Granite State of Mind, #9: Colebrook Country Club, Colebrook
In 2008-09 I was at the tail end of my five-year career with Citizens Bank. I'd spent most of that time hustling for new customers, attracting small businesses to the bank's products and services. By early 2008 I had moved into portfolio management, stewarding nearly a hundred relationships with small- and mid-sized companies throughout the state. I ranged from Seabrook to Colebrook, working with light manufacturers, restaurants, marinas, law firms, movie theaters, and just about any other type of enterprise you can imagine. I learned a heck of a lot in those days about how entrepreneurial and innovative New Hampshire can be, and about how closely our economy depends upon the small businesses that comprise more than 90% of employers in the state.
I had the privilege of working with lots of great men and women and visiting their workshops and offices and storefronts. Among my favorites came in the summer of 2008, when I made the pilgrimage north to Colebrook, nearly four hours from my native coast. I had a few customers there, and it made sense to cluster those appointments together and make it an overnight stay. While Colebrook has long been famous for the Balsams resort on the town's eastern border with Dixville Notch, I booked a room closer to the modest downtown, in the more pedestrian Colebrook Country Club. It was a cheap room, maybe fifty bucks for the night, the TV didn't work, and at seven in the evening the only real dining option was the Subway at the local gas station. At about seven-thirty I wandered into the club's lounge for a quiet drink and maybe a little writing time before bed.
I wasn't more than halfway through my early nightcap when the bar began to fill up. The folks coming in were clearly regulars, exchanging familiar greetings with the middle-aged woman behind the bar, and many of them wore the uniforms of hotel employees. These were the housekeeping and grounds crew of the Balsams, working class men and women coming the ten miles west to drink and relax in the comfortable environs of the club's lounge. I put my pen and notebook away, and listened to the conversations of the other patrons. Before too long we were talking about sports and kids and the weather and all the other things strangers talk about with a drink in one hand and a pool cue in the other. One drink became a few and one game of pool became a half-dozen and the conversation turned from pleasantries to their jobs at the resort and the NH north country economy and national politics. This was the summer of 2008, recall, and the national spirit was sagging as the economy melted down and the presidential campaign grew more bitter.
I was surprised to find a durable optimism among the people I met, as they took a few bucks off this indifferent billiards player. They were hopeful. Many lacked health insurance, were underemployed, worried about college costs for their kids, and retirement for their parents. These were blue collar, working class people who wanted nothing more than the chance to work hard and get a little bit ahead. Nobody wanted a handout. Nobody was looking to get rich quick. What they wanted more than anything was opportunity and dignity and their fair share of the prosperity of a nation. They believed it was still possible, that if you worked hard and played by the rules, America and New Hampshire were still places where you could build a future.
I'm a seacoast guy. It can be an affluent neck of the woods, with lots of Boston commuters and big houses and nice cars. It's a safe and generous and prosperous part of New Hampshire. But there are also lots of those folks I met in Colebrook in the seacoast too, people who repair engines and mop floors and wait tables, people who work harder every day for a diminishing piece of the pie. I don't pretend to any great understanding of what's happening politically or culturally in this country - much ink has been spilled on those subjects by smarter and more astute observers than me. But I do know that New Hampshire at least, north or south, mountains or coast, is full of people just looking for a fair shake in return for their hard work. Those are values I grew up with, that are rooted in my seacoast youth, but those Colebrook conversations keep coming back to me, again and again.
If for no other reason, it's the only place in town that offers two pool tables.