This piece began as an assignment for a creative non-fiction class. Our assignment was to find somewhere in our own backyard that we had never been to, and write a travel piece about our trip. Radio Bean proved to be the perfect location for such an assignment. I welcome you to sit back with your favorite cup of tea and take a journey with me. As always, comments, suggestions, and stories are more than welcome.
The floorboards are peeling, suggesting that the first and last time they were painted was during the sixties, when beat poets scuffed them up while reading lines and drinking bottles of red wine. The ceiling is punched-tin and golden, reminding me of Mexican churches in foreign films.
The small stage where musicians perform nightly is set up in a corner, to the left of the front door. A small congregation of mic-stands leans against the wall between a cherry upright piano and an amp, dusty, with one rusty wheel that must creak when it is moved. On the piano is an interesting collection of decorative oddities: a red and black velour lamp that doesn’t seem to be in working condition, a mini Peavey amp, and an empty carved-wood candle holder in the shape of an owl, all illuminated by a disco-ball hanging from the ceiling.
The three center tables have mismatched chairs and distressed finishes, not the kind you find at craft fairs painted with crackle, but honest distress from glasses and notebooks scrapping their finishes. There are two couches, one brandy-colored with dingy gold trim, and the other, on a platform, and made from leather-print velour and black leather. Tall, large-leaved plants are in need of water.
Throughout the room the various forms of light make for a warm and otherworldly sort of atmosphere; looking at them I’m in Morocco, India, and Bangladesh. Each is different; some drip with beads, some cast a sensual red glow about the room, and others are wrought-iron balls of fire. The whole back of the room is a mirror, reflecting the glasses hanging over the cash register. The barista seems to be the only person who can decipher the myriad bottles and shakers on mismatched shelves. She whips me up a white chocolate mocha that is strong and delicious. Her dreadlocks seem to be as much a part of the setting as the floorboards and the stage.
I continually forget that I’m in a café, that I’m in Vermont, that I’m anywhere close to anywhere I’ve ever been before. There is a smattering of band posters on the back wall next to a rabbit-hole door, also red, that appears to lead to a bathroom. Above the door, precariously dangling on hooks, are extra chairs for the night crowd. Stuck in a back corner by the bathroom door is a floor-to-ceiling afterthought of a bookshelf, stacked with left-behind sweaters, songbooks, and sheet music. The wine-rack leaning against the mirror in the back seems standard enough, but upon closer examination the bottles of wine are actually resting in the naked springs of an old mattress.
Dreadlocks are common. Some people wander in and out without purchasing anything, though they all seem to have an understood purpose. A couple meanders in, the woman dressed in the typical Burlington hipster uniform of leggings and an over-sized sweatshirt with swept up hair and big jewelry, while the gentlemen has on loafers, tan chinos, a button-up shirt, and a sport coat. A construction worker crosses over from where Radio Bean seems to be expanding to include a bigger bar and more seating; his black Carhartt overalls are covered with spackle and paint stains, and as he heads toward the bathroom I can see a hole in his pants revealing the right side of his boxer briefs.
Radio Bean has acknowledged the effects of time, and how strangely beautiful they can be. My visit reminds me of the first time I drank beer, in a pub in Ireland with my dad and my Grammy, for no other reason than that it feels like home. Forty-five minutes pass in what felt like ten.
Radio Bean is transfixing, mesmerizing, and entertaining. It makes me think of that John Lennon quote: “Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted.”