It was a frosty predawn morning when I pulled into Carrie Anne's driveway in Charlotte. On fares to the airport like this one, I aim to arrive some 10 minutes early; from years of experience, I've gleaned that that's about the time a typical customer starts anxiously glancing out the window. Traveling is inherently stressful and, in my capacity as transporter to the airport, I do my best to alleviate that particular stressor.
Yeah, I know — I'm a bodacious cabbie.
Carrie Anne came bounding out, raring to go. Hopping out to relieve her of her baggage, I greeted her with, "I'm Jernigan. Good to meetcha. Feel free to grab the shotgun seat if you'd like."
Getting under way, it was clear that my customer was fully awake despite the hour, the moon still visible in the incipient sunrise. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that her natural perkiness has been caffeinatedly enhanced, I thought. Which was fine with me, 'cause I was feeling chatty.
"So, are you a Vermont girl?" I asked.
Carrie Anne chuckled, replying, "Well, that's a long story."
"I beg to differ, but I don't think it is," I pushed back, adopting a tone of mock pretentiousness. "Was your body born in Vermont?"
"OK, I see what you're getting at, like, your great-grandparents need to be born here to claim Vermonter status. How about this, then? I went to UVM from '73 to '77; we've lived in Charlotte since '84. Plus, I had a friggin' kid here."
"All righty, then," I caved, chuckling. "The friggin' kid is what sold me. So, tell me — what made you choose UVM?"
"That's easy," she replied. "I liked the picture on the cover of the brochure they sent me. Brilliant, right?"
"Hey, I was 18 once, too. So, what was UVM like in the mid-'70s? I didn't settle here permanently until '79."
"Well, I guess I was what you'd call a 'wild chick.' The drinking age was still 18, so let's just say I took full advantage of it. Plus, I'm Irish, so there might have been a genetic thing going on, as well."
"Sounds like fun times," I said, laughing. "Where did you go for the next — what, seven years, I guess? — until you returned in '84?"
"I did a stint in the Peace Corps, stationed in Nepal. When I returned stateside, I worked at a home for troubled teenage boys in Massachusetts. It was located on its own actual island, if you could imagine."
"Pardon my French, Carrie Anne, but you gotta have pawnshop balls to take a job like that! I mean, the setting sounds classically Stephen King-ish. You're lucky the rapscallions didn't take you hostage."
"I guess I'm tougher than I look, because I never ran into any problems like that. The boys just needed someone to listen to them, is basically what it came down to."
Motoring north on Route 7 through the town of Shelburne, I continued the chronological interrogation. "So, what drew you back to Vermont?"
"Well, I always wanted to return and, as luck would have it, my husband got a job offer in Burlington and we jumped at the opportunity. We put in an offer on the Charlotte house and moved in a month later. And then, our first weekend up here, I got pregnant!"
"It must have been the house," I suggested with a chuckle.
"Undoubtedly," she deadpanned.
"Hey, talking about Nepal, have you tried Everest, that Indian-Nepali restaurant on Williston Road right next to the Dunkin' Donuts? Their food is delicious."
"I haven't yet, but you've sold me. I do love Indian food."
"On a related note, I was wondering about something and you're just the person to ask, if I may. Do Nepalese folks say 'namaste,' or is that just an Indian thing? Last week, when I complimented the restaurant owners on a delicious meal, I was going to say goodbye with 'namaste' but wasn't sure if it was in their cultural tradition."
"Oh, that's sweet, Jernigan. And, yes, it sure is. To be really cool, when someone says 'namaste,' you can return it with 'namaskar.' That's the honorific response."
We reached the airport terminal and, as she paid the fare, Carrie Anne said, "I'm so glad I found you and now have a real cabdriver. My son tells me he exclusively calls Uber and has tried to get me on that."
"Oh, heavens! Good moms don't let their offspring use Uber. You got to set that boy straight."
"Will do," Carrie Anne said, shooting me a smile before stepping out of the cab. "Namaste," she added from the sidewalk.
"Namaskar," I reciprocated, and I spent the whole ride back to town visualizing a complete Indian dinner for later that day, from pakora to gulab jamun.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.