Since I was in elementary school, I’ve had trouble distinguishing New Hampshire from Vermont. I know one of them is fat at the bottom and skinny at the top and the other is skinny at the bottom and fat at the top. I know one is directly east of the other. I know one is the “Live Free or Die” state (though it has always struck me as a rather bold assertion, coming from a license plate).
But — even though I’ve been to both — I’ve never been quite postive which was which. They are easily confused, at least in my head.
Heading north on I-95, I hit New Hampshire — or was it Vermont? No, it was New Hampshire — and was surprised to find myself suddenly coming to a toll booth.
Had I more carefully checked my maps, I would have known, by the green coloring, that portions of I-95 were toll; but I didn’t, so it was a rude awakening — kind of like going to the library and, halfway through a book, being told you’re going to have to pay to read the ending.
On top of that, it struck me as strange. Wait a minute, I thought. Isn’t this the “Live Free or Die” state? Sure, I know that the “free” the slogan refers to is the type we all take for granted, as opposed to the type that I’m always on the lookout for. Still, the two have a lot in common, viewed in an historical perspective — for taxation, and avoiding unfair forms of it, was a big part of America becoming America. So either way, it seemed ironic.
Unless, of course, I had it backwards and Vermont is the live free or die state.
In any event, I forked over my $2 — it seeming a far better choice than dying — and drove on.
A bit later, I stopped in the lovely little town of Portsmouth, N.H., for a quick drive-through and a pack of cigarettes. At a Sunoco station, I noticed some homemade dog treats on the counter and asked if they were made locally.
“In Vermont,” the proprietor answered. “The upside down New Hampshire.”
That got me confused again, temporarily. “And which state am I in?” I asked.
“This is New Hampshire,” he said.
“And which one is the live free or die state?” I asked.
“We are,” he said.
“Is that still the slogan?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “it depends how many more people from Mass. move up here. If that keeps happening we’ll just be dying.”
New Hampshire also uses I-95 to promote the sale of liquor in its state stores, and state lottery tickets.
In addition to exit signs for historic attractions, food, gas and lodging, New Hampshire prominently posts official signs on the Interstate for exits at which there are state liquor stores and state lottery outlets. It has yet to post signs for other vices — drug dealers, houses of prostitution, strip clubs and the like — but then again, it doesn’t run those operations.
We passed through but a sliver of New Hampshire, and will be visiting its northern reaches in another week or so, as Ace and I make our way back from the top of Maine. From previous visits, I know $2 was a small price to pay to see the White Mountains, in their full fall beauty, no less.
But I still have trouble with Vermont’s … I mean New Hamsphire’s … slogan. It strikes me as a little too drastic — a little too suicide bomber, a little too Toby Keith.
I think the slogan could use some editing. Here’s what I propose: “Live Free.”