Skateboarding is set to be in the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. I’m confused. The Olympics are for usually for sports, and skateboarding can’t be a sport. Seeing skateboarding in the olympics is akin to McDonald’s offering dry cleaning. Skateboarding can’t be a sport, sports have clear objectives and points. In a basketball game, everyone knows what they should be doing: trying their darndest to get the ball in the net. When they do, they don’t wonder what happens next, they know they will get points for it.
Skateboarding is nothing like that. Skateboards don’t come with instructions. Some people choose to use a skateboard purely as transportation. Some people decide to ride huge boards exclusively down steep hills. Some people aim only to flip their board in complex ways. Some people strive to hop down huge sets of stairs. The only wrong way to approach skateboarding is to not approach it.
There are no points in skateboarding. When I landed my first ollie, there wasn’t a scoreboard flashing numbers at me. There’s no way to score skateboarding. Some people can naturally do things without trying, while it might take someone else years to learn. That one guy at the skatepark that’s struggling to kickflip may turn around and do something twice as hard.
Sports encourage competition. Competition encourages animosity and hostility amongst competitors. Every time a team celebrates scoring a goal, there’s another team that hates them for doing it. Skateboarding is the opposite: it encourages camaraderie and friendship. When I see someone do some trick I’ve always wanted to do, I can’t be mad at them, I can only be excited for them.
Calling skateboarding a sport is like calling a grilled cheese a burger. Or calling high heels tennis shoes. Or calling 9 hours of sleep a nap. While they may share some minor similarities,the connection is not quite there. I propose a new word, something to signify an activity that requires physical exertion and developed skills, but does not contain an inherent goal or point system. How about ‘hobby’? Skateboarding is a hobby. I’m all for making an Olympics of hobbies, but I’d like to keep skateboarding out of the current hyper-jockish, athlete-childhood-extinguishing Olympic culture.
It’s a strange feeling to hop in your car for a short ride and suddenly be in another country. It’s a little like slipping through some Fairyland portal to an alternate dimension where everyone speaks French, the money is multicolored, and teenagers can go to bars. Only Fairyland is just Canada — and it’s a little chilly.
As my friends and I stumble stiff-legged out of our VW bug after an hour and a half car ride, a bright, crisp Montreal afternoon greets us. There’s still slush in the streets, but the sunshine makes up for that, and everyone is in high spirits as we make our way through the neighborhood to retrieve the key for our Airbnb apartment.
The key retrieval requires us to follow a series of Kafkaesque instructions involving hidden mailboxes, multiple sets of keys, and cryptic directions. But somehow, my rusty French skills manage to get us where we’re going.
None of us have ever used Airbnb, so we had some reservations about our health, safety, and sanity. Aside from a mysterious chicken bone on the bathroom floor and a closet that looks designed for hiding corpses, the apartment is nice. And we especially like the heated floors.
Travelling on a college student’s budget can be tricky, but resources like Airbnb can make it much easier. You get a more authentic feel for a place because you’re in a residential area instead of the main tourist traps. And most importantly, you don’t have to shell out tons of cash for a sterile hotel room–our studio apartment only cost $35.00 for two nights.
After appreciating the amenities at our temporary home, we brave the Canadian wind again to go exchange money. It took us a while to figure out where to do this, but bus stations are usually your best bet. Although some places in Canada do take American money, and you can use your debit card, it’s worth exchanging some cash — if only because Canadian money is about a million times cooler than ours. Plus, the exchange rate is great right now at $1.28 Canadian dollars to one U.S. dollar.
There’s lots to explore in Montreal, but we decide to make the Latin Quarter our home base. Close to McGill University, the neighborhood is popular among college students and is packed with restaurants, cafes, shops, and clubs.
We grab dinner at a local pub, Le Saint-Bock, which I highly recommend. It’s casual enough for us to feel comfortable in jeans, and it sports a diverse crowd of patrons. Wedged at a little table, we’re surrounded by a mix of businessmen, families, married couples, and 20-somethings starting a night on the town. Saint-Bock boasts an impressive 31-page beer list, but we were mainly there for the poutine. If there’s a happy way to have a heart attack, it’s that Quebecois concoction of fries, gravy, and gooey melted cheese curds.
