In my considered opinion, the single best buy in modern America is the shopping mall easy-chair massage. For one measly dollar, you get to sink into a cushy seat and enjoy a three-minute, startlingly effective mechanical back massage. I grab one every chance I get.
I got such a chance on New Year's Day at the Crossgates Mall in Albany, N.Y. My customer, Day Abdallah, was going to be about 45 minutes late to her scheduled 3 p.m. pickup in front of Dick's Sporting Goods, so I used the opportunity to splurge on three massage sessions. Duly revived (and figuring YOLO), I hit the Cinnabon kiosk before making my way over to Dick's.
My customer arrived, driven by her mother. As I transferred bags from Mom's vehicle to my taxi, the two women hugged and said their goodbyes. Day's parents are divorced, so there's a lot of this in her life.
Getting under way — en route to Montpelier, where we would hook up with her father — I initiated conversation. I had driven Day down to Albany a couple days before Christmas, so we had some preexisting rapport.
"So, what was your best Christmas gift?"
Looking up from her iPhone, Day replied, "I got, like, these really good speakers."
Digitally speaking, I am hopelessly, haplessly lost. In our wired-up world, such technical illiteracy is beginning to approach the stigma of actual illiteracy. I do try to keep up, but I sense it's futile.
"Speakers, huh? Do you have, like, an actual record player? I mean, what will you use speakers for?"
Day turned and smiled sweetly at the old dude. When you're 17 and a kind person, making allowances for the old folks is undoubtedly a common practice.
"No, I don't actually own a record player," she explained patiently. "I use the speakers for my iPhone."
"Oh, of course," I replied. Of course.
"Stop me if you're sick of this question," I said, "but what's the deal with your first name?"
"No, it's OK," she said. "My parents were big fans of Billie Holiday. One of her nicknames was Lady Day."
"Oh, that's quite sweet," I said. "That has some real meaning. Not like one of those vacuous hippie names — you know, like Flower or Sunshine. Do you ever listen to Billie's music? She's a gorgeous singer, one of the greatest of all time."
"I didn't like her music when I was younger, but I'm starting to appreciate it the last few years. I like to sing myself."
"Oh, cool. What kind of stuff do you like?"
"All kinds of genres, really. I like the Beatles a lot, which most of my friends can't understand, but I grew up on their music."
Any mention of the Beatles sets my baby boomer heart aflutter, and I reacted accordingly.
"Awesome! Hey, my satellite radio has an all-Beatles channel. Wanna listen?"
"Yeah, that would be nice."
To the sound of the Fab Four, we made our way north to Vermont. The temperature outside was frigid — the entire Northeast had been stuck in a deep freeze for well over a week — but inside the vehicle it was a comfy 70 degrees. More importantly, from my vantage point behind the wheel, the roads were clear of ice and snow. That's the silver lining to this arctic weather: Near-zero temperatures generally forestall any significant precipitation.
We sang along — quietly, because Day was shy when it came to her singing. By the time we crossed over into Vermont at Fair Haven, she had angled her seat back and was curled up, asleep. When I noticed, I turned down the volume on the radio to support her peaceful dreams.
Day was a particularly lovely young woman and living proof that God blesses racial and ethnic mixtures. Her mother is Chinese, her father half Egyptian and half Swiss. Just 50 years ago, such a pairing was unusual, but it's more common in the modern global economy. One can only hope that the growing number of hybrid humans will eventually eliminate the tribalism roiling the planet. Multiracial and multiethnic people may hold the key to a peaceful future.
Day awakened just south of Vergennes. "Is this Vermont?" she asked, stretching her arms.
"It sure is," I replied. "We're about an hour into Vermont."
"Should we text my dad?"
"Sure, you can if you want to, but I figure we'll shoot him an ETA when we're about 45 minutes from Montpelier."
"Sounds good," she said, fishing out her Smartfood and M&M'S.
"You know, I normally have really clear skin," she said, "but I've been eating junk food, like, nonstop since Christmas. My grandmother has it in, like, these dishes all over her house. I'm starting to see breakouts on my forehead. It's OK, though, because we eat really healthy at home."
Everything Day shared was touching to me. It's been a thousand years since I was a teenager. And, even back then, teenage girls were a mystery to me. Getting a glimpse into her world made me smile.
We reached Burlington and accessed Interstate 89 going south. I texted Day's father, giving him a 7:15 arrival time at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, the agreed-upon rendezvous point. When we got there, right on time, I called and he was 15 minutes out.
"My dad is not real good with time," Day told me, chuckling. "I think I inherited that from him."
Paul McCartney's acoustic gem "Blackbird" came on the radio. "Oh, I love this one," Day said. "My dad plays it on the guitar, and I sing."
Eventually Dad arrived, pulling up behind us at the hotel. Day climbed out, and they embraced warmly. Looking me directly in the eyes, he said, "I can't thank you enough for transporting this 'cargo.'"
"Yes, precious cargo," I said, smiling. "Thanks for trusting me with the job."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.