Let us now consider the sticky dilemma of the out-of-town fare. I'm not here referring to the near out-of-town, like St. Albans, Middlebury or Stowe, but the far out-of-town - N.Y.C., Boston, Portland.
A cabbie can score a big payday if he or she is willing to drive a customer a few hundred miles. So, why hesitate? In a word, risk.
Things occur when you're driving cab, often bad things that you'd rather not experience far from your home base. Vehicles break down, even well-maintained taxicabs. And this is what happens if you break down on Storrow Drive or the Manhattan Bridge: you're screwed! At that point, you might as well just move to Boston or the Big Apple.
Still, what's life without risk? Death, perhaps? So, under the right circumstances I will chance the lucrative out-of-towner.
Last Thursday, I found myself heading to Middlebury with two language program students. (Middlebury College offers a world-renowned summer language program.) I had picked them up at the airport; stormy New England weather had canceled their flights home for the weekend.They were bummed: one had a girlfriend waiting; the other a wife and three year-old daughter.
Says I, "Where were you guys trying to get to by plane?"
One told me Brooklyn, the other Hartford, Connecticut. I respond, "Hmm." As we drove along Route 7, I did the calculation: Apt to be a quiet Thursday night with the Vermont Brewers Festival blowing in for the weekend, 'cause the drinkers will be pacing themselves. The cab's been running smooth. Why not?
"Well, gentlemen," I begin, "here's an option for you. I can take each of you home tonight for $275 a piece."
"You mean in the cab?" one of them asked incredulously.
"Yup, in this very cab. Both Hartford and New York are connected to Vermont by land, so it's all quite doable."
The Brooklyn guy called his wife and they decided it was more than they wanted to spring for. She put the three year-old on the phone and father and daughter had a heart-to-heart about a toy horsey which I gather was named Jonathan. It might have been an imaginary horsey, which is even better.
The Hartford guy (who was much younger, a college sophomore it turned out), called his father, and they decided to go for it. Pickup would be at the Hartford Hilton Hotel. I looked at my watch, figured about four hours drive time, and told him to give his dad a 10:30pm ETA. His dad said, wisely, to call when we're a half-hour out.
We dropped Brooklyn dad back at Middlebury and climbed over the Green Mountains via the Breadloaf Campus Road through Ripton, connecting with Highway 89 at Royalton. The ride down was a breeze. With the Red Sox game playing in the background, Brian told me all about his life with a Japanese father and Irish mother. I mused, at one point, just how diverse those cultures are known to be - the Irish, all emotional and over-the-top, and the Japanese, so reserved and formal. He said, "Let me tell you, dude. You don't know the half of it!"
At one point, after we merged onto Interstate 91, Brian spoke about his grandfather who fought in the only all-Japanese battalion in the European theater. In one decisive battle, this troop, including his grandfather, earned the most Purple Hearts for bravery ever awarded for a single battle in U.S. military history. "All this," Brian explained, "while many members of his immediate family were sitting in internment camps on the west coast. But the amazing thing is, he's not bitter in the least. I've learned so much from him."
We arrived at Hartford way before his dad, who was caught in traffic. (Yes, big cities have traffic jams at ten in the evening.) I parked in front of the Hilton while Brian entered to find an ATM to get me the cash. I followed him into the hotel to - well, pardon me - urinate. Walking into the lobby, I was confronted with at least 200 African-American women, all aged 25-35, and all wearing distinctive crimson-colored blouses and hats. The energy in the big room was thrilling. I asked and discovered they all belonged to a national black sorority.
The ride back was draining. Forget about wear-and-tear on the cab, what about wear-and-tear on my beautiful middle-aged body? Still, the twenties in my pocket felt crisp, and the Lumina's engine was humming like Ladysmith Black Mambazo as the Burlington lights came into view.