When you tell people you’re going to Montreal for the weekend, you get knowing looks, usually accompanied by the question — “You’re not 21, right?” and a sly chuckle. And there’s no denying the city is known for its nightlife, so after dinner we slip into our going-out clothes and force our bemused friend, Mike, to take an excessive number of pictures of us.
There are plenty of well-known, bustling clubs in Montreal, but we opt to take the road less travelled and explore some smaller joints. One of my favorites is En Cachette Speakeasy, an underground bar set back off of Rue St. Denis. Inside, hardwood floors and slick, brocade wallpaper shimmer in the candlelight. Small armchairs, tables, and settees dot the room while people mingle and chat over the thud of catchy French pop hits.
Also not to be missed is La Distillerie. We huddle outside with our fellow explorers, waiting to get in, eagerly eyeing the warm interior. La Distillerie serves Goldfish, popcorn, and an extensive selection of cocktails organized by taste and strength. I found myself wondering what more you could need, since Goldfish basically constitute my ideal meal.
If you’re looking for live music instead of the pulse of recorded bass, do yourself a favor and swing by Bistro a JoJo. Also on Rue Saint Denis, the Blues Bar features an array of cool musicians and performers that have the entire room dancing and stomping their feet in time.
The next day, we take on the city with renewed energy. We spend the afternoon at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, which is currently featuring a stunning exhibition on Pompeii with artifacts on loan from many collectors. Regardless of the exhibition, though, the museum is worth a visit. A glass ceiling refracts light throughout the lobby, and slate stairs wind between galleries. Plants line an upstairs walkway, spilling from their pots and framing a panoramic view of the city’s skyline.
I spend most of my time trailing through the upstairs art galleries, working my way from the medieval era’s anatomically questionable baby Jesuses, to Baroque portraits with gilt frames, to haunting 19th century paintings of shipwrecks.
After I am dragged away from multiple tempting gift shops, we treat ourselves to Italian food at a restaurant we have yet to be able to find on any maps. The walls are bedecked with various nationalistic regalia, and all the lightbulbs have been replaced with red and green colored lights. A very large, very fake tree looms over our table. Whether this place really exists or was just a figment of our over-tired, hungry minds, I can promise you the tortellini is to die for.
The next morning is our last in Montreal, so we start where any self-respecting person would: a cat cafe. Le Cafe des Chats is home to several adorable felines and an incredible number of vegan pastries. I really don’t think I need to provide you with more incentive to go there. I spend entirely too long eating my delicious herb-grilled cheese because I keep getting distracted by the cats jumping on the tables, basking in the morning sunshine, and chasing each other around the cafe.
Our final stop before we leave the city is Mont Royal Park, described as “the jewel of the city’s parks.” We hike up to an overlook that takes in the whole city. It’s a beautiful day that hints at spring, and it seems like the whole city is out with us. Little kids swing from their parents’ hands, couples shyly stop to kiss as they stroll up the hill, and people perch precariously on the overlook wall laughing, jostling each other, and posing for selfies. We take a short walk around the park before reluctantly piling back into the car. Someone mentions something about class tomorrow and we all groan. Even though we’re only a short drive away from campus, dorm life, and homework, last Friday seems like a decade ago.
“I bet Mont Royal is beautiful in the fall,” someone says as we wind our way down the hill.
“Yeah, dude, we should come back in the fall!”
“We could come up for a weekend this summer, probably.” We are planning our next trip before we even cross back over the border, content for now to upload our pictures and start our reading for class, but already eagerly looking forward to our next adventure.
The first thing I notice as I cross the parking lot are the men in suits. It’s thirty degrees—a clear day in Rindge, New Hampshire—but the men in suits don’t seem to notice. They have ear pieces that crawl out of their stiff collars like skin tone worms and one of them is wearing a black windbreaker that has “Secret Service” in blocky white letters across the back. They stand with their arms crossed in pairs of two, eyes quietly probing the pedestrians who stroll by in front of them.
