Molnar: Warm in Vermont

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(Host) Commentator Martha Molnar is a public relations professional and freelance writer. She says that a week in Florida and a new phone helped her to see Vermont in a new light.

(Molnar) Recently I got a smart phone – and spent a week in Florida. These two unrelated events converged to point out something striking about Florida – and about Vermont.

The phone has been a boon as well as a frustrating contraption. Sometimes it tells me the temperature in Oregon or Idaho. Sometimes it refuses to let me end a phone call or make a call, which I continue to believe is a phone’s chief function.

What it does extremely well is help directionally disabled people like me get places. And unlike the earlier GPS systems, it does so without the superior attitude. The new phone talks to me with a friendly, calming voice.

But here’s what I noticed while crisscrossing Florida’s panhandle: the image on the phone screen has nothing to do with the reality outside.

For one thing, it shows the route in soothing hues; but the colors of Florida are jarring. Loud red, orange, jade decorate buildings that rise out of gray concrete against stark blue skies. On the screen, the areas fronting the roads are empty, pristine. In reality, what we saw is so built up that until we reached the Everglades we had no idea what the natural world might have looked like. Shopping strips and residential developments fill every square foot. Conspicuously absent are people and their homes, hidden behind walls that converge at a gate fronted by a massive fountain. Yet there are multiple thousands of humans, each and every one cocooned in an air-conditioned car, all of us forming long waits at traffic lights and highway exits.

None of this is reflected on the phone’s screen, where the arrow glides silently along the pale blue road. On the screen, we have the whole man-made creation to ourselves as we flow in a silent void.

Soon enough, we returned home to bitter cold. The winds had blown the snow off and the frozen earth showed all its bones. The world was a series of grays, the meeting of earth and sky a blur. It was hard to believe that life continued above and below the earth.

As I was driving to Rutland one morning, I turned on the phone to make sure that there was no shortcut I wasn’t already using. There was the same placid, open image. But despite the warm colors, so unlike the ashen world around me, the image was pretty close to the reality outside the window. Mine was indeed the only car on the road. Instead of frenetic movement, there were empty, stubbly fields rising toward mountains. Instead of traffic noise, the lowing of cows. Instead of the remote gated communities, the road was lined with small, mostly white houses, a wisp of smoke from each blending into the gray air, a link to the people inside.

It made me feel warm all over.

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