A guy and a girl, arms locked with a third guy between them, approached my taxi as I idled at a traffic light in downtown Burlington. The man in the middle was three sheets to the wind, if not four. OK, then, I thought, it’s one of those deals.
“Could you get our friend here back to his place on Buell Street?” the young woman asked.
Before responding, I took a hard look at the friend. Drunk as a skunk I assessed, but not a vomiter. I just know these things; it’s a gift. “All right,” I assented, “I’ll take him. Are you certain he has the money?”
“Do you have money, Eddie?” the man asked his friend, getting up close to his face and speaking slowly, as if to a 5-year-old. Eddie grinned and gave the thumbs-up sign. They loaded him in the back seat, and off we sailed.
I knew I had made a mistake as soon as we turned onto Buell. I gave the usual You tell me when, and he told me to turn left.
“What do you mean, ‘Turn left?’” I asked. “D’ya mean at this driveway, or at the corner onto Willard Street?”
Eddie smiled broadly and clarified, “Turn left.”
At that point, I got with the program: The man had no fucking idea where he was going. Thank goodness this is happening on Buell Street, I thought, and not somewhere in the bowels of, say, Milton. Playing the hand I was dealt, I took the left onto Willard. When we reached the light at Pearl, I asked, “How’s this?”
“Ferpect,” Eddie replied, reaching for his wallet. I was quite OK with letting him out at this corner; it was ferpect, actually. Wherever he ended up, it was a warm summer night and he’d be fine.
Eddie then opened his wallet, which contained a single dollar bill. Of course, I thought. He carefully slid it out and handed it to me with a warm and congratulatory smile, as if I had just won an Oscar and he was presenting the golden figurine.
“That’s it,” I said, declining the offer. “Buddy, you’re going back downtown. I’m bringing you back to your friends.”
(Normally, when I’m about to get stiffed, I’ve learned to just eat it and let the person out. Hauling an unwilling passenger back to town can get dicey. The last time this occurred, I gazed into the rearview mirror at the raging person in the rear seat, my finger securely on the four-way autolock. And all at once, as the Bostonians say, the sun rose at Marblehead: It dawned on me that, technically speaking, I was committing the crime of kidnapping.)
Eddie’s smile wavered not a trace. To the extent he was cognizant of anything, the dude was as flexible as Gumby. Home, downtown — in Eddie’s world tonight, it was all good. When we got back downtown, I dropped my “fare” at Mr. Mike’s. Eddie sauntered into the pizza shop as if he’d been planning this all along, a living exemplar of Going With the Flow.
I pulled back into traffic and immediately decided to take a break in front of Nectar’s, just up the block. I’m quite delicate, you see, and needed a post-Eddie moment to compose myself.
I hadn’t been stopped a moment when I heard scratching on my driver’s window. I turned to look into the eyes of a most adorable young woman. She had fluffy black bangs and a baby face that brought to mind a young Linda Ronstadt.
“Do you know where Colchester Court is?” she asked in a lilting voice befitting her lovely face. “Can you take me there for $5?”
I knew I dared not hesitate, because, when it comes to girls this pretty, I’m a goner. If she asked me again, I’d probably take her for free. And if she batted her eyes one more time, I’d be paying her for the privilege of driving her home.
“Yeah,” I replied, slightly mesmerized but still fighting it. “I know where that is — just past the graveyard on Colchester Avenue. But I can’t go for five bucks. I gotta get at least eight.”
Her glorious smile undiminished, she held up her index finger, indicating I should wait a sec, and turned to walk back to the sidewalk. She returned with a tall, slim, good-looking guy — no surprise there — and together they got into the back seat. I said, “It’s an additional buck for the extra person. But if you only got eight, that’s fine.”
“No, we have nine,” she said sweetly, and off we drove. The two of them talked the whole way, something about a friend of theirs named Sam and whether he was a good catch for Ella. In dispute were Sam’s horn-dog tendencies: Could he or would he reform his slutty ways for a good woman like Ella? In the end, after much ribbing and playful pokes, the guy accepted the verdict: no effing way.
We stopped on Colchester Court, and the young woman passed me the $9. I said, “You know, to be perfectly honest, you really could have had me for the five.”
She smiled the gracious and generous smile of a woman well aware of her effect on men. “Yeah,” she said with a delightful sigh, “I knew that.”