Crisp Sheets and Crack Cocaine: A Surprising Visit to Windsor, Vermont

by Stewart Engesser

One of the great things about Maine is that it’s close to Vermont. Vermont, the Green Mountain State, is well-known for maple syrup and scenic dairy farms; ice cream and covered bridges, rolling hills and quaint inns. It’s less known as a place to easily score smack and hard rock cocaine. So I was surprised when a friend and I visited tiny Windsor, the scenic one-time state capital, and found ourselves surrounded by teenage gangstas offering to provide us with all the hard dope we could shoot or smoke, right from a bench on a bucolic, maple-shaded corner of Main Street.

Windsor is home to one of the great icons of New England – a really long covered bridge. We had come to find out what it be like to ride a bicycle across it. So this descent into Vermont’s version of “The Wire” was unexpected. I asked one wiry teenager with a wispy Ahab beard what kids in Windsor did for fun. Did it by any chance involve riding bikes across quaint bridges? He told me a meandering story about how he’d recently used a Bic pen to carve rabbit whiskers on a friend who had nodded out from a shot of heroin.

Were all the old traditions that Vermont is famous for dying? A furtive chain-smoking young fellow told me about a favorite game that was sort of like a new tradition, at least among the youth of Windsor: A drinking game called Edward 40 Hands, in which two players duct-tape two 40 ounce bottles of beer to their right hands and compete to be the first to finish without pissing themselves.

Well, maybe it was time to check into the Inn.

We drove up the hill and into the parking lot, where we were studiously ignored by a Slavic groundsman, sternly weed-wacking in a costume of spotless linen.

The inn was a funereal 18th century mansion stuffed with the sort of knicknacks one picks up when traveling in Thailand. I’ve been to Thailand, and so I understand the impulse to snatch up a few Buddha figurines, perhaps some imitation jade elephants. But this was something else. Every flat surface was piled with carved jade statues and Buddha figurines. Had these innkeepers raided an ancient tomb of some kind? In an odd counterpoint, the walls were decorated with a collection of framed ‘sand paintings’. Crude in execution, they appeared to have been made by somber, medicated children, and featured sand dyed in tired, fusty colors: taupe, mauve, and custard.

We soon fled the sickly reek of the Inn’s Thai incense, and went into town in search of sustenance. The Windsor Diner, a classic 1920’s rail car with vintage chrome and neon signs, seemed promising. A favorite lunch spot for reclusive writer J.D. Salinger (who lived in nearby Cornish), a sign boasted of having the “Best Hot dogs in Vermont.” I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’m willing to bet there’s someplace out there that could give them a run for their money.

After lunch, we decided to change our plans, and rather than pursue the traditions of yesterday’s Vermont – riding bikes across beautiful wooden bridges, for example – we would explore Windsor’s new traditions, hang out on the corner and shoot the breeze with teenage hopheads.

In between frequent dope deals they told us stories about intentionally crashing cars into trees, beating up strangers for no reason, and getting racks of beer and hitching rides with strippers to Woodstock. These kids – they ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-one – had all either quit school or been kicked out. They were alcoholics, drug addicts, and they sold dope because it paid better than minimum wage. Where were their parents? Some were parents themselves. Where were they headed? What was coming next?

Nothing, one said. America’s a sinking ship, another added. Ha ha ha.

I slept that night high on a hill, in a soft bed with crisp clean sheets, in an inn established to pay homage to a genteel but faded past. And while I slept, some of America’s new traditions played out in vivid color, down on the streets of Windsor.

When people come to Windsor a couple hundred years from now, I wonder what they’ll find. What proud traditions will be preserved? Will they find a statue honoring the Ultimate Champion of Edward 40 Hands? Not likely.

These new traditions don’t seem geared toward preservation.