“So, c’mon, tell me your story, Mr. Cabbie.”
The girl sitting in the back seat was pretty — big blue eyes, loose blonde pigtails, tall and curvy — like the farmer’s daughter of a hundred risqué jokes that were already passé when I was kid. And, lucky me, she wanted to hear my “story,” whatever that meant.
And so I began. “Not much to tell. I grew up in New York City and moved to Vermont in 1979.”
I could have regaled her with further scintillating biographical data, but, glancing into the rearview, I saw my customer clicking away on her phone. “Uh-huh,” she cooed absent-mindedly. “New York City, OK. What else?” Tap, tap, tap.
Call me old-fashioned, but I resent being plied for the precious facts of my existence by a distracted and tipsy multitasker, even one so attractive. My autobiography, prosaic though it may be, is better than background noise. I wasn’t seriously miffed, but I figured it was time to can the chit-chat and sort out some business details.
“Listen — where exactly in Charlotte am I taking you?”
The girl looked up from her device, sort of. “Umm — well, right near the lake. Just keep going down Route 7. I’ll let ya know.” Tap, tap, tap.
“Do we need to stop at an ATM? I don’t take cards, and there’s no banks past Shelburne.”
“No, we’re good. I got all kinds of cash.”
I wish I could say that filled me to the brim with confidence. I have no qualms about profiling customers, and this young woman didn’t fit the bill as a fare skipper. But did she really have the cash on hand to pay for a ride to Charlotte? I had visions of idling — five, 10, 20 minutes — while she rummaged through her home in search of money or a checkbook, which might or might not materialize. Ah, well, I thought, I’ll just roll the dice. I could have requested the money up front, but didn’t want to insult her. The fact was, this was a good fare for a chilly April night.
We passed the Shelburne Museum and crested the hill. I never know what to call the crossroad at the traffic light, which changes name every few miles: Bostwick, Falls, Irish Hill, Pond. I say they should rename the entire stretch after the late governor and town resident: Snelling Boulevard. Yup, that’s the ticket, I mused. Not enough boulevards in Vermont. All this mental rambling served as a distraction, for I had a nagging misgiving about this fare. If it crapped out, that would be the nail in the coffin of an already feeble evening.
We passed Vermont Teddy Bear and approached the next traffic light. “So, here we are at the Ferry Road,” I prompted my customer. “Do ya want me to turn?”
“No, just keep going,” she mumbled, without looking up from her cellphone. “I’ll tell you when.”
I rogered that, but not happily. Ferry Road is the gateway for the vast majority of folks residing in the western section of Charlotte. This was not a good sign, but we continued on our merry way. Every mile or so, I checked in with my customer for guidance: Just keep going.
Finally and inevitably, we ran out of Charlotte territory. As the Ferrisburgh Short Stop Mobil came into view, my customer suddenly popped out of her somnambulant haze. “Oh, my,” she said, “we’ve gone too far. I’m so sorry — we needed to turn at the blinking light.”
“You mean the Ferry Road?”
“Yeah, the blinking light.”
Swinging the U-turn, I did my best to mask my exasperation. Calmly, I said, “Look, I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to charge you extra. We probably went 10 to 15 miles out of our way.”
“Sir, that’s not a problem. As I said, I have plenty of money.”
“OK — well, I appreciate that. But do me a favor. Maybe lay off the texting until I get you home. You really need to concentrate.”
“I wanted to crash at my sister’s apartment in town, but she, like, never answers her phone.”
“So the place in Charlotte belongs to, what — your parents?”
“Yeah, I grew up there. I’m a St. Michael’s student. And this summer my dad helped me get an internship at an investment bank in Manhattan. I’m so excited! It’s gonna be, like, awesome.”
Now that she was off her cellphone, this young woman was engaged and lucid. I started to feel more optimistic about a) actually finding her house, and b) her paying me the fare when we got there.
We threaded through the well- maintained fields of Charlotte, each passing house a vision out of Better Homes and Gardens. I can’t begrudge people with money for putting it into real estate. If I had the dough, I’d love to make a home in this tranquil hamlet.
After a series of turns — which, to my delight, were made following the clear and confident instructions of my customer — we turned onto a long, tree-lined and perfectly graveled path. I thought this was surely an obscure, ornate town road but was told we were now on the “property of the family estate.” Her use of the word “estate” struck me: It was matter-of-fact, absent of any irony or conceit.
The driveway, as I now understood it to be, seemed to go on for a quarter mile. Every aspect of the grounds, to the left and right, was immaculately tended, not ostentatiously but with thought and precision, like Shelburne Farms. The family home, as we came upon it, was a gabled, three-tiered affair surrounded by old-growth foliage. God knows the square footage, but I couldn’t see the far end of the structure from where she asked to be dropped.
In my customer’s purse was a wad of big bills, and she smiled as she paid the fare. “Thanks for getting me home,” she said, passing me an extra 20. I wasn’t sure, but I think I detected a wink, as if her earlier sketchy behavior was at least partially a put-on.
What the heck, I thought. I just can’t stay mad at a pretty girl with money and real estate.