It was a week after the Paris terrorist attack, and the Queen City was experiencing the aftershocks. Not that people weren't enjoying their weekend, but the feeling on the streets was subdued, the usual revelry turned down a few notches.
A large video screen stands atop the front doors of Nectar's downtown nightclub. Throughout the night, it shows passersby promo shots of the band playing inside, as well as notices of upcoming shows. This weekend, all of that was replaced by two alternating color photos. One depicted the French flag, three vertical bands of blue, white and red. The second was a design that had gone viral in the past week: the Eiffel Tower peace symbol.
How awesome is Nectar's? I thought. There's a good reason it's lasted 40 years and is still going strong. Every time I drove past, my attention and prayers went to our French brothers and sisters.
Coming up on the corner of Church and Main, I noticed two people, a man and a woman, in the process of saying goodbye to a friend — a short Asian person with soft, shoulder-length brown hair. Decades of cab driving told me to dock the skiff for a moment and cast a line. I pulled over, got the attention of the threesome with a pointing forefinger and, sure enough, hooked a fish.
As my passenger settled into the backseat, I asked, "Where to, brother?"
"Brother?" said my customer, mildly annoyed but with a trace of whimsy. "Oh, well," she went on, sighing. "I am working on my voice. Anyhoo, could you take me to Union Street in Winooski?"
"Jeezum, sorry," I said, shifting back into drive. "Winooski it is."
I felt bad about my case of mistaken identity, though I realized that a transgender person probably faces this daily, especially during the period of gender transition. I need to be more observant, I chided myself.
Shaking off the faux pas, I asked, "So, didja have a fun night out on the town?"
"Oh, yes," she replied, brightening. "Me and my friends ate at the Farmhouse. I don't think you can get a bad meal there."
"So I've heard from many of my customers. And I dig the fact that it used to be a McDonald's. D'ya work in town?"
Recognizing the slightly manic quality of my questioning, I chuckled to myself. I guess I was trying to make up for my "brother" comment by a show of super-affability. If it was obvious to my customer, she graciously pretended not to notice.
"I have two jobs, and I love them both." She told me about her reception position at a local college and sales job at a department store. "They're actually quite similar. It's all about customer service, and I just love people."
"I can tell that," I said over my shoulder as we took a turn onto Colchester Avenue. "What about your name? Have you chosen a new one?"
"Yes, a first and middle name — Veronica Rose. I always loved both of those girls' names."
"They do seem to fit together nicely. That must be cool, to choose a brand-new name. I guess it's an interesting time for the transgender community. For the first time, the reality of your lives has reached the greater public. It's really on the radar now. And, of course, there's you-know-who all over the media landscape."
Veronica Rose chuckled. "Ah, yes — the one and only Caitlin. Not the perfect public spokesperson, but why should she have to be? She just gets to be herself, and that's the whole point, isn't it?"
"That's really well said," I replied. "That is the whole point, exactly."
As we circumnavigated the Winooski traffic circle, I thought about the resistance — the pushback, as common parlance has it — to transgender rights. Why do these people need to make such a fuss? That sentiment, or some variation, is widespread in the public discourse. First it was black people, then women, then the gays — I mean, who's next?
But, as Veronica Rose put it, that's the whole point. Every person, by virtue of their humanity, should get to be who they are without fear of public reprisal or recrimination. I think it's as simple and profound as that. In my book, this is the truest response to the blood on the streets of Paris.
We pulled up to my customer's home. As she retrieved the money for the fare, I turned in my seat to get a better look at her. While I had initially mistaken her for a man, now I saw she had a shy, feminine beauty about her, with dark almond eyes and a pretty curl to her mouth.
"You know what?" I said. "You really do make for a good-looking woman."
"For reals?" Veronica Rose said with a laugh. "Because that's what I'm going for."
Smiling, I said, "Well, my dear, you're well on your way."