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Coming of Age



Published February 20, 2008 at 5:11 a.m.

The middle-aged man who stood at my taxi window was grasping a much younger man's shoulder and arm with both his hands, steadying him as he got my attention. As I rolled down the window the man asked, "Would you take my son and me out to Williston?"

"I don't see why not," I replied. "Is he going to be all right in the cab?"

I didn't have to specify what I meant by "all right"; the older man knew exactly what I was getting at.

"Yeah, he'll be OK. Tonight's Sean's 21st birthday, and my brother-in-law went a little overboard with him in the bar. We'll keep the window open and he'll be fine."

As we ascended Main Street, I could hear Sean moaning softly in the back seat. "Dad, I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not feeling too well."

Always on the alert, I said, "Hey, maybe we should - "

"Yeah, if you could pull over, that would be great," the man said, echoing what was on my mind.

Across from the UVM green, I eased to a stop in the right lane and clicked on the four-way blinkers. With his father's help, Sean stumbled over the curb and onto his knees in the grass. In between bouts of vomiting, he said, "Oh, man, I'm so sorry, Dad."

His father said softly, "Nothing to be embarrassed about, Sean. Don't worry about it." He kept one arm around his son's shoulder while tenderly rubbing his back with the other. After a few minutes of this he said, "You ready to get back in the cab, son?"

"I don't know, Dad. I'm not feeling too hot."

"Why don't you walk him around for a while and ring me back?" I called out through the open rear door.

"That's an excellent idea," the father said, stepping back to the cab and pulling out a twenty, which he traded for one of my business cards.

Over the next hour, I nabbed a couple of runs that took me to Winooski and South Burlington. Then a call came for a pickup in front of the university's Royall Tyler Theatre.

As the father and son re-entered the taxi, Sean wasn't looking a heck of a lot better. Their destination was the Old Creamery Road south of Taft Corners, so we took the highway. The ominous moaning started again, and the father said, "Open your window wide, Sean. Take in that fresh air. It's all about the fresh air."

I heard Sean inhale deeply a few times. Then he threw up. I reached into the glove compartment, pulled out a handful of napkins, and passed them back to the father.

"Should I pull over on the shoulder?" I asked, easing on the brake.

"Not much point now," he replied.

"Yeah, I guess that boat's already sailed," I agreed, and hit the gas. I actually was not angry, which I considered a major leap forward in my emotional maturity. Despite my best efforts at detection and prevention, this sort of thing is bound to happen a few times a year. Getting angry at this father and son, both nice folks, would serve no purpose, and would worsen an already unfortunate situation.

While comforting his despondent son, the man said to me, "We're going to make this square with you."

We exited the highway and, a few miles down Route 116, took the left onto the Old Creamery Road, a stretch of Williston home to a few hundred houses. The man directed me into a complex of private homes I'd not seen before, a collection of high-end dwellings set into a steep, winding hill. As is often the case, the residences got more and more luxurious as we climbed higher. We didn't stop until we reached the peak, pulling into the driveway of one of the most palatial homes I'd ever seen in Chittenden County. The hacienda put to shame any of the Spear Street "McMansions."

The man asked me to wait a moment and assisted his tottery offspring into the house. He quickly returned, opened the passenger door, and said, "I want you to tell me what it's going to take to make it right for you." I could tell the guy was entirely sincere.

"Well, here's the truth. It's Saturday night, midnight. The next three hours are probably the busiest of the entire week. I've got to wash out the back seat, so I'm done for the night. I'll be out 100 to 150 bucks."

He stepped back and drew a wallet from his hip pocket. I watched him remove a few bills, which he folded together and dropped on the shotgun seat. "Thanks, man," he said. "I really appreciate it."

As I backed out of the driveway, I glanced down and saw the top bill was a 100, with some other bills folded inside - probably a few twenties, I figured - so the night wasn't a total loss.

The car, however, stank. I got back on the highway and rushed into town to hit the carwash. Setting the speed control just under 70, I remembered the currency sitting on the seat beside me and switched on the dome light. I reached down to pick up the money and unfolded the top bill, the C-note. And, indeed, there were two other bills as well.

My eyes grew wide: The man had given me $300! The guy was righteous, I thought, and realized I'd be cleaning up the mess in the back with a smile on my face.

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