I received the following comment on my Saturday Moment of Zen post:
Joe, you have now been in Vermont for a month. What about a post on the differences in the aspects of living in the Deep South and living in Deepest New England? Your comments would be very interesting. Your last post touched on accent and way of speech but what else - not just material things, such as food and the time difference, but the way people behave and think?--The Academic
The first thing I had to get used to, especially when driving around, is that I am in the mountains. Where I live is about 750 feet above sea level. Alabama's highest peak is 1445 ft, whereas where I grew up was about 400 feet above sea level but so was everything else (In other words, it was relatively flat). The mountain that I am closest to, and is part of the university's campus is 2382 feet. To get anywhere, you seem to have to go over or around mountains, so while a nearby town may only be 10 miles away, it takes roughly 20-30 minutes. That being said, I am not complaining. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, I just have to get used to the very steep hills, especially when they are covered in ice and snow during the winter. Also, while other towns are 20-30 minutes away, I was already used to that where I lived in rural Alabama. The exception being that here I actually live in a small town which has some of the conveniences you'd expect in a small town. An added bonus is that I live less than a mile from work, whereas in Alabama, I lived 40 miles from work.
Similar to where I was in Alabama, the young guys still drive trucks that are far too loud, and they race up and down the streets in Vermont just like in Alabama. That is one of the things that struck me as very similar to back home. There are a lot of similarities between Alabama and Vermont, as both are rural states. There are churches everywhere, but the ones up here are more accepting of gay people. Sadly though, there are no churches of Christ that I can find. Yes, there are United Churches of Christ, but that's a totally different animal. It looks like I might be going to a Lutheran church with my boss, at least they celebrate communion each Sunday.
Besides the churches, everyone seems to know everyone else. When I went in the pharmacy the first time and explained that I had out-of-state prescriptions, they knew exactly who I was and all about me by the time I returned that afternoon to pick my prescriptions up. It seems that the wife of the university president works there. I've lived here a month and already people in the stores and post office know me. That's a nice feeling. Whereas the same could be said about Alabama, in Vermont the people are genuinely friendly, not the fake friendly that many people are in Alabama. When someone sees you, they are actually happy to see you, not just being nosy trying to figure out what you are doing and what gossip they can either get from you or make up about you. I am stereotyping badly here, but there is a certain truths in it.
As for food, there are a few differences, like "bombs," which is a hot sandwich that comes on a roll that is halfway between a hot dog bun and a hoagie roll and is usually filled with a meat and a cheese. They are quite yummy. Also, when they say "greens," in Alabama, it meant collards or turnips, here it means kale. They put kale on everything up here. I am surprised that I can find a lot of foods familiar to home in the grocery stores here. I don't think I've seen grits, though they do have polenta, but I have seen corn meal. Surprisingly, though what is hard to find is self-rising flour. When I went to the grocery store last night, they had only one kind of self-rising flour, and they did not have self-rising cake flour. They also don't sell PET milk, which didn't matter since they did have Carnation evaporated milk and I had already planned on using heavy whipping cream in a recipe instead to give it a richer flavor. One other thing about food, you are much more likely to get local meats and cheeses and many restaurants try to use as many local ingredients as possible. Vermont cheese is phenomenal, by the way. Nearly every town seems to have their own beer brewery, and some places make hard cider, which I like better anyway. Citizen Cider's Unified Press is delicious, but that stuff will sneak up on you.
Also, Vermont politics are odd, especially the fact that with my political beliefs I'm considered a liberal Democrat in Alabama and more of a moderate Republican in Vermont. I've always said that I was a moderate, but don't expect me to start considering myself a Republican just because I live in a "hippy-dippy liberal" state now. The town meetings and how they conduct their primary will be quite interesting.
Now to what I suspect you all really want to know: how do I perceive the way they treat gay people up here? First of all, let me say that Vermont does not have a single gay bar. They do have at least one bar that has a monthly gay night. I've looked into this to kind of understand why, because Vermont is a very gay-friendly state, but what I have found, or have been told, is that there isn't a need for a separate gay bar. As a gay man, and I think many of you will agree with this, you don't always feel welcomed at hetero bars, but it's different here. I've been in a few bars and such here and it always seemed like there was a good mix of gay and straight people. Everyone is treated the same. Sadly this means that there are no go-go boys dancing nearly naked on the bars or shirtless bartenders, but I can live with that, as I have found the waiters and bartenders tend to be cute and flirty jut the same. Also, there seems to be a wide array of gay groups in the state. I'm thinking of volunteering for Vermont Pride.
The thing is, sexuality seems to be a non-issue from anything I've seen. My boss went out of her way when I interviewed to let me know how open and accepting the university is and how supportive the president is of LGBT issues. I never mentioned I was gay, but I didn't try to hide it. It's part of who I am, but it's not my defining characteristic. I have sort of mentioned things here and there but it was just in normal conversation. One of my coworkers was asking me yesterday how I was adapting and how I liked it up here, and I told her how much I really love it. I told her that "I had wanted out of Alabama, because it's just not a good place to grow up as a gay boy." I think she was happy that I confirmed it. I didn't want my sexuality to be office gossip, but I figured that at some point it would come up. This particular co-worker confided in me after I'd actually said that I was gay, that when I'd had my phone interview and I'd said that the school had put me on charge of the drama club, even though I had no previous experience with the dramatic arts, she knew she wanted to get me out of Alabama and really pushed for me to get the job. They had really liked my cover letter and resume, so all I had to do was back it up and be a pleasant person. I'd already been told that it was a unanimous vote amongst the staff to hire me, but I had no idea that they'd basically decided to hire me after my telephone interview.
The important thing is that I am free to be me. I can be myself, and I don't have to worry about hiding my politics to keep my job or hiding my sexuality to keep my job or hiding anything for that matter. I get to be the me that I've always wanted to be and do a job that really is a dream job because I am in a job where I am actually valued for my expertise and my work and opinion matters. Most of all, I am happy.
PS I realize that the winter will be harsh, but so far Mother Nature has been good to me. She is slowly easing me into winter. I've been told that Vermont is having its mildest November in a long time, and December is expected to slowly bring us into the brunt of the winter. I am sure that in a couple of months, I will be complaining about the weather and how cold it is, but right now I am looking forward to it.