Business picks up in April. As winter recedes, customers whom I haven't heard from in months poke their heads out of their gopher holes and consider the world. Sniffing the spring air and spying the snow-free grounds, they call me and venture downtown for the evening.
"Made it through the winter in one piece?" I ask. "Barely," they reply, chuckling.
The same goes for out-of-towners. The warmer-weather Queen City beckons far and wide, animating the local hospitality industry, the taxi fleet included. The big bump comes as May skips into June and summer really kicks in, but April has her charms, as well.
At the Sweetwaters intersection — Church and College — a trio of people hailed me curbside, two women and a man. The lone man was husky and preppy with his tan sports coat and lime-colored cotton shirt; his circular wire-rim glasses struck me as '70s John Denver. The two women were a study in contrasts. One was small, bright and bubbly; her friend was tall and curvaceous and wore a stunning mauve dress that displayed her glorious cleavage from here to eternity, thank you very much. All three were African American and appeared about 30 years of age.
"The Fairfield in Williston?" the man asked through the passenger window that I had lowered for him.
"Out by Taft Corners and the big box stores?" I replied, seeking confirmation. The hotels often seem to change names and corporate allegiance; when in doubt, I double-check.
"Yeah, I think so. There's a Walmart behind us."
"Yup, that's what I thought. Jump in."
The man and the smaller woman took the backseat as their friend settled in beside me. As we ascended the Main Street hill, my seatmate pivoted and said, "How fun was that? I totally needed a night of glamming it up and not thinking, and this really did the trick. Did you enjoy yourself, Shakia?"
"Burlington is awesome," her friend replied. "We should do this more often."
We eased onto the highway just as "Oh, What a Night," the Four Seasons' final charted hit, came on the radio. The twosome in the back started singing along, so I adjusted the fade to engage the rear speakers. "Crank it up!" the man said. "We love this song."
As the whole cab joined in, the cabdriver included, I noted, "Wow, this is like karaoke."
Shakia said, "Yeah, we almost did karaoke tonight at this bar called JP's, but the waiting list was too long."
"Is that right?" I said. "What's the song you like to do?"
"'I Love Rock and Roll,'" they shouted out in unison, cracking up.
"That old chestnut by Joan Jett?" I asked, feigning great incredulity just for the fun of it. "I'd figure you guys for something much newer and hipper."
"Hey, good music is good music," the guy explained. "You know what? I'm starving. Are there any food places near the hotel?"
"Not really any restaurants open this late," I replied. "But there is an all-night gas station with a good-size convenience shop across the street."
"Oh, that'll do fine," he said. "I guess you can drop us there and we can walk across to the hotel."
"Hey, I'll be glad to wait and drive you across. It's a wide road and pretty dangerous, even this late, 'cause there's no traffic signal along that stretch."
We pulled into the Sunoco station, and Shakia stayed in the cab with me while the others went inside in pursuit of munchies. I said to her, "So, you all seem like good friends. Where are you visiting from?"
"We grew up together in Boston, and went all through grade school and high school together, if you can believe it. John and I still live there, but Tamara moved up to Bridgewater, this little town in southern Vermont, when she got married and had her two kids. It's her birthday tomorrow — actually, I guess today — and her sister paid for the hotel room for all of us as a present. She's going through a rough patch in her marriage, so she really needed this getaway."
"How sweet of you two to support your friend in this way," I said. "There's something about old friends, isn't there? I mean, new friends are great, too, but the old ones are irreplaceable."
John and Tamara returned, stuffed bags in hand. Laughing, Shakia said, "I see you guys didn't hold back."
John said, "They even had your favorites — those crazy Circus Peanuts that you love."
"Man, those are some old-fashioned candies," I said. "Those go back to my childhood. I remember they were kinda spongy and — what was it? — banana flavored? Could that be right?" I paused to giggle. "That sounds sort of disgusting, now that I say it."
Driving across the road to their hotel, I sensed Tamara's sadness, even as she basked in the love of her two besties. I could see it in her eyes. Some say the eyes are the window to the soul. If it's true, those represent a most precious window, surpassing even those of the great medieval cathedrals.
"You guys are the greatest," Tamara said to her friends, her brown eyes grown soft and misty. "My BFFs — forever and ever."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.