The guy who appeared at the window of my cab was grinning, eating a hot dog and looking glassy-eyed. It was approaching last call a.k.a. taxi rush hour and I was idling at a downtown taxi stand.
Hey, man, he said between bites. You free? How much for a ride to Hinesburg?
Out-of-town calls are usually a welcome change. They pay well and you get to see the world. But two things here gave me pause. First, at this time of night theres more money to be had on the short local runs. Second, well, this guy wanted to go to Hinesburg the bane of my cabbie existence. I have a long, bizarre history of Hinesburg fares gone haywire. I decided I would take him, but only for the right price.
Ill take you for 30 bucks, paid in advance, I said, without enthusiasm.
Thirty bucks? We paid 22 coming up here.
I understand, I said. Feel free to look for another cab. I gotta get 30; if it helps, well call it tip included.
You got a deal, he said, and with that he stuffed the remaining third of the hot dog into his mouth, brushed his hands on the front of his jeans and climbed into the back of the cab.
As we headed up Main Street he handed me the money, and I asked him where in Hinesburg we were going.
I think its 136 Pond Brook Road, he replied. Im up from Boston visiting a buddy. The lousy bastard took off on me; I think he hooked up with a woman he met in that Nectars bar.
He paused momentarily and I imagined he was recalling Unwritten Rule Number One among single men: Presented with the opportunity to have sex, every other obligation falls by the wayside.
I suppose I cant blame him, my passenger added, apparently recovering his male sense of priorities.
I started to get that sinking Hinesburg feeling. Do you know where Pond Brook Road is? I asked. Cause, Im telling you, I sure dont. I dont get down there often enough to remember the town road names.
I think its somewhere near that high school. If you can make it there, itll be easy.
Okay, I said, the impatience seeping into my tone. I can get you to the high school thats CVU but, again, I dont have a clue where Pond Brook Road is.
Relax, man, he said with a laugh. He had that alcohol-infused bonhomie. Remember the tune, Dont Worry, Be Happy? Well find the place. Itll be cake. The guy was nothing if not optimistic.
I squelched any further comment. Its Hinesburg, I thought, and Im screwed again. At least I have the 30 dollars in my pocket, but this Beantown guy has no idea how easy it is to get lost in the hills and back roads of Vermont. I can kiss the rest of the evening good-bye.
I weaved my way over to Route 116, with a small black cloud hovering over my head. Every hackie instinct told me we were never going to find his friends place, or at best it would waste a ton of time. I drove along smoldering, while my fare sang along to the tunes on the oldies station.
Twenty minutes had passed by the time wed reached the town that begins with the letter H I couldnt even utter its name at that point. I took the left toward CVU. As we approached the school, I slowed down.
Okay, buddy, I said. Anything look familiar?
Hmmm, let me see. I glanced up at the rear-view and saw him looking left and right. He appeared aimless, but still happy as a clam. Why dont we go straight for a while, he suggested. Yeah, thats it, lets go that-a-way.
His confidence was underwhelming. I pulled over to the right shoulder, and was about to give him the I told you so, when out of nowhere a battered pickup pulled up alongside us. It was the first moving vehicle no, the first sign of life Id seen since South Burlington. The guy behind the wheel had a droopy Fu Manchu mustache and a sky-blue bandana tied around his forehead.
You gentlemen look lost, the driver said. Could I help you out, cabbie?
I hope so, I replied. Pond Brook Road?
Yup, you catch Pond Road up over there. He gestured straight ahead. You go up a ways until the road curves wicked to the left.
How wicked? I inter- jected.
The man broke out in a broad smile. Real wicked. We looked at each other with goofy, two-in-the-morning grins. And then, he continued, you stay straight, dont bear left. Thatll be the Pond Brook Road.
Thanks a bunch, I said, as the pickup took off. What a stroke of luck that was, I thought to myself.
See, I told you so, came from the back. The guy was chuckling away. He leaned forward and patted me on the shoulder. I told you itd be cake.
You were right, my friend, I said. Not exactly cake, but it does look like were going to find the place.
Following the pickup guys directions, we reached the wicked curve, stayed straight and in a half-mile came upon the mailbox marked 136.
Thanks for the ride, Bubba, the man said as he stepped out of the cab. Next time, dont be so pessimistic.
For a second, I considered telling him about my Hines-burg hex, the whole sordid history. I thought he might relate Bostonians being afflicted with the Curse of the Bambino. But some things, I decided, are better left unsaid, particularly when dealing with magic.
You could be right, man, I replied instead, and took off back down the hill. Maybe the curse is over, I dared to think as I watched the Welcome to Hinesburg sign recede in my rear-view mirror.