"How long do you think this ride will take?"
It was snowing, lightly but steadily, as it had been for more than an hour. Elena Gavrikov, my customer, was speaking to me from the shotgun seat of my taxi. We were bound for Stowe Mountain Lodge, the grand new resort toward the top of Mountain Road. Her extended family had arrived the previous day, and I had transported, I believe, her parents and younger brother. Elena had arrived at the airport terminal via the Greyhound bus out of Boston.
"Well, here's the thing," I replied. "Normally, absent snow or ice conditions, the ride is about an hour. But I'm afraid we got to double that estimate today. The highway will probably be a mess, and I doubt we'll be going more than 30, 40 miles an hour."
"No worries," she said. "I am on vacation. This is my last semester at BU."
This girl was a pint-size beauty, with long, black hair and round, dark eyes. Having met her mother, I could see where Elena got her good looks.
"Boston University, huh? In the early '70s, my older brother owned a used furniture store on the corner of Harv and Comm Ave. It was called Zeke's, named after the monkey that lived in a cage in the basement. He was always buying and selling stuff to the BU students. I mean my brother, not Zeke the monkey. Anyway, it was quite the hippie hangout back in the day. Before they got famous, the guys from Aerosmith used to spend time in his store."
"What's Aerosmith?" Elena asked, wide-eyed.
"Are you kidding me? You actually don't—"
"Got you," she said, laughing. "Boy, that was easy."
"Well, I am easy," I said, laughing along.
With rush hour closing in, Taft Corners was tangled in traffic. Combine that with the few inches of still-falling fresh snow, and I wasn't surprised to find that my highway prediction was spot-on. Swinging onto the interstate, I saw most everyone was sticking to the right lane and driving at half the normal speed. I fell right in line.
I said, "So I guess both your folks are Russian émigrés, but were you born here or in Russia?"
"My brother and I were both born in America. I'm a Jersey girl, God help me."
"Hey, Jersey rocks. Do you have any postgraduation plans, or are you just going to chill for a while?"
I'm usually hesitant to pose that question to college seniors. The pressure on them can be intense, and if they don't have anything lined up, asking about the future only adds to the squeeze they might be feeling. But Elena struck me as really together; my intuition told me that she would likely have solid plans.
"I have a job I'm starting at J.P. Morgan in New York this summer. It's somewhat entry level, but I'm not complaining. It's a foot in the door. I actually told the person who interviewed me that the position wasn't, like, my ultimate goal, but I would be happy to start small. I repeated this to my father, and he thought that was a terrible answer to give, and was sure I wouldn't get the offer. Boy, was he happy to be proven wrong! Oh, my God — I'm such a daddy's girl, and that will probably never change."
"Hey, being close to your pops is a great thing. I'm sure it has its drawbacks, too, but having parents who care and are not afraid to show it is a real boost in life."
"Yeah, I'm blessed to be close with my whole family, actually. It's a typical Russian tribe — I have endless aunts and uncles and cousins."
"So what's, like, your relationship status, if I may ask? Are you contending with a college romance? That can get dicey with graduation looming."
"I actually have a serious boyfriend who lives in New York. I met him at a bar — how cliché is that? It was when I was there interning at J.P. Morgan this past summer."
"What does he do?" I asked. "Is he a finance person as well?"
"No, he graduated medical school and took a residency in a hospital in Queens. It's actually great that he's not in business, because I'm, like, ultracompetitive, and that would be a big strain in the relationship if we were in the same field."
Finally, we made it off the highway and turned north on Route 100 toward Stowe. The going continued to be slow, but the company was enlivening. Elena was a chipper person and optimistic about the future. That's heartening to experience in a young person and, sadly, less common than it used to be.
Coming out of a lull in the conversation, Elena groaned and said, "I think my cousin Victor came up this weekend, too. That's always a challenge for me, dealing with him."
"Really?" I said. "What is it about Victor that pushes your buttons?"
"Oh, that's exactly it. Dude pushes my buttons big time. You're having a normal conversation, and he just starts spewing this false information. I mean, things that I simply know for a fact to be inaccurate. So I'm all, like, 'Victor, you're wrong about that,' and he tells me I'm wrong, and then we're, like, off and running. He's older than me, and we've been going at it like this since I was about 5."
"It sounds like he gets off on getting you going," I said. "You know what? Don't give him the pleasure. Being right is not all it's cracked up to be, anyway. Sometimes it can be just a huge waste of time and energy."
"I know, I know. I actually tell myself that, but then I see him and he hooks me every time! I just can't bear to see him go unchallenged."
"Yeah, you told me: super competitive."
Elena laughed. "Yes, sir — that's me."
"Maybe stick to the skiing this weekend."
"Maybe Victor and I can race?"
"Perfect," I said, chuckling. "You and Vic can settle the thing once and for all."