A bus with “Franklin Pierce University” stenciled in black on its white sides stops noisily in front of the building. The vendors occupying foldable tables in front of the gymnasium call to the passengers as they exit, waving t-shirts and pins in an array of colors and sizes, and the men in suits chew gum and scan the crowd. I check my watch. Bernie comes on in thirty minutes.
It’s 72 hours until the New Hampshire Primary; the eleventh hour for last-minute campaign events. Bernie Sanders announced this rally only two days earlier, but the gymnasium at Franklin Pierce is still bustling with activity when my friends and I arrive at eleven o’clock.
We follow signs that lead us past a line of large white news trucks and blacked out SUVs and enter through the front door of the gym, which funnels into a corridor whose path is blocked by two large metal detectors. Behind them stands an imposing man in a bulletproof vest strapped with an array of dangerous-looking objects.
His thumbs are hooked in the shoulder straps of his vest and his eyes scan each person probingly as they enter. At the far end of the hallway two men hold large german shepherds on tight leashes. An old bearded man in a tie dye shirt helps his disabled son through the entrance in front of me. His shirt says “Feel the Bern.”
As we enter the gym a woman materializes from the shadows holding a clipboard and steps in front of us, grinning broadly. She asks if we want to sign up to be part of a phone call campaign to increase voter turnout in New Hampshire. She tells me I’ll get a sticker that means no other people with clipboards will approach me. I accept quickly.
The gym is mostly full, with a stage set up on one end of the court and a blocked-off press section on the other. Near half court is a platform filled with expensive-looking TV cameras and worried people with headsets talking on cell phones. A man in a suit stands quietly by each exit. “Rockin’ in the Free World” plays loudly through the PA system.
As I stand near the center of the room scanning the crowd, a woman taps me on the shoulder and when I turn around she asks if I might give a quick interview for Belgian National Radio. As it turns out, this is the first of five interviews, most of them before Bernie takes the stage: CNN Politics, a girl doing a school project, and two reporters all ask for quotes.
One man, however, draws more attention from the journalists than any other: a tall, denim clad man with a cowboy hat and a jacket which proclaims in bold font across the back: “Ask Me Why Cops Support Marijuana.” Reporters swarm to take him up on the offer.
Bernie takes the stage shortly before noon. As he shuffles into view the crowd roars and those in the bleacher section on stage jump to their feet and wave signs that say “A Future To Believe In.” He’s dressed in a blazer covering a blue sweater and a light blue dress shirt, and as he takes the podium he leans forward and rests his weight on his hands. The reporters recede to better vantage points. Once the commotion has quieted, Bernie talks for roughly 45 minutes.
He addresses the need for campaign finance reform, discusses the Koch brothers and the power of Wall Street and Big Pharma, and reiterates the need for strong voter turnout. As he speaks, two thick men in suits with cropped hair walk quietly in front of me, watching the faces of the onlookers, and as they whisper to each other one of them fumbles with his earpiece and the fat gold ring on his finger. Bernie shakes his fist as he discusses income inequality and a broken political system.
And then, about halfway through, between bursts of applause, Bernie hits his stride. In the middle of an impassioned speech, he pulls off his jacket and tosses it ceremoniously to a young man standing behind him in the bleachers. The crowd is in love. The gym erupts in cheers as the wide-eyed young man raises the jacket triumphantly and Bernie, turning back to the podium with a shy smile, declares “I feel like a rock-and-roll star!”
If the near-frenzied enthusiasm of the room had not been palpable, it was now unmistakable. Bernie speaks for another twenty minutes, interrupted often by whoops and cheers—and one woman who interjects with a short tirade about Wal Mart, which he listens to earnestly before resuming. As he finishes his speech and steps down from the stage, the crowd flocks to him in a dense throng of commotion. My friends and I decide it isn’t worth the trouble, and exit the way we came. Men in suits scan us blankly as we step outside into the cold, bright day.
