The couple looked confused, but so do most folks as they come through the door. Unlike at the main terminal, the signage in this space is poor to nonexistent, and there's nobody official to ask.
"Are we in the right spot for the Porter arrival?" the man tentatively asked the group of us collected in the room.
"You sure are," I assured them. "Welcome to the club."
There was indeed an odd social-club feeling to the room. On this snowy afternoon, a dozen of us were in this together, and a pleasant camaraderie had developed. The room had the look and feel of a low-rent doctor's office. The seating was hard plastic, and the only reading materials were TSA brochures setting forth the ins and outs of international travel — about as fascinating as IRS manuals. Some platters of hard cheese, vegetables and dips would have been nice. Perhaps I'll spring for that next time, I thought, chuckling to myself.
I'd bet few locals are aware that, during ski season, our airport handles flights from a nondomestic airline: Porter Airlines, a Canadian regional carrier based in Toronto. Because the flights originate out of the country, the planes must use a separate terminal, one equipped with a customs function. Access to this building is up Williston Road, maybe a quarter mile east of Airport Drive. (If you ever make a friend from Toronto, this information may come in handy.)
The dozen of us sat and stood around making small talk: "Where are ya from?" "Who ya picking up?" "Did ya have a nice Christmas?" Arriving passengers emerge from a wide wooden door at the far end of the room once they clear customs. How long that takes is anybody's guess.
Within a half hour, the door opened, and folks began to filter through in dribs and drabs. I held a sign with my customer's name — Bobbi Hannigan — though it was probably unnecessary, as I'd driven her a couple of times previously.
"Jernigan, good to see you," Bobbi said, extending her hand in greeting. She was a buoyant, down-to-earth woman with shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes evocative of her Irish DNA.
"Good to see you, too, Bobbi," I said, helping her with her bags.
As we approached my taxi, I got the reaction I'd been getting from all my repeat customers: "Wow, new vehicle! So, you decided to switch to a minivan?"
"Yup, I made the big move. We'll see how it handles in the snow today. It's been coming down steadily. You should have good conditions up in Stowe for your skiing."
"That's what I read online. My sister and her husband are driving down to meet me."
"Yeah, they were going to delay for a day, but the weather didn't look all that much better tomorrow. Oh, they're just texting me."
Bobbi glanced at her cellphone. "They're crossing the border at Cornwall."
"Jeez, that's an arduous ride across upstate New York, especially with the inclement weather. Tell them to take it slow and careful. Tell 'em your cabbie said that."
"I'll do just that," Bobbi assured me with a chuckle.
Southbound on the highway was slow going. You could tell the plow trucks had been through, but the right lane was far from clear, and the left was coated with snow and ice. I took a spot on the right in the parade, which was easing along at about 45 mph. Of course, some cars were speeding in the passing lane, which I considered lunacy. My new cab, fitted with four new snow tires, was performing like a champ.
To pass the time, Bobbi and I discussed our favorite TV series, always a fertile topic. Truth be told, my attention was only 25 percent on the conversation; I kept most of my focus on the road.
It took more than an hour to get to Route 108, the Mountain Road. Bobbi's destination was at the very top: Stowe Mountain Resort, where she and her sister co-owned a condo. Despite the snow, traffic wasn't too bad ascending, but I couldn't help noticing the long line of cars heading down.
Oh, drats, I thought, realizing that my timing couldn't have been worse. It was 3:45 in Stowe during Christmas week. The lifts were shutting down for the day, and a multitude of skiers were driving home, back down the mountain. I was about to be ensnared in a major traffic jam.
I dropped Bobbi at the resort and returned to the Mountain Road to face the music. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and crawling at 5 mph, if that. I could handle it, but for the one drawback of my new taxi: It is not equipped for satellite radio! My last cab came with that perk, which I initially considered a minor novelty. But within a week, I was addicted to it and wondered how I had ever lived without it.
When I got my new rig, I called the satellite company, and they sent me a DIY kit with the gear and instructions for installation. I tore into the box, took one look at the instructions and thought, Sure, DIY — for an MIT grad. I needed to call the Geek Squad at Best Buy, but, alas, I hadn't yet gotten around to it.
So I inched along, satellite-deprived, alternating between WDEV out of Waterbury (which is actually a terrific radio station and a Vermont institution) and NPR's "All Things Considered."
Jernigan, stop whining about the radio, I admonished myself. I was safe and warm in my sweet new ride, and, as the New Year approached, I had much to be thankful for.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.