“Where are you, Jernigan? Middlebury, Montréal, Stowe?”
Linda, a regular customer, was quizzing me on my whereabouts. The last couple of times she’d called for a ride, she caught me out of town with other customers and hence unavailable.
I chuckled, replying, “Nope, I’m right in town, Linda. Whaddya need?”
“I’m up at Kmart with a couple of rugs I bought, and some pillows.”
“I’m on my way, kiddo,” I said. “Less than 15.”
I enjoy all my regulars. Truly. I’m selective about handing out my business card. It’s a key benefit to working as an independent cabbie — the ability to discriminate on the basis of likability.
Linda is a cool cat, and I’ve always enjoyed my rides with her. Earlier in life, she was a dancer and nightclub singer, even making it to Broadway with a featured role in Nine, a musical based on the Fellini movie 8 1/2 and starring the late Raul Julia. So wow, right?
And, being with Linda, you can tell. Now into middle age, she’s still vivacious, with her bobbed red hair, easy laugh and vivid stories. She’s also raising three teenage boys alone and is perennially broke. She could be bitter — no one would blame her — but she is the opposite: still actively involved in her church, the greater community and life in general.
In front of Kmart, I helped her load her new home gear into the rear seat. She climbed into the front seat, and we took off to her Archibald Street digs. “Good stuff, Linda,” I said. “You actually can find some nice things at Kmart, I’ve found.”
“Yeah,” she said, “if you shop carefully. It’s been ages since I’ve bought any new things for the house. It feels great. I just came into a little bit of money. I’m saving most of it, but I have bought a few choice items, like some awesome new shoes — and not from Payless, if you can believe it.”
“Well, you deserve it,” I said. “Did you have, like, what — a secret admirer?”
Money, it goes without saying, is a sensitive subject. But the degree of sensitivity varies widely depending on one’s position on the economic ladder. On the higher rungs, it’s virtually taboo to discuss personal finances; here on the lower, it’s no biggie.
“I wish,” Linda replied. “No, it’s my ex, who has owed me, like, a billion dollars in child support for years and years. He was involved in some land deal, apparently, and the state got wind of it and scooped up the proceeds. After deducting some taxes and whatnot, they sent me a fat check. I mean, we’re not talking six figures, but to me, it’s a lot.”
“Well, it’s about time some good money karma came your way. That’s just great. You got big plans?”
“Yeah, I have all these issues to consider now. Like, financial planning, for Pete’s sake. I’m going to get some kind of credit card and start rebuilding my credit score, which is, like, anemic at this point. Maybe purchase an annuity with part of it. I really need to talk to people who know about these things. My, it’s nice to have first world problems to deal with for a change.”
Linda lives in a second-floor walk-up in an ancient and rambling Burlington building. If it was in better shape, it might even warrant a “historic” appellation. Together we carried her stuff up: me, the rugs; she, the pillows.
“How do you like my sofa?” she asked, as we dropped the goods in her living room.
“Quite snazzy,” I replied. “Where’d ya get it?”
“Home Depot. It’s actually new. Can you believe it? The last new couch I bought was probably a futon. Yup, those were the days.”
Sadly, it takes but the barest thread of a prompt to spur me into song. “Those were the days, my friend,” I belted out. “We thought they’d never end.”
“Not bad, Jernigan. Not bad. That’s one crappy song, but you do it justice. Speaking about that, remember ‘Feelings’?”
“Oh, God — yes. Talk about brain-numbing monstrosities. That song actually hurts my feelings. Didn’t Sarah Vaughan cover it, though? She is one amazing singer, but that was just a bad choice.”
“I got a story about that. My band and I were playing some fancy hotel in Dallas. It might have been a convention of some kind. Anyway, all those rich Texas businessmen are drinking their brandies and Johnnie Walker and whatnot, and getting drunker by the minute. One of them staggers towards the stage, pleading, ‘“Feelings,” honey, “Feelings.” I love that song. I’ll give ya 50 bucks every time ya play it.’ Yes, sir — he didn’t have to say another word. Feelings, nothing more than feelings. Trying to forget my feelings of love.”
Even fooling around with perhaps the most anodyne song of the ages, Linda sounded fabulous. I’d pay her $50 to sing it, if I had the cash.
Giggling, Linda said, “I kid you not — we must have played that sucker six times in a row.”
“Hey, I hear you,” I said, laughing along. “It’s like me: I have my standards, but I can be bribed.”
“Well, thanks for helping me today, Jernigan. You know I appreciate it.”
“My pleasure, Linda. Anytime, any place, anywhere. I mean, so long as I’m not out of town.”
Hackie is a twice-monthly column that can also be read on sevendaysvt.com. To reach Jernigan Pontiac, email firstname.lastname@example.org.