"Take me to my car," she commanded. "It's in the parking lot. Oh, excuse me, you know -
The woman, an attractive thirtysomething, sat next to me in the shotgun seat of my taxi as we idled in front of the Green Room on St. Paul Street. She planted her elbow on the armrest dividing us and rested her chin in her palm. She wore a lot of makeup - fire-engine-red lips and powder-blue eye shadow. On some women this is overkill, but on her it came off as, well, sexy.
As she sat there just gazing at me, I began to notice her green eyes and realized her chin was not the only thing in the palm of her hand.
"Take you to your car," I repeated, shaking off the spell as I shifted the vehicle back into drive. "Which parking lot are we talking about?"
"Oh, I dunno," she replied. "You know - the one . . . you know, the one by the - oh, what do you call it? The store."
"You intending on driving home tonight?" I asked. She had been a little wobbly entering the taxi, and her coherence, or lack thereof, was giving me pause.
"Because I don't think you're in shape to drive."
"Really? Because I really think that I'm, like, fine to drive."
"Well, then, your thinking is impaired. Look, I'm just trying to help you out here. The cops are all over the streets tonight, and DUI, I'm telling ya, is like a nightmare that won't end. And God forbid you actually got in an accident and hurt somebody."
"All right, then, take me home," she said, immediately folding, much to my surprise and relief. It eats at me when I have to deliver an intoxicated person to his or her car; I feel like the wheelman at a bank heist. "I live in South Burlington," she added.
"Can we zero in just a little more?" I asked.
"Sorry. Do you know Barrett Street?"
"Sure, right up by St. Vianney's."
Along the drive up Williston Road, my customer chatted with me, or, more accurately,
As we approached Gracey's, she asked, "You take credit cards, right?"
"Sorry, I don't. Do we need to stop at an ATM?"
I pulled into a Chittenden Bank, and she began a laborious search of her handbag, which seemed to carry enough items to stock a flea-market table. Just when I was about to give up, she yanked out a bank card and held it up like she had won an Academy Award. "I'll just be a minute," she said. I was dubious.
From my vantage point outside the ATM alcove, I watched her do her thing. She was having difficulty - what a shocker. After about five minutes, I considered my next move. I've been known to leave men fumbling in ATM booths once it becomes clear they've struck out - provided the weather isn't freezing and they look like they can fend for themselves. But, the world being what it is, I won't abandon a woman; I decided I'd eat the fare and drive her gratis the rest of the way. The next moment, amazingly, she was back at the door clutching a couple of twenties.
I turned onto Barrett, and she directed me to the driveway of her home. I told her the fare was 10 bucks, and she handed me one of her twenties. "Just give me five back," she said.
As I passed her the five, she added, "
She was correct that I wasn't looking at her; in fact, I hadn't met her eyes since our first words in front of the Green Room. Discourteous though it may have been, I've taken to heart the words of a sage I once knew:
My customer remained in her seat facing me, awaiting my response.
I turned my head and looked directly into her green eyes. Behind a mask of sexual bravado, she looked lost. There was nothing I could or would do to make things better for her; I was merely her cab driver. But I also saw there was nothing to be afraid of. I was less vulnerable than I thought.
"Good night," I said. "Thanks for the tip."