lake Monster, Champ: Hundreds of people have reportedly seen a large, dinosaur-type creature known as “Champ” swimming around in Lake Champlain. Is he related to “Nessie,” the Loch Ness monster? Or is he a hoax to lure tourists? Only the cryptozoologists know for sure. Real or not, Champ is the namesake of a radio station, a car wash and Burlington’s Single-A baseball team — the Lake Monsters — among other august institutions.
  • McDonald’s, Montpelier: Having a Big Mac attack? Don’t bother looking for the golden arches in Montpelier. Vermont’s is the only state capital without a McDonald’s. Burlington doesn’t have one right now, either.
  • Northeast Kingdom: Vermont’s three northeasternmost counties — Orleans, Essex and Caledonia — comprise the “Northeast Kingdom,” so named by a former governor who proclaimed the region’s natural beauty in a famous speech. There are plenty of trees in this desolate region — also mobile homes, 4-wheelers and snow. Not a lot of people or jobs, though. Like New York City, the Kingdom’s a great place to visit, but living there is hard.
  • Onion City: This is the most common nickname for Winooski, the small city across the river from B-town. Its Polish-sounding name actually comes from the Abenaki, the area’s original Native American inhabitants. Winooski means “wild onion.” Today, the up-and-coming community is known for its Asian restaurants, cheap housing and its prominent — some say confusing — traffic roundabout. Local hipsters call this burg “Burlington’s Brooklyn”.
  • Potter, Grace: Vermont’s number-one singing starlet-in-training is the closest thing we have to a sex symbol, with pipes to die for and legs to match. Oh yeah, she also has a great band called The Nocturnals.
  • Queen City: No, this nickname for Burlington has nothing to do with civil unions. It’s actually a fairly common moniker, bestowed upon large port cities that dominate the economy in their states. So Chicago is also a Queen City — but those Windy City freaks came up with a better nickname.
  • Rusty “The Logger” DeWees: Imagine a Vermont version of Jeff Foxworthy. If there were such a thing as “state stand-up,” Rusty DeWees, a.k.a. “The Logger,” would be it. His real-Vermont persona is ever on the lookout for funny flatlander stories. It’s redneck humor, yes, but DeWees also happens to be an awesome storyteller. True to his stage name, he’s also cut.
  • Subarus: The Subaru is the unofficial state car. Why? Because it’s got room for your skis, your dogs and your compost bucket. The all-wheel drive comes in handy during the winter. Plus, it’s not an SUV.
  • Town Meeting Day: The first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day. That means state offices close and schools take the day off so citizens can gather to debate and vote on local issues. This tradition has been hailed as a model of the democratic process in action. But it’s also a great excuse to party.
  • Urban Stonehenge: Just north of Burlington’s Waterfront Park, on the shore of Lake Champlain, is a crypic cluster of granite slabs. Why did the ancients place these stones just so? Actually, they didn’t. A group of sculptors — led by the late great Paul Aschenbach — put ’em here in 1991, as part of the International Sculpture Symposium. There’s no official title for this public art piece, but Burlington City Arts calls it “Moran Sculpture,” after the defunct Moran electric generating plant next door.
  • Vermont Republic, Second: Think secession is just a Southern thing? Think again. In 2003, a group of Vermonters launched a movement to break away from the United States and establish “The Second Vermont Republic.” The first one lasted from 1777 to 1791, before we joined the union.
  • West Coast of New England: Burlington’s new slogan, courtesy of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce — yes, we’re aware there’s no ocean here.
  • Xbox 360 and JDK: Like your Xbox 360? The console was designed right here in Burlington, by Jager DiPaola Kemp Design. They also work with Burton Snowboards, Nike and Patagonia.
  • Yankee Ingenuity: You’ll hear a lot about “independent-minded” Vermonters. That’s code for stubborn, cranky, reserved — a.k.a. Yankee. But you’ve got four years to charm ’em. And it’s worth it: Northern types are also known for their work ethic, thrift, resourcefulness and loyalty.
  • Zebra Mussels: Lake Champlain looks a lot better than it swims, boats and fishes. Vermont’s largest body of water is beleaguered by phosphorus run-off from farms, invasive weeds and zebra mussels, originally from Russia. The little suckers filter the water but also attach themselves to rocks, docks and intake pipes. They cut the crap out of your feet, too.