"Hi, I'm John Vasquez. Holly from the car rental agency recommended you. I'm flying into Burlington, due in about an hour. Can you pick me up?"
Holly, the manager of a Majestic Car Rental and an all-around lovely person, throws me work now and then, and I love her for it. Over the years, I've accumulated a few choice "referrers" like Holly — the friendly bartender, waitperson and hotel clerk here and there. Kindly folks who help keep me in business.
"I think so, John," I told my new customer. "Where ya headed?"
"I'm visiting my daughter for Thanksgiving. She's at Vermont Law School. I think the town is Royalton. I don't want to drive, and Holly said you're good."
"She's right," I replied with a chuckle. "I am good. And, yeah, I know the law school. It is in South Royalton. The easiest way to do this is to call or text me when your plane touches down in Burlington. Then I'll meet you by the baggage belt in, like, 15 minutes. I'll be the skinny guy in a black cabbie cap."
I usually rendezvous with airport fares at their arrival gate carrying a sign, but sometimes I use the touchdown/text method. It saves me a significant amount of time and spares me from the rigmarole of monitoring the flight and showing up early to be on the safe side.
An hour later, text received, I stood by the baggage belt watching for John Vasquez. A well-built, husky guy came down the escalator. He was the right age to have a kid in graduate school, and his swagger matched his phone voice. This was a man who exuded power and confidence.
We hooked up and shook hands. Taking in his charcoal-gray sheepskin coat with fluffy white lining, I said, "John, I have to tell ya — that is one happening coat you got there."
"Thanks," he said. "I'm from Palm Beach, and my daughter told me how freezing it is up here, so I picked it up for the visit. The salesman told me they killed three sheep to make it."
I laughed, sensing that I wasn't the first person to whom he'd told that joke, if it was a joke. Plus, it had been in the mid-40s all week; his Florida take on "freezing" weather was amusing to me.
John's checked bag appeared on the belt, he gathered it up and we took off to South Royalton. It's a straight shot of about 70 miles down the interstate. At my invitation, John was riding shotgun, making it easier to schmooze. "So, how do you know Holly?" I asked.
"I've sold her a bunch of Toyotas. I have a company that sells cars to rental agencies all up and down the East Coast."
"What a great niche business," I said. "Were you always in the automobile trade?"
"Pretty much. I've owned a number of dealerships, but I've sold those off to concentrate on supplying the rental market."
"Did you study business at school?"
"I did — Kansas State in the '80s."
I glanced again at my middle-aged but still muscular customer. "Let me guess, you played ball in school?"
"Good guess. I played football, outside linebacker on a full scholarship. I wasn't the biggest guy, but I was quick and a hard worker. I managed to play all four years. I ran a four-eight back then, if you could believe it."
I could believe it. For some reason, speed for a football player is based on a 40-yard dash, and any time under five seconds is excellent.
"Did you get a sniff from any NFL teams?" I asked.
"No, at five-10 and 220, I was too small to even have that aspiration. That's why I took my studies very seriously."
"So, your daughter is at the law school? Good for her."
"Yeah, it's her first year, and I'm the proud papa. She wants to study environmental law, and Vermont apparently is one of the best schools in the country for this. My son is in similar work — he's an environmental engineer for the City of Orlando, in charge of energy-efficiency projects."
Ironic, I silently mused. The dad had sold probably thousands of carbon-burning cars through the years, and both his kids were tipping the scales in the opposite direction, trying to help the environment. Not that I was making moral judgments: I'm the guy who's burned through 200 to 300 gallons of gas a month for decades. When I die, I'll probably be consigned to Hades. And my hellish job for the rest of eternity? What else? Uber driver.
As we cruised past Northfield, a deer appeared in a passing field. John asked, "Is hunting a big thing in Vermont?"
"It's definitely a fixture of rural culture. Do you hunt, John?"
"I did a lot when I was in college in Kansas. Good deer hunting in that state. Nowadays, I'm all about deep-sea fishing. I get out in my boat whenever I get the chance."
Gosh, I am riding with a bona fide manly-man, it occurred to me — an outside linebacker who hunts, fishes and sells Toyotas. Me, I'm more of a tiptoe-through-the-tulips kind of guy. With or without a parasol.
"So, what are your plans for Thanksgiving with your daughter?"
"Ellie and I will stay at the Killington resort and watch a World Cup ski competition scheduled for this weekend. I guess they've been making snow for weeks."
As a former competitive athlete, John was amped about the live sporting event. But I could tell he was more excited about spending time with his only daughter. The older they get, the less these precious opportunities arise.
Reaching South Royalton, we GPSed Ellie's address. It's a funky small town, and boarding and feeding the law students surely represents a major chunk of the local economy. I've read that the long-term finances of the school are somewhat shaky. If so, I hope the trustees devise a plan to stabilize the books. Vermont deserves to maintain its first-class law school, and I appreciate the occasional fares down there.
Ellie was waiting in front of her apartment when we pulled up. She was a beautiful girl, very professional and put together, as befitted a future barrister.
"Daddy, you made it!" she said, as he leapt from my cab to meet her loving embrace.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.