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Choosing Burlington 


Published October 2, 2013 at 9:22 a.m.

“Whew! That was a memorable first night out on the town, wasn’t it?” “Hey, girl — all’s well that ends well, right?”

The two women talking to each other in the back of my taxi were young, bright-eyed and attractive. The taller one had short, cropped brown hair; her friend was slender and shy, with wavy blond hair. And they were a couple. I could tell because — well, you just know. I could sense a tender connection, something palpable in the space between them.

The night was late, and we were making our way through the downtown hubbub en route to their place down North Avenue, just past Flynn Elementary School. Burlington was literally rocking this weekend with Grace Potter’s waterfront concert. This two-day music festival is dubbed Grand Point North. Until a customer pointed it out to me, I hadn’t realized that the acronym, GPN, is intentional: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are also known as GPN. That kind of stuff — anything pertaining to language, words, even letters — is probably a big “so what?” to most people, but it’s been a lifelong fascination for me.

“Were you girls at the waterfront show tonight?” I asked.

“No, we hadn’t heard about it until too late,” said the blond girl. “We ended up at a club called Higher Ground, which I was booted out of. It was not fun.”

You?” I asked, chuckling incredulously. “You seem to be a perfectly peaceful, well-behaved person. What did they kick you out for?”

“That’s just the thing — I wasn’t doing anything! We’re still not sure what it was about. I had on face paint, from earlier in the day. I was at the bar … maybe they thought I was underage or something? I know how young I look, but we’re actually both in our late twenties. It was crazy. We were in there having a good time, and the next thing I know, we’re being hustled out.”

Normally when folks tell me the plaintive story of why they were kicked out of the bar, I just smile and think, Yeah, riiight. It’s like talking to people in jail; somehow nobody is ever guilty of the crime. But I believed these two.

“Well, things can get chaotic in these bars,” I said, commiserating, “and the bouncers are trained to take quick action if they even think anything’s about to go south. I’m sure they just misread the situation or mistook you for somebody else. You seem to have taken it pretty well, though.”

The taller woman said, “Well, that’s the reason we love this town! We just moved here this month from Portland, Maine. After the Higher Ground debacle, we ended up downtown and just made some awesome new friends. Right on the street, we ran into these lesbians. We’re gay, right? And they were just so totally nice! It really makes us feel like our decision was a good one to relocate here.”

“Lesbians on the street!” I joked. “Can you imagine? So did you have people in town before you moved here, like friends or relatives?”

“Not a one. We just scoped out a few places and decided on Burlington. It came down to either here or Texas.”

“Texas — wowza! You kids were really looking at two ends of the spectrum, weren’t you? Well, I guess Austin is pretty cool. I’ve heard that.”

“That’s just where we were considering. Then we heard what they say down there: ‘Austin is great, but it’s surrounded by Texas.’ Anyway, we’re glad we’re here. Could you recommend any cool clubs we might enjoy for, like, future reference?”

“Let me see. There’s so many good joints. Maybe you might like Three Needs. That’s a friendly place over on Pearl Street. I don’t think there are any gay bars, if you were interested in that. But I kinda think, in a way, that speaks well of Burlington. Like folks here are so open-minded and basically accepting that gay people don’t really need a separate public space to feel safe. Granted, I never actually ran that by a gay person, so this analysis — as it were — could be way off.”

My customers both laughed, which made me feel like I hadn’t stuck my foot entirely in my mouth.

“Have you been able to find work in town?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s actually worked out real well,” the taller girl replied. “I’m a web developer, and Tracy is a chiropractic assistant. We both were able to line up jobs before we left Maine.”

“It feels like you folks made the right choice and the stars aligned for you, doesn’t it? I mean, putting aside the evening’s earlier unpleasantries.”

Tracy chuckled and said, “That’s already behind us.”

We passed the North Avenue Shopping Center, and I thought about the town, and how it’s grown and evolved over the time I’ve lived here. Back in the late ’70s, when I first arrived, it still retained a residue of that small-town feeling. Church Street had just been converted to a pedestrian mall, and featured a hardware store, two local department stores and a Woolworth’s. There was no need for walk/don’t-walk signs — cars actually stopped for pedestrians without prompting!

That began to change in earnest in the ’80s, and by now, in the fall of 2013, I don’t think anyone would mistake Burlington for a small town. So the city has changed, as any living thing must change. But I, for one, like what we the people of Burlington and surrounding towns have collectively created over the past few decades. It’s a righteous community, our Queen City on the lake.

We pulled to a stop in front of my passengers’ new digs. Once Mainers, now Vermonters.

“Thanks a lot for the ride,” Tracy said, passing me the fare as her partner stepped out of the taxi.

I took her money and handed her back a business card, saying, “Put this number in your cell. I’m going to be your cabbie from now on.” Kind of bossy, I guess, but I could tell by Tracy’s smile that she took it in the right spirit.

Driving back downtown, I thought, If B-town continues to attract people like these two women, we’re doing something right.

Hackie is a twice-monthly column. To reach Jernigan Pontiac, email [email protected].

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac was a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column appeared in Seven Days 2000-20. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.


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