Gail Boucher used to live in a commercial Manhattan district that had no coin laundry or corner market. Her walk-up saw little cooking or dusting. It was far from homey, but close to the office.
"For a long time, if you asked me who I was, I told you what I did for a living," said Boucher, 38. "When I was 25 years old, it was fun. When I was 35, it was just tiring. It started to feel real lonely."
So after 20 years on the New York fast track working her way through the ranks of an insurance company, Boucher shifted gears and started over in this tidy little red-brick metropolis on Lake Champlain.
A growing number of career-oriented men and women have made similar changes, trading their co-op apartments and six-digit salaries for an old-fashioned notion called "quality of life."
Many count themselves among the young urban professionals who came out of the 1980s money-making binge with spiritual hangovers. Layoffs pushed some to change; others simply took their savings and made a stab at something better.
"I just had this feeling that it wasn't worth it anymore, the money wasn't worth it," Boucher said. "It was kind of an awakening to realize, 'Gee, I don't have to live like this.' "
Today she's back in her hometown and back in an old job--working as a secretary. "I don't even have a business card--and it's wonderful!"
No more 16-hour days. There is time for baking cookies, ice skating with her niece, even dating the boy next door she ignored when they were teen-agers.
Los Angeles psychologist Melvyn Kinder predicts that those baby boomers who can afford the change will increasingly focus on quality of life in the coming years.
"Time will be to the 1990s what money was to the 1980s," said Kinder, whose new book "Going Nowhere Fast" rejects career treadmills. "People are looking for new answers . . . a sense of connectedness, a sense of community."
Madison Avenue already has picked up on this yen, pushing environmentally kind products, country fashions and Jeep-style vehicles. Publishers have keyed in with new magazines such as Countryside, which advertises itself as "the way life ought to be." Note, too, the vogue in such "old" values as family, nature, religion and its rituals.
"There was a time in the last decade or so when contentment sounded dangerously close to complacency, which sounded like mediocrity," Kinder said. "But I think we're seeing a massive shift in values."
By 1988, Aaron Thomas already had sensed the price of success as defined by Donald Trump and other wheeler-dealer icons of the Reagan era.
"I was killing myself and breaking even," said the former New York banker, whose Manhattan studio was a bargain at $865 a month.
"I turned 30 and asked myself if I wanted to be doing this with my life," said Thomas, who now pays $450 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with a view of the lake and mountains that ring the Burlington area and its 38,000 residents.
Now a part-time writer and market researcher, Thomas has open to him all the arts, academic, political and sports opportunities so easily accessible here and in other smaller cities such as Santa Fe, N.M., and Chapel Hill, N.C.
It's a lifestyle that tempted Steve Infeld, 29, a casualty of Wall Street's widespread layoffs. He turned misfortune into a chance to build something different last fall.
"I always felt behind in the '80s. I made a good living, but I didn't make a sick amount of money like a lot of people were and it was kind of bugging me," said Infeld, who sold mutual funds in Manhattan.
"This is a totally new life for me. I'm not so concerned with whether I'm going to be rich," said Infeld, who now tends bar. "I'm worried about finding a good environment and getting involved in something where I can grow."
The number of baby boomers nationwide who moved to secondary cities increased by 250,000, or 12.5%, to 2.25 million between 1989 and 1990, according to annual U.S. Census surveys.
Migration to Vermont dropped off in the early 1980s but accelerated by decade's end to place the state among 19 nationwide with population gains of 10% or more over the last decade, according to the 1990 census.
"In the 1970s, Burlington was a very popular place to move to," said Ken Jones, a state policy analyst. "Many of those who wound up here said it was easier psychically. The pace is a little slower, the air cleaner."
Marcy Murray knew it was time for a change when, standing in the middle of a New York grocery, she found herself on the verge of tears for no clear reason. She was depleted and weary, wishing for more laughter in her life.
"I was giving my job too much and I learned a difficult lesson: It wasn't worth the money to be giving up a part of myself," said Murray, 29, who gave up her product development job at Tambrands Inc. in 1989.
Now a marketing manager at Chittenden Bank, Murray is minutes from after-work hiking, skiing, sailing or swimming.
Her home harbors a well-worn armchair for lounging in winter and a back yard to eat breakfast in come spring. It's a cheery contrast with the old urban studio she decorated in a cold, minimalist style: bed, table, TV on the floor.
"It's so rejuvenating to have the space to be introspective, to go someplace quiet and figure out what you're feeling," Murray said. "Before, I felt like that part of me was dying."
It's a spiritual emptiness many have pondered and tried to explain. Karl Marx called it the inevitable byproduct of capitalism. T.S. Eliot called it "The Wasteland." Historians call it cyclic.
"There's a general disenchantment after one of these splurges of materialism, a recoiling against self-absorption and greed . . . and making a fast buck as the dominant purpose in life," said historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., author of "The Cycles of American History."
Reactions against the status quo often closely follow periods of great material prosperity, such as the Roaring '20s and nuclear 1950s.
Those making the changes today say they are not so much rebelling as adapting, trying to find a way to blend professionalism, dual-career households and commitment to community values.
"People weren't being fulfilled. They could buy second homes and wonderful cars, but there was an emptiness," said Evie Dworetzky, 32, who used to travel 200,000 miles a year as a New York-based marketing consultant.
"People got caught up in a cycle: making $400,000 a year and still feeling poor," said Dworetzky, who now manages special projects at Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., a socially conscious ice cream firm based near here.
"For a long time we were going too fast. But I think age caught up with us," she said. "I think we're growing up."