DERBY LINE, Vt. — For generations, the sleepy towns of Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, have slumbered together in the proverbial twin beds of neighboring border communities. Most of the time, the two towns have dreamed their separate dreams and not worried about hogging the political covers or drooling on each other’s soci-economic pillow. On special occasions, such as anniversaries or after a couple of drinks, those beds have been pushed together and the relationship, like this metaphor, has become more intimate.
But in recent months, a presence has disrupted these napping neighbors like a cat slurping lustily at its loins at 2:00 a.m. Life in Stanstead and Derby Line has become a nightmare. A Nightmare on Canusa Street, for this border community has become overrun by a pernicious yet mostly polite presence: journalists.
Journalists have descended on this border community—once drowsy, now sullen at the breakfast table—to write stories about the border. And increasingly, there are reporters writing stories about reporters writing stories about the border. This is one of those stories.
“We kind of take our close communities for granted,” said Raven Jones, who lives in Derby Line but whose parents are professional cheese waxers in Stanstead (retired). “Just neighbors who spend our days living side by side and our nights shining laser pointers at the border guards. But I guess it’s interesting if you’re not from here. And when you think about it, most people aren’t.”
And most reporters aren’t. Actually, we can confirm that none are. Zero percent of reporters are from here. If we led you to believe there was a possibility of local-based reporters doing border stories, we apologize. We’re sorry we brought it up at all.
“We’ve had lots of reporters visit over the years,” said Ms. Jones. “Right after 9/11. A bit later after 9/11. A few years after that to see how 9/11 changed us. When Trump was running for president. When Trump was elected president. When Trump was amazingly still president. Stories about which was worse, 9/11 or Trump being president. And sometimes reporters came just because they saw a story about Stanstead and Derby Line and thought it would be neat to do an almost identical story of their own.”
For years, reporters traveled to the border community, remarked upon the flower pots at the border and interviewed five people. The same five people.
“This is my 343rd interview!” said Ms. Jones.
Then COVID happened…
The twin beds, once so tenderly coexisting, have been pushed to opposite sides of the bedroom by governments that have banned bed jumping to prevent the spread of disease and painfully stretched metaphors.
Darren Pabsnik is a reporter for “Fondue You,” a fromage-focused podcast based out of Washington, DC (his parents’ attic). In January, he was sent to Derby Line to report on how the border closing was affecting the lives of border citizens and their love for Monterey Jack.
“I thought I would be here a day, maybe two, talk to the people everyone else had talked to, and I’d be on my way,” said Mr. Pabsnik. “But I’m stuck on the U.S. side of the border. How am I supposed to finish my story if I can’t interview the obligatory local Stanstead historian? And the library! Good Gruyere! The library!
That library is the Haskell Free Library, which sits directly on the Canada-U.S. border and is a mandatory feature of every border story. When the border shut down in the spring, the library closed as well. Now it has become Ground Zero for reporters attempting to complete their border stories. A tent city has popped up on either side of the flower pots as reporters wait for a librarian to talk to. The tent city includes no twin beds.
“Some days we hear the librarian is coming soon, that he’ll tell us how the locals don’t really think about the border,” said Mr. Pabsnik. “Or maybe he’ll tell us COVID has been hard for the community. Its for the librarian to say. But we’ll get the quote. We know he’ll come. He has to come.”
Before long, other reporters arrived to report on reporters at the border, inspired by other stories they had seen about reporters at the border. They interviewed five reporters. The same five reporters.
“This is my 68th interview,” said Mr. Pabsnik.
In response to the influx of reporters, this groggy border community has rallied to provide the journalists with their basic needs: coffee, left-over press conference food and a change of clothes once a week. But their patience, like an ancient coverlet on a twin bed, is wearing thin.
“We just want to get back to normal life,” said Ms. Jones, “and that’s excitedly reading every single story about ourselves and sharing them all on Facebook.”