Beep, beep, beep.
“OK, I’ll pick you up at 8:15 tonight, but I gotta run. I got another call coming in.”
I clicked off the one customer, scowling at my infernal cellphone. I could say that I have a love/hate relationship with technology, but hate/hate is more on the mark. No matter how many times I try it, the call-waiting maneuver escapes me. In the relentless race of 21st-century life, I’m way behind and out of breath, with no realistic hope of ever catching up.
I pushed a few buttons, more or less at random.
“Hello, hello? Do you need a taxi?”
“Oh, yes,” the caller responded. (Eureka!) “I’m at St. Michael’s College. I need to get to a hair appointment downtown.”
I recognized the quiet voice — slightly accented and almost musical. This regular customer was an international student from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“Hey, Celine — is that you?”
“Yes, it is. Can you drive me? I’m at my dorm — Pontigny.”
“Sure thing, I’ll be right over. Where am I taking you, exactly?”
“The woman said her salon was on East Webb Street.”
“Celine, I’ve been doing this over 25 years, and I don’t think Burlington has a ‘Webb Street,’ east or otherwise.”
“That’s what the woman said. She said it was right near the police station.”
“How about this?” I proposed. “I’m shooting up to St. Mike’s to get you right now, but could you give me her phone number, and I’ll call her myself to get good directions?”
“That would be great,” Celine said, with a sigh of relief. She gave me the number along with the woman’s name — Tamika.
Cruising through the UVM campus, I nearly wiped out about three cars as I dialed up Tamika. While driving, I can safely consume a drippy sandwich as I listen to the Red Sox and keep an eye out for fares. But I should be arrested for making cellphone calls in traffic. Honestly, I’m a menace.
“Hello, there, I’m trying to reach Tamika. I’m a local cab driver.”
“Yes, this is Tamika. How can I help you?” The woman had a syrupy, Southern voice, probably African American.
“Oh, great. I’m driving a girl to your salon. She told me you were on East Webb. I’m just not familiar with that street.”
“You’re a cabbie and you don’t know East Webb?” Tamika sounded utterly incredulous. “Darlin’, that’s only one of the main thoroughfares in town.”
“Sorry, I just don’t know it. Where are you in relation to, say, Church Street?”
“Well, there is no Church Street. There’s North Church Street or South Church Street.”
Okeydokey, I thought, this woman is a total flake. “I’ll tell you what,” I suggested. “My customer said you were right near the police station. Could you meet us there in, say, 15 minutes?”
“Meet you there?” Her exasperation was evident. I suppose mine had been, too. “I’ll have to leave the shop, but, sure — I’ll be there in 15.”
I scooped up Celine and, on the way into town, told her the plan. I’ve been driving this delightful girl since she was a freshman. A senior this year, she is a slightly built young woman with large, soulful eyes. I’ve found her pretty unflappable, a quality that might come in handy the way this trip was shaping up.
“Jernigan, I’m so sorry to put you through all this,” she said. “I just needed to find a place that knows how to cut my hair.”
I understood what she was talking about. The hair of black women is a special and beautiful thing. Chris Rock, I believe, just directed an entire documentary on the subject. “Hey, no problem,” I assured her. “Like I said, Tamika is meeting us. It’s all good.”
We arrived at the Burlington Police Department, and I took up a position at the Battery Park entrance, right next to the Beansie’s bus. Five more minutes elapsed, and I asked Celine to call back Tamika.
“Hello, Tamika?” she said into her cell. “We’re waiting for you at the police station. At the entrance at Battery Park? Do you know how long you will be?”
Celine looked at me quizzically as Tamika answered. Covering the phone, she whispered, “She says there’s no such thing as Battery Park.”
“Give me the phone,” I said, signaling with my hand. “Tamika,” I said, “we’re at the main entrance to the police station. Where are you?”
“I’m at the police station, and I don’t see no taxi.”
All of a sudden I heard ambulance sirens coming over the phone. “Tamika,” I said, really trying to stay calm, “we’re talking about the Burlington Police station, correct?”
“Yes, I’m right here. Can you hear the sirens? A motorcyclist was just hit right up the street.”
I glanced out my window down North Avenue. No sirens, not an ambulance in sight. “The Burlington Police station,” I repeated, like an idiot.
“Sweet Jesus,” Tamika said. “Yes, the police station. Burlington. North Carolina.”
I dropped the phone. “Celine,” I said, aghast, “I think this woman is nuts. She just said she was in North Carolina.”
I could see a light switch on above my customer’s head. “Oh, Lord,” she said sheepishly, “I Googled this salon. I’m sure I put in ‘Burlington, Vermont,’ but maybe something screwed up.”
We laughed and laughed. Later that afternoon, I called back Tamika and the two of us laughed, as well. And I will probably laugh every time I tell this hackie story for the rest of my life.