The two girls chatting in the back of my cab were going to St. Michael's College. Though UVM has more than double the enrollment, we local cabbies probably drive more St. Mike's students, and this has been true for a while. The reason is the free UVM bus, instituted about two years ago, which makes a circuit between downtown and the UVM dorms throughout the evening hours. This dastardly, big fat student scooper has eliminated 90 percent of our UVM fares. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
"So what dorm are we living in this year?" I spoke over my right shoulder as the cab climbed the Main Street hill.
The girl on the right side said, "We're freshmen. We're living in Lyons." She was fresh-faced with straight red hair. I took notice of her blue down jacket, a sure sign of autumn in Vermont.
"Lyons it is," I said. "And that's no longer women only, do I got that right?"
"Yup, that's right," the other girl replied and began to chuckle. Like her friend, she was bright-eyed and bubbly. It's great to be 18. "I guess it went co-ed a couple years ago. We girls in Lyons now have to live with all kinds of nasty boys."
"Well, I guess you might as well get used to it," I commiserated, chuckling along.
"Isn't it awesome, Rosa?" the redhead said, turning to face her friend. "It doesn't even hurt that much." She reached up to gently rub what must have been a newly installed nose ring, a small, glistening stud.
"Yeah, it does look great, Caitlin," Rosa said. "Wait till you tell your sisters."
"Where'd you have it done?" I asked. "At Yankee Tattoo?"
"Nope, I went to Body Art, the place up on Main Street. I'm, like, so psyched. My two older sisters both have nose rings, so it's, like, a family thing."
"Nose rings can look really beautiful," I said. "Now, maybe this is a generational thing, but piercings that go beyond the ears and nose I can't really get into. They're, like - "
"Skanky?" Rosa interjected. "I've never seen a lip ring that I, like, really thought looked good."
"I didn't want to use that word," I said with a laugh. "But, you know, it's a similar thing with tattoos. They can look great, but you gotta think about how you're going to feel about it when you're, like, 60. Maybe it makes sense to stick to positive images, something that's inspirational and meaningful."
"Yeah, I know just what you mean," Caitlin said. "There's this girl on my floor who suffers from anorexia and went through a rehab program. When she got out, she got a tattoo of a geisha on her back. For her, this represents her inner beauty. So, like you said, this will be something that could always have meaning for her, even when she gets, like, old."
As we exited the highway onto Route 15, I thought about these two friends, Rosa and Caitlin. I got the sense that they had just met as freshmen, newly emancipated and on their own. What an amazing time of life: You're not a child any longer, but not quite an adult. It's a period of transition fraught with challenges and thrilling opportunity. Forged at an age when a young person is discovering who they are apart from the influence of family and community, these college relationships often develop into some of the deepest lifelong bonds. These two could very well be sitting in a living room when they're both 60 - if houses still come with those in the year 2050 - reminiscing and admiring each other's fading tattoos.
Pulling around to the Lyons dorm, I heard some cheering on the radio and raised the volume. A Red Sox player had just blasted a home run against the Indians.
"All right!" Rosa shouted out. "Maybe they could still pull this series out. Beckett pitched so great last night. His curveball was unhittable."
"Man, you guys are genuine Sox fans," I said. "I mean, that's some real baseball knowledge I'm hearing."
"Hey, dude - excuse me," Caitlin deadpanned. "We are St. Mike's students. What do you expect?"
"My apologies," I replied with a laugh. "We're talking about some Boston homegirls, no doubt."
"You got that right," Caitlin said, laughing along.
They split the fare, and Rosa passed me the money. "You want to see the nose ring?" Caitlin asked before she stepped out. I found this a touching gesture, given that I was a random cabbie she had only just met.
"Sure," I replied, and pivoted in my seat.
Caitlin leaned forward in hers and turned her head to show me the profile, highlighting the left side of her nose. It was a cute nose, made cuter by the sparkly little insert. Noses are underrated, I observed for the first time in my life.
"Quite cool," I weighed in. "Your sisters will definitely approve."
"They better," she said, laughing as she hopped out of the cab.
Get more drive time with Jernigan Pontiac on his blog, Yo, Hackie!.