Bobos in paradise

My preferred headline for this weeks column, Nobody Here But Us Authentic Vermonters, and We Wouldnt Patronize No Starbucks, probably wouldnt fit into the assigned space. Therefore, I use the short phraseBobos in paradiseinvented by author David Brooks, seven years ago, in his book describing upper-middle-class bourgeois bohemians whom I have, in these same columns, frequently described as the gentry-left. These are the folks who, among their many and varied other attributes and accomplishments, have vaulted top-end coffee retailer Starbucks to unique levels of nationwide cachet, prominence and profitability. Theyve come to Vermont with sufficient funds and in sufficient numbers to be able to own and operate most of it, and have been using their very considerable political and economic skills to change the governance template, the basic economy, the tax structure, the sociological climate, even the demographic structure, in ways which they are quite confident will keep the State the paradise they migrated into in order to selflessly protect and defend it from every sort of modernity except painless dentistry and the monthly passive-income trust-funder or retiree paycheck. The phenomenon of high socio-economic-status young adults fleeing major metropolitan areas for exurban and rural digs is a relatively new one: the acronym YUPPY (Young Urban Professional) or its more recent refinement YUSPY (Young Urban Single Professional ) both reflect what Bobos used to be geographically urban(e)-- more than what they now choose to be: play-actor ruralites who farm with exotic animals, organic greens, or designer cheeses, or run little niche-market stores for a few years, but derive their real incomes from the urban information economy, government or quasi-governmental jobs, or inherited wealth. Vermont income statistics for the last dozen years show a pattern of 500-percent gains in various categories of passive income, compared to near-stagnation (adjusted for inflation) for active, earned, income, and a 1/3 decline (adjusted for inflation) in real farm income. Bobo preferences in various political and economic sectors are fairly predictable: theyre against nuclear power and for mass transit; against big-box retail and for mom-n-pop stores; against McMansions and for smart growth; against domestic oil-drilling and for (safely distant) windmill-generators; against tire burns and for re-cycling, against modern agriculture and for the 20-cow-wood-barn type frequently illustrated in Vermont Life, and so on. In beverage choice theyre typically against Coca-Cola and for designer water, preferably imported from the Alps (Evian) with the bottle label highly visible; against cheap domestic wines and, usually, for the 12-ounce caf_attes which, at nearly five bucks a cup, Starbucks has promoted into a symbol of yuppiedom, or Bobo-ness, if you prefer. Now, however, theres trouble in paradise. Middleburys elites the ones who usually claim the right, based on superior knowledge and understanding, to decide whether their town needs a larger office supply store or another food supermarket, another motel or subsidized low-income housing-- have pronounced against Starbucks coming to town. And its not even a big-box store, the usual target of gentry-left opposition. In fact, a Starbucks frappucino can be bought in a supermarket via the Coca-Cola label. Why would the folks most identifiable with such affectations as the caf_atte object to its NASDAQ-traded corporate vendor setting up in Middlebury? Maybe because they want to be perceived as real Vermont farmers. taciturn and frugal (dont laugh), and not the sort of recently-arrived brie-and-chablis urbanites who consider such beverage amenities as essential as the trust-fund check. Im told, by people knowledgeable in such matters, that the modern class of VPR-listening REPpies (ruralized ex-urban professionals) prefers Carhart overalls to the cheaper ones from WalMart, such as the natives hereabouts are more likely to wear, (much as an earlier generation preferred old Volvos to Chevy pick-ups) but maybe that too will change if it becomes an unwelcome socio-economic identifier like the Starbucks caf_atte.

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