The person hailing my cab from the intersection of Burlington's College and Church streets cut a striking figure. The "Woman in Black" popped to mind, a distaff version of Johnny Cash's "Man in Black."
Everything she wore was jet-black, including — most Cash-like — a duster falling just above her high-heeled laced boots. Completing the look was a pair of oversize dark sunglasses and a fluffy woolen cap, setting off a cascade of blond hair.
But, arresting as she was, the woman's appearance was not what astonished me that sunny autumn afternoon. Rather, it was that someone was actually hailing me! With the advent (not to say infestation) of Uber and Lyft, what was once the most prosaic urban phenomenon — a pedestrian flagging down a taxi — has become, seemingly overnight, a quaint anachronism. Like everything from ordering a pizza to finding your soul mate, summoning a cab is now all about the app.
I noticed a suitcase at the woman's side and immediately figured airport, which turned out to be correct. Activating the automatic sliding door of my minivan, I pulled alongside her and said, "You could put the bag in the rear seat and sit in the front, if you like."
She replied, "Yes, that would be great." The way she pronounced "great" rhymed with "light." An Aussie, I figured.
Taking off toward the airport, I asked, "So, the Land Down Under, do I got that right?"
"We get that all the time, but I'm actually from New Zealand," my customer replied.
"A Kiwi — far out," I said. "That's awesome. It's really crazy, because just earlier today I was fooling around on YouTube and caught this amazing video of a haka being performed at a wedding celebration in New Zealand."
"I bet I know just the clip you're talking about," she said. She had removed her sunglasses, revealing clear and brilliant blue eyes. "If it's the one you're referencing, it was of a mixed-ethnic couple, and the bride was Maori. Yes, it was so moving it quickly went viral."
"You know — and please correct me if I'm wrong about this — but of all the world's colonized nations, it seems to me that your country has the most harmonious relations between the indigenous peoples and the white descendants of the colonizers. I'm sure things are far from perfect, but is my impression close to accurate?"
"Yeah, you're probably right about that. It's taken years and a lot of government action to move in that direction, though. It's not for me to say as a white person, but I do think racial progress has been made in our country, at least attempting to atone for the horrid past."
"Talking about horrid pasts — and not-so-great presents, for that matter — what brought you to the good ol' USA?"
"I work in animation, and I just completed an artist-in-residence program at Northern Vermont University in Johnson."
Say what? I thought. Then I remembered that Lyndon and Johnson State colleges had merged, and the now-joint institution had assumed the lofty name of "Northern Vermont University."
"So, you were the 'artist,' I take it?"
My customer chuckled. "It sounds a wee bit pretentious when you say it like that, but yes. I got to work on my stuff and work with the students at the Vermont Studio Center, I guess they call it. It was a great time and very productive for me, though it has left me a bit knackered."
We finally made it through the UVM zone and were contending with Williston Road traffic. From the frying pan into the fire, as they say. But, with my window half-cracked, the weather was energizing — sunny, brisk and bracing. Plus, I was getting to hang out with a kreative and komely Kiwi.
"So, do you have a family back in New Zealand — a partner, kids?"
"I don't have kids, and I recently got out of a long-term relationship, so I'm not looking. We were a couple nearly eight years. It's going to take me a minute to get over that. Or a few years."
"Eight years is a long time," I commiserated. "You need time to heal emotionally."
"We were so young when we got together, my first serious boyfriend. He was an artist like me, very talented and attractive, and our life together was so exciting, at least in the beginning. But he didn't have it in him to really build a future with me, like in his heart and soul, if you know what I mean."
"I do know what you mean."
"I think as we get older," she continued, "you begin to understand who you are as a person, and out of that, what you need in a relationship."
"That's a deep insight."
"Live and learn, right?"
"That's the idea," I replied with a chuckle.
Pulling into the airport horseshoe, I asked, "Hey, do you Kiwis eat Vegemite, or is that strictly an Aussie thing?"
"Oh, yes — we love Vegemite. I guess it's a ghastly taste to foreigners. It's one of those foods you have to grow up with."
"Well, cheers to that," I said, smiling.
"Cheers, mate," she replied, putting her sunglasses back on as she turned to hop out and face the world. I felt like I had made a sweet connection with a native of the Land to the Right of the Land Down Under.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.