Running the‘Holiday Gauntlet’ Looking back on the season

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 1/6/11]

In the past, I’ve compared Rutland to the island from the TV show “Lost” in that both locations seem to have the mysterious ability to keep people from leaving until they have fulfilled their “destiny” (whatever that may be).

Recently, I discovered another similarity between these two mythic realms: in both places, time seems to move more slowly.

I’m not talking about Rutland being behind the times or living in the past (though, I could fill another column on that very issue). No, I’m talking about how the literal movement of time itself can occasionally slow down to a crawl here.

In particular, I am referring to the last couple weeks or so, which I have taken to calling the “Holiday Gauntlet.” Since the weekend before Christmas, it feels as though I have crammed a year’s worth of eating, drinking and general merriment into one very exhausting, expensive fortnight.

The cause of this phenomenon is the return of the Rutland ex-pats — those natives who loyally make the annual holiday pilgrimage back to the area looking to reconnect with family, friends and food.

For a brief few days (or longer, depending on how much vacation time you’ve accumulated) Rutland becomes the center of the universe. This is, of course, cause for celebration.

It’s around this point when time grinds to a halt. Days run into one another in a blur of extended lunches, dinner parties and evenings spent catching up with those people you get to see for what might only amount to a couple of hours a year.

All this socializing is naturally a boon for local business, especially, those dining institutions that are perennial must-stops for those hoping to get a quick, comforting taste of Rutland before departing.

Conversations revolve around food. Games of gastronomic one-upmanship erupt as friends try to outdo each other on dining experiences — “I’ll see your Sun’s egg roll and raise you a Gill’s hot Italian.”

The very mention of Ted’s or Palms’ pizza is certain to evoke shared memories so vivid you could taste them, and even more certainly will spark debate. (While it should be pretty obvious where my loyalties lie, both have their merits and no shortage of fierce defenders.)

Oftentimes, the ex-pats will bring friends or significant others along for the trip. The time home, then, turns into a whirlwind tour steeped in local pride as these destinations are shown off.

For those of us who do live here all the time, the “Holiday Gauntlet” means that we also take up the role of unofficial tour guide. Each evening, we usher our old friends about town, taking them to the new bars we like, avoiding the ones we don’t and hitting up the old favorites.

(All the while, our citified friends marvel at the inexpensiveness of the same $5 mixed drinks we locals frequently bemoan.)

To be sure, this phenomenon is not unique to Rutland. For people all around, this time of year is all about coming home and taking that moment to get back in touch with your roots and all that other warm Hallmark Channel fuzziness.

But let’s not dismiss that sentimentality. You can take the Rutlander out of Rutland, but you can’t take Rutland out of the Rutlander. The pilgrimage is an opportunity to reconnect with homew because, despite our disparate experiences during the rest of the year, we are all brought back together and reminded of where we’re from if only for a few short days.

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