Travis Kennedy was a burly man: 6-foot-3 if he was an inch, and probably 230 pounds. He was handsome, too, with a mop of curly, salt-and-pepper hair and a classic profile reminiscent of a Greco-Roman bust. So it was poignant to watch this rugged specimen being rolled out to my taxi in a wheelchair, one leg fully extended and seriously wrapped in what looked like layers of bandaging.
Travis' pushers were two friends of his, a middle-aged couple who — as I had been told when the fare was booked — looked after him during his six-week hospital stay. Something about this twosome struck me as they gently helped him into the back seat of my vehicle — no small job, as he could put no weight whatsoever on the bad leg. The pained manner of his movements suggested some problem with his torso, as well.
Just from the way the pair moved and talked — with Travis and to one another — you could tell they were a team. I bet they've been together many years, probably two or three decades, I postulated, because this depth of mutual love and respect doesn't develop overnight.
"You sure you're OK?" the woman asked Travis as she fluffed up the pillow, which sat on one of his bags to support his leg. The thing was already well fluffed, so this was tender overkill.
"Andrea, I'm fine," he responded, chuckling with appreciative exasperation. "You guys have been awesome, and you know how grateful I am."
I walked around to the curbside of the cab to introduce myself to the couple. I wanted to assure them that I'd take good care of their friend, whom I would be driving back to his home in eastern Connecticut, within hailing distance of Little Rhody.
"I'm Andrea and this is my husband, Rich," the woman said, beating me to the punch while smiling warmly.
"I'm Jernigan," I said, shaking hands with each of them. "You folks are locals, I take it?"
"Yup, we're from Underhill," Rich replied, smiling like his wife. "Originally from Massachusetts, but we've been up here quite a while."
"Well, I'll get Travis home safe and sound, folks," I promised. "You can count on it."
Once underway, I asked Travis what had landed him in the hospital.
"I was in a snowmobile accident in what I guess you folks call the 'Kingdom.' I fractured my leg in three places and busted six ribs. And, on top of that, I picked up a wicked infection that they had to treat."
"Oh, shit!" I burst out. "Don't tell me you're the guy who got wiped out by the pickup in Eden? That was all over the news."
"Yeah, I'm afraid that was me. I was snowmobiling with a group of friends, including Rich. The trail came to a state route crossing, and I could have sworn I looked both ways, but the bright sun was in my eyes, and the snow was swirling in a stiff wind. I never knew what hit me. They had to helicopter me to the hospital in Burlington. I wasn't conscious for that, though."
"Yeesh," I said. "That is rough. Though I guess it could have been a lot worse. Are you still working down in Connecticut? What do you do?"
"I'm currently a massage therapist, but that's a new, second career. As a teenager, I was the state wrestling champ and could have gone to college on a scholarship. But I was set on being a cop, and that's what I did for four years. I then got accepted to the state-trooper training program and gave my notice. But just after I left the police department, the program was canceled — budget cuts, I guess — so I took what I thought would be a temporary job as a correctional officer. That turned into a 25-year position."
"Talk about two ends of the spectrum — from working in a prison to giving massages," I observed, chuckling. "That's head-spinning, man."
"That's my life," he summed up pithily.
"Boy, those friends of yours seemed awesome," I said, changing the subject. "Have you known them for years?"
"Yeah, for about 30 years. It was a college connection through the wives. So, tell me, did you recognize Rich?"
"Now that you mention it, I thought I might have but couldn't place him."
"Did you see the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips? That was him, Rich Phillips."
"Well, knock me over with a feather," I said with a laugh. "He seems like a great guy, and Andrea is a great lady. I didn't pick up any egotism at all."
"You're exactly right. Rich was a humble, down-to-earth guy before the hijacking incident, and all the fame and money didn't change him one bit."
"Didn't I read that Tom Hanks came up here to visit with him before they shot the movie?"
"Yeah, for about five days, Rich told me. Apparently, Tom wanted to study his voice and mannerisms in order to play him accurately. The SEAL rescue team came up for a visit, too, and Rich has attended some SEAL events. I guess they consider him a member of the SEAL family, which, if you know the SEALs, is no small honor."
"Well, I am just tickled pink to have met Rich and Andrea. You know the meme 'never meet your heroes'? I guess the notion is that you'll be seriously let down when they inevitably don't live up to your expectations. Well, I just met a hero and I couldn't be happier."
When I made it home late that night, I watched Captain Phillips for the third time. I had enjoyed it the first two times, but now, knowing that in real life Richard Phillips was the real deal seriously upped my viewing pleasure. And when I googled the man and discovered that he had driven cab in Boston in his college days, that truly put me over the moon.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.