As we walk back to the car, vendors call to us with more t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, hats and buttons. I wonder what the men in suits might look like in tie dye as a shuttle pulls away from the entrance in a cloud of steam and exhaust. People are laughing and calling to each other, and two men with a camera set up by the exit ask passing attendees: “are you feeling the Bern?”
After a short walk we reach the car, and as we’re pulling out of the parking lot a man in uniform steps in front of us and motions for us to wait. He looks up the hill to our left and we follow his eyes as a convoy of black vehicles begins to roll around the corner and down the road in front of us. We watch as they pass, windows tinted black, lights flashing.
Then, a cheer rises up from the top of the hill. As we watch, a tan SUV rolls down the hill, and passes in front of us. In it, I see Bernie, his forehead against the glass, his hand waving, and a broad and uneven smile stretched across his face. As he passes out of view, I can’t help but admit it: I’m feeling the Bern.
Sometimes, you just need to take the day and get out of town. After a long week of running from Colchester to College Street, walking down a different Vermont Main comes as a much-needed change of pace. On a relatively balmy, brilliantly beautiful January afternoon my friend Eva and I headed southeast on I-89 into the mountains to Stowe.
For skiers and riders, Stowe has an obvious appeal; the resort has 460 acres holding 98 trails and 11 lifts. But for those who prefer to admire the trails snaking down Mount Mansfield from afar, Stowe’s Main Street establishments offer a cozy change of pace from hanging out at Bailey/Howe.
The road to Stowe is predictably gorgeous, from the first 180-degree vista of the Green Mountain peaks near Williston to the cruise up Route 100 snugly situated besides Mount Hunger.
On either side of the road nestled in pine forests sit local, artisan cheese and wine shops, craft breweries, and outdoor gear outfitters in typical Vermont fashion.
As the road snakes into town, it passes snow-coated golf courses etched with Nordic tracks, fly-fishing creeks, and charming saltbox chalets. Downtown Stowe greets visitors with historic inns, white-steeple churches, and general stores stocked with everything from canned tuna to children’s books.
Approaching Stowe, you’ll first come up on the Vermont Ski and Snowboard museum housed in a classic white clapboard town hall. Here, you can learn all about everything from snow bunny fashion to slope maintenance through the years of Vermont ski history.
Make a left turn and you’ll swing up to the sprawling Stowe Resort by way of mountain road as it meanders over covered bridges and past small shops and markets.
Just down the street, Black Cap Coffee sits warm and welcoming on the corner of Main & School streets. The painted red brick café is homey and bright, filled with paintings and pottery by local artists. Black Cap roasts excellent coffee in-house, and its baristas can whip up a killer maple latte.
If you’re hungry for some savories, head to Jamie’s on Main. The staff is lovely and so is the food—you can stay and hang out or grab a to-go snack for the mountains.
After we’d had our fill of good coffee and Stowe sightseeing, Eva and I headed a few miles up the road to Putnam State forest. The quiet woods, hidden amongst gorgeous mountain estates and small family farms, are filled with waterfalls, young pine forests, mountain streams and stunning views.
We got out of the car and tramped along the lowland marsh trail up Moss Glen Falls: snowed-over and frozen, but with clear blue water still rushing underneath. In the summer months, the falls get plenty of visitors but in the middle of winter you’re likely to be alone in the woods.
Grabbing hold of protruding roots and scooting slowly past ice patches, we reached the top of the waterfall and looked out west. The evergreens frame flawlessly a delicious view of Mansfield’s western slopes and the valley in its shadow.
From the falls, you can wander deep into the forest on a well-kept trail covered in pine needles in the summer, and packed snow in the winter. Or, you can head back down the hill, get in the car and explore the country roads, harmlessly trespassing through some beautiful backyards.
Whether you’re skiing or not, spending a day in Stowe is a treat. It’s just far enough away from the campus routine to feel like an adventure, and there’s plenty to do whether you’re pining for a quiet woodland hike, locally roasted coffee, or a snapshot of smaller-town Vermont life.
The arts, lifestyle and culture blog of the Vermont Cynic