Exploring the mystique of RutVegas

Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / photo

Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Oct. 27, 2011.

Much has been made of Gov. Shumlin’s recent dropping of the “RutVegas” bomb. While some people have expressed displeasure — even verging on offense — I am unfazed. (OK, maybe I’m a little fazed, but not for the reasons that typical Rutland cranks are).

Most “experts” agree that the term RutVegas appeared sometime in the 1980s. Indeed, I remember my siblings, who were high school aged at the time, using it liberally (and lovingly).

As explained in a recent Rutland Herald editorial, most connect the term’s currency either with Rut-land’s former distinction as having the most bars per capita or with the fast-food/ car dealership/box store strip along Route 7 south — our less glamorous version of the shiny, though I’d argue far less characterless, Las Vegas strip.

Rutlanders with a long enough memory will also remember Elvis used to live here. Well, an Elvis impersonator, but still, that definitely added to the Vegas vibe.

In both cases, there is a heavy dose of irony a play here. Irony, of course, is a concept that often escapes people who enjoy the feeling of bunched knickers. I can’t blame people who find the term vexing. It shows, that while they may not be able to appreciate a joke, they have pride in Rut-land, which I respect.

However, another, less flattering usage prevails. Stripped of its irony and friendly self-deprecation, RutVegas then becomes a label and descriptor for everything that is wrong in Rutland.

See some unsightly characters at Wal-Mart? RutVegas.

Spot a pale, scrawny dude with no shirt on walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon? RutVegas.

Drive past the old Flory Motel and plaza on Busines Route 4? RutVegas. (Technically, that’s Center RutlVegs, but that’s close enough for some, I guess.)

In the recent history of the word, it seems this use has gained a lot of ground. Naysayers will often use it as a fatalistic exclamation: “That’s RutVegas for ya!” — the implication being that it’s bad here and only getting worse. (My reply to that worldview is always, “Then, why are you still here?”)

Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of the RutVegas debate. As a teenager, I used it on occasion; tongue always planted firmly in cheek.

When I returned to Rut-land in 2007, I shied away from it, determined to actively change the narrative and make a clean break with past negative perceptions of our city.

Then, I began to change my tune. What if we took the word back? Could it be reappropriated?

About six years ago a group of young, hip Rutlanders (we do exist!) attempted just that. They launched a newsletter called the Vegas Vibe, which highlighted Rutland’s arts, music and other cultural assets.

Last summer, “The Blood in this Town” director Art Jones, got hip to the Rut-Vegas moniker and sold RutVegas baseball caps to help raise money for the film. (I wear mine proudly to farmers’ market most Saturdays.)

So it seems that we’ve begun to slowly turn the word around.

Enter the Gov. By my count, Shumlin said the word three times while introducing Bill Cosby at The Paramount on Oct. 16. My first thought was, “Ha. Nice touch, Shummy.”

My second thought was, “Obviously, people are gonna have a problem with this.”

Almost immediately my third thought was, “Hey, that’s our word!” And that’ where I’m hung up. I have no problem with Shumlin using the word. If anything, Herald Reporter Gordon Dritschilo hit the nail on the head in a recent blog post when he said that the Governor using RutVegas means that the term has jumped the shark (Google it).

Still, part of me has an issue with an outsider using RutVegas. You have to live here — you have to know Rutland. It’s a loaded word that obviously holds different meanings for different people.

That being said, I wouldn’t say Shumlin made a gaffe by using it, and I find it unlikely that it will cost him Rutland County in next year’s election.

True, it’s an oversimplification to say it’s like the N-word or “queer” — being used candidly within their respective communities, but verboten without. But it is the same idea on a much more trivial level. Honestly, anyone who is truly offended by RutVegas needs to relax (especially, those who likened it to a slur).

What RutVegas reveals most about Rutland is that we care and most of us are proud of our city. While we may have different ways of expressing our affection, the fact remains that we are passionate about where we live — warts and all.

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