I answered my phone on a snowy Wednesday afternoon, and the caller launched into his request.
"My daughter's coming up on Amtrak tonight from New York City. I guess the station is 'Essex.' I can get you the train number and time ... I have it here somewhere. Would you be available to pick her up and take her to an address in Burlington?"
"I'm sorry, but I've shut down my operation for the rest of the day. I don't know if you've checked the weather reports, but it's snowing like crazy up here, and it's supposed to continue through the night. I can tell you that there are usually a couple of random cabs that meet the evening train. And, if not, your daughter could ask the stationmaster to call her a cab. I hope that helps."
"You're sure you can't help me out?" he asked. I could hear the disappointment and desperation in his voice.
"Sorry," I repeated. "How old is your daughter? Is she applying to school up here?"
"Yeah, she's interviewing at the medical school."
"Well, Dad," I said with a chuckle. "Unless she's some kind of child prodigy — you know, a Doogie Howser situation — isn't she old enough to be arranging her own transportation? I mean, the young woman's going to be a doctor. Surely she can find her own cab."
"I just worry about her. She's still kind of young, you know, and not real experienced."
"Hey, I understand. I'm sure she'll do fine. Vermont's a safe place."
We hung up, and 10 minutes elapsed. Just as I was about to turn off my phone, the father called again.
"Look, I couldn't line up another cab. I'm asking you as a father. I'll pay you whatever you need to do this ride."
What the heck, I thought. "OK, you sold me," I said. "Just have her call me when she clears Waterbury. That's the stop before Essex. This way I'll know when to show up. There's really no way otherwise for me to monitor the arrival time, and it's often late, particularly on snowy nights. I'll charge you 30 bucks, tip included."
At half past seven, I got a call from Dad telling me that the train had just got into White River Junction, which meant it was running about an hour late. I thanked him for the update, but reiterated my initial request: Have the daughter communicate with me directly. I was, in truth, slightly peeved. Trapped in his smothering tendencies, he was complicating my job.
His daughter, Johanna, did call me from Waterbury, and we hooked up easily when she arrived in Essex Junction. She was an adorable, studious type — a pretty, petite, dark-haired girl and a self-described nerd. As we motored delicately through snowstorm conditions, I asked her about female nerd-dom.
"I imagine it's great being a female nerd," I speculated, "because all the more numerous boy nerds must be entranced."
"Yeah, well, there's that," she acknowledged, chuckling in the shotgun seat. "But the boys are mostly clingy and can't read social signals."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that," I said. "So you're a senior now? What's your college?"
"I'm in my last year at Dartmouth. It's tough to be leaving. I really loved college. I live at a Greek house."
"Really? That sounds wild. I mean, Dartmouth has that reputation. I believe the movie Animal House was based on your school."
"Well, not in my case. My house is all nerds. To give you an idea, we have, like, Star Wars theme nights. How wild is that?"
"Sounds cool to me. I always wanted to be a Wookiee. So, what about your medical career? Do you have a specialty in mind, or are you just waiting to see how it goes in medical school?"
"I'm thinking about psychiatry, but it's way too early to tell. A lot of entering medical students get their ideas about specialties from movies and TV shows, but when they actually begin taking classes, they see how the reality doesn't quite match up."
The stretch of highway between Winooski and Burlington was down to one lane going about 35 miles an hour. I took my spot in the parade and moseyed along. I had no need to rush even if I could have. "So, how about your dad?" I threw out there. "He seems a tad overprotective. How's that for you?"
"Oh, dear old Dad," Johanna said, with a charming sigh of equal-measure exasperation and affection. "He's just an anxious person. About everything, really, not just me. Don't get me wrong — he's a great father. He can just make me crazy sometimes with his hovering. As a parent, he's totally helicopter-y."
"Well, you know," I suggested, "better overprotective than underprotective and disengaged." I paused for a chuckle. "I can see, though, why you're considering psychiatry."
"That's what they say about shrinks," she said, joining in the levity. "They're all just trying to figure out their own messed-up lives."
The following afternoon I got another call from Dad. Somehow, I wasn't surprised. "Johanna is taking the morning train back tomorrow. Any possibility you can give her a ride?"
"I'm sorry," I replied, "but I don't do the early-morning stuff. I'm mostly a night cabbie."
I expected the pleading routine again, but he surprised me. He said, "OK, then I'll have to find somebody else. I do appreciate your picking her up last night."
"Hey, my pleasure. Your daughter is a delightful, self-possessed young woman. Not to be intrusive, but I really think you can loosen the reins a little bit. She knows how to take care of herself, she really does."
"How do you think she got that way?" he countered, clearly on the defensive. I had pushed my way into his life and hit a nerve. "She's self-assured because she knows I have her back. And that's never going to change."
"I didn't mean to suggest otherwise," I said, retreating. "She's lucky to have a dad who cares about her and looks after her."
Hanging up, I made a note in my Book of Life — and not for the first time — to refrain from offering gratuitous advice. Scratch that; make it advice in general. My friend Don has an apt maxim: Nobody wants your opinion. And even when they say they do, they don't really.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.