Just about every summer weekend brings some event or festival to town. From the Fishing Derby to the Latino Festival to the Chew-Chew, I love em all. People out and about in large numbers means taxi fares its that simple. The Jazz Festival was great this year, as it seems to be every year. Music filled the air and throngs of people jammed the streets. I was in my element, pushing the hack long into the night and making money.
Sometime post-midnight on the Pine Street corner, a slight man in a shiny sportscoat flagged me for a ride. He looked like hed gone to seed. His oily black hair was plastered in all the wrong directions, and his five oclock shadow had progressed to a dark pall that brought to mind the low-grade gangsters in an old film noir. Still, he seemed full of beans as he approached the taxi.
Think you can give me a ride, buddy? he asked.
Thats pretty much what I do for a living, I replied. Where ya headed?
Lets do it, I said, and he hopped in the front seat.
This is a great town, he said, as we got underway towards Winooski. Ive heard so many hot bands tonight I cant believe it. Is it like this every night?
I was about to make a joke, thinking he was joking, but then I glanced to my side and realized the guy was genuinely clueless.
Well, Burlington is known for its lively music scene, but this weeks the Jazz Festival, so everythings really in high gear.
Oh, I see. Yeah, that makes sense.
We began the long decline down Colchester Avenue, passing the graveyard and the Ira Allen monument. Every time I go by here I try to remember is he or is he not buried at the monument? There was a flurry of news items about this a while back, but I cant remember for sure. I feel like I should know this, Ira and his bro being the founding fathers of Vermont and all.
Hey, the guy suddenly piped up, cutting short my historical musing. Theres something Ive always wanted to ask a cab driver. What would you do if someone tried to rob you?
Actually, thats one of the many reasons I live up here, I replied. About a month ago one of the fleet drivers was held up, but that was the first incident I remember in 20 years of cab driving. In big cities, of course, cabbies are robbed routinely, killed even. But knock on wood cabbing in Vermont I dont even think about it.
Youre missing my point, he said.
Thats odd, I thought. It seemed like a pretty straightforward query; how was I missing his point?
A strange smile came across his face. I mean, he continued, if I pulled out a knife and said, Give me your money, what would you do?
Now that was a different question, one that bothered me. In the musical Carousel, the male and female leads sing a duet, If I Loved You. The thing is and its all so very charming the audience knows the if is academic: Its going to happen; love is about to bloom. Thats my problem with taxi customers posing hypotheticals beginning with, If I pulled out a knife
I turned again to sneak a quick gander at the guy. I decided I really hated his jacket, and the spooky grin wasnt doing much for me, either. He was beginning to look a lot like Travis Bickle, the Robert De Niro character in Taxi Driver. How I hate that movie.
Well, thats never going to happen, I replied weakly. Because you know heh, heh
No, Im quite serious, he said. Like right now. If I was to pull out a knife and hold it to your throat, what would you do?
Fear is a weird sensation, and mine was in full throttle. I really had the proverbial sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We were approaching the hotel and I had to say something.
I pulled to a stop in front of the Fairfield and shifted the vehicle into park. Turning to face the man directly, I said, The truth is, I would give you my money in a New York minute. Hell, Id give you the keys to the car as well. Its only money, not worth fighting over.
As the sentence left my mouth I knew that truer words had never been spoken. Ive lived long enough to know how insane it is to risk life or limb over cold cash. Go ahead, buddy, I thought to myself. Bring it on.
Ha, ha. Youre all right, cabbie youre all right.
The guy was all smiles now, clearly reveling in the chain-pulling he had just accomplished. In case there had been any doubt, it was now official: I had been fucked with.
Listen here, man, I said. If you think
Ten bucks should cover the fare, right? the guy interjected, handing me a bill. And heres another 20, for your time and patience.
Ah, money, the great assuager. All resentment vanished as I slipped the 30 bucks into my shirt pocket. Im not proud of it, but I can be bought.