After being warned by my mother that I should not wear my afro out in Vermont because I might get shot by people who think I’m a bear as they’ve most certainly never seen an afro, let alone a Black person before, I get in my car anyway at 5 a.m. and brave the naked roads to get to a book fair in South Burlington, Vermont.
“I have to sell my book. I have to sell my book.” This is the mantra and motivation that propels me through the darkness for five hours as I hurtle through upstate New York toward my destiny.
Sirens happen next of course. Black while driving? No. Driving while black. This combination has never been good for me. The sun and my eyes are a much better combination — which is what I should realize before I get pulled over at 80 miles an hour in a 65 speed zone. I guess. I mean, I don’t think I’m driving that fast. But, who can gauge speed in the dark with nothing along the way except absolute blackness and no cars to compare to?
He’s fine—the state trooper—something I can never not appreciate. A man in a uniform has always been a drool starter for me but then again, I didn’t grow up in the 50s and 60s. I try to flirt with smiles and dumbness as I have successfully done in the past… but he’s not having it. Fifteen minutes later and possibly hundreds of dollars less, I speed off again.
Vermont has a lot of cow signs, a lot of cows, a lot of grain silos, and a lot of piles of hundreds of tires — the explanation for which a ten year old provides later. Oh, and I forget, a whole bunch of White people. Like, a lot of White people. And, of course, my mother being of the Baby Boom generation, a lot of White people means a lot of running in the other direction. But, look, the same thing happened when I went to Cote d’Ivoire. I was warned that I would get my arms and legs chopped off as soon as I got off the plane because Liberia was next door. Fear is always there to thwart you. Courage is much harder to find.
Ian is the ten year old — home schooled, fiercely adoring his Mom in plain view, and more kind and knowledgeable in speech than most adults. Ian not only keeps me great company but introduces me to his entire, book-vending family throughout the day, including his grandmother who he races over in her wheelchair; brings me plenty of chocolate; skillfully discusses what the perfect waffle should look like; explains why Vermont makes the best maple syrup; proves that piles of tires along Vermont farm roads have piles of horse manure underneath them to facilitate turning it into fertilizer; lends the tips that JP Mountain and the Pine Barrons are the places to be, and brings over two crisp ten dollar bills to buy Padre! for his mother before any more of them disappear.
If I’ve learned anything in life, I’ve learned that kids are a reflection of their parents and the society they grow up in. So, I can safely say that Ian represents his parents and Vermont very well and next I meet two best friends who quickly remind me that almost 70% of the entire population of Vermont vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012, that their state is mostly full of people who are hippies to the core, and that here is the number one state in the entire country for Peace Corps Volunteer recruitment.
All of this is naturally proven within the span of two hours as not one but two older, White men quickly come to my table one after the other announcing they served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana and Nigeria respectively. The next White man to the table lived in India for two years on a huge construction project. The next White woman worked for the Foreign Service in West Africa. The next White woman almost sings that a DNA test revealed she is a whole 1% Moroccan. And, the next White woman is married to guess who — an Ivoirien. Let’s not forget the lovely septuagenarian book vendor who comes once to let me know I’m the prettiest thing in the entire fair and then again to check up on me with a courtly glass of water — breaking into a ready, fake, and laughter-binding karate move after I playfully suggest that he moves with the grace of someone who knows martial arts.
In the end, the most important thing is not that I hide my afro, drive 65 in a 65, or even that I sell all of my Padre! copies but that I not miss out on seeing my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and resident Vermontian whom I had not seen in over ten years; get to enjoy the Skinny Pancake which had everything but pancakes and lots of French speakers as Canada is just next door; and walk on the endlessly beautiful and frozen, 6th largest American lake, Lake Champlain — full of so many Vermontians flocking to the horizon without fear. Thank you.