Williston Hits a Buck

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(Host) Commentator Philip Baruth talks about the rapid growth of Williston, a rate of change he finds both exhilarating and terrifying.

(Baruth) I don’t know about where you grew up, but in Rome New York in the 1970’s you celebrated the purchase of your first car by driving out to a long deserted road that ran in front of the Marcy State Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane. And there you would do something really stupid, something we called hitting a buck: you’d try your best to push the car over a hundred miles an hour.

I remember doing this in a 1976 Nova, and it was the first time I’d ever driven a car that fast. My mother was always reminding me in those days not to drive like a fool, and I remember thinking, so this is what it’s like to drive like a fool: weightless and unstoppable, and simultaneously in imminent danger of flipping the car and scattering all of us across the cracked pavement.

Again, I don’t recommend this.

I only mention these feelings because I get much the same mix of sensations these days when I go shopping in Williston.

Williston has been growing at an exponential rate for the last decade, especially the Tafts Corners area, and there’s that same wild duality of
emotion: the sheer exhilaration of the growth itself, something big and new every time you sweep through, and at the same time the sense that the whole city-wide enterprise just hasn’t been quite thought through.

The last time I drove out was a Tuesday at about 1:30 in the afternoon, not exactly what you’d call rush-hour, but the entire offramp was backed up with two lanes of traffic, right into the flow of the Interstate itself. I thought, this is an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough, as I came over the hill I saw the ambulances and police cars at the bottom of the off-ramp.

But I made it to my movie on time: a matinee of M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller, The Village. I wanted to see the film in the new Majestic 10 theater in Williston, because I like stadium seating and I’d heard they had an escalator.

The movie was about a group of people who get tired of the pace and the violence of the outside world, and they set up their own isolated agrarian community. Eventually it turns out that – surprise – they bring the violence and the seeds of change with them when they retreat into the woods.

I was thinking about all of this as I came down the escalator and got a good look out the massive two-story windows at the trim brick square of Maple Tree Place. There’s a Starbucks, and a Verizon wireless store, and right next door is a shop called Laser and Botox. Beyond that are the big box stores hunkered down in the near distance like a line of aircraft hangers. And I’m wondering if all of this is an accident waiting to happen, from any number of perspectives: civic planning, traffic, the fact that Maple Tree Place has no
maple trees.

But I’ve had a lot of Milk Duds, and suddenly there’s another voice inside me that wants to go ahead and put aside my aversion to cellular technology and just march down to the Verizon store and get extremely hooked up, maybe bring a handful home and distribute them to my wife and children. Then tank up on expresso and head into Laser and Botox, and have them paralyze or burn away everything about myself that’s any different than it was twenty years ago. I get the urge to come along for the joyride as the city of Williston hits a buck.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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