The two young men in the back of my taxi were jabbering away in English - that is, the Queen's English or some variant thereof. There's so many English accents and I can't distinguish one from the other unless the blokes are from Liverpool. That's courtesy of the Beatles, natch.
It was late afternoon and we were on the way back to the Holiday Inn. The guys were in town to look at Champlain College. One of them was slight, nattily-dressed and black. The other guy was chunky and white with a nonstop smile, just happy to be alive and visiting the colonies. It's amazing, it occurred to me, how far Champlain - this once junior college - has come over the past decade to the point now of attracting international students.
"Can you recommend a good restaurant?" the skinny guy asked me.
"You're in luck," I replied. "Burlington has a slew of great places. If you're in town for just the one night, you can't go wrong with A Single Pebble. It's Chinese cuisine but not the Chow Mein and whatnot that you usually see. The chef actually studied cooking in China, so the dishes are all authentic. Anyway, you'll love it - I guarantee. Money back from me if you're disappointed."
"Sounds brilliant," the guy said. "OK with you, Nick?"
Nick nodded and said to me, "Could you pick us back up at seven?"
Back at the hotel a couple hours later, the two of them reentered my taxi and Nick, the heavier set guy, said, "We've changed our plans a bit, if you don't mind. Somebody at the hotel told us about a hockey match tonight and we'd like to go there first. We've never seen a hockey match. Do you think we'd like it?'
"Oh, yeah! For a live sporting event, nothing beats hockey. The players are flying up and down the ice, smashing into each other. It's awesome, man. Trouble is, the UVM games are always sold out, so I doubt you could get seats."
"Can we go to the arena and give it a try? Maybe there will be touts selling tickets."
Touts? I delved into my mental English-American dictionary. "Do you mean scalpers?" I asked.
"Yes, that's it. We call them touts."
Sure enough the guys found a tout with a couple tickets and they told me they'll call back in about an hour for their late reservation at A Single Pebble. I went about my night listening to the game on the radio. No call from the Brits after the first period. No call after the second. Only after the game was over, well past 10 o'clock, did they finally contact me.
I spotted them in front of the Gutterson Fieldhouse and they looked as excited as a couple of kids after a day at Disneyland.
"That was brilliant!" the thin guy said as the two of them settled into the back seat. "We need this in England!"
"Yup, hockey's great, all right. Not real compelling on TV, but live - there's nothing like it. Hey, you guys still planning on eating out? I don't know if A Single Pebble is open this late, so maybe some other joint?"
The two of them laughed. "No, we both ate at the match," Nick replied. "So just back to the hotel, if you would."
"You ate dinner at the Gut?" I said. "That's perfect. What did you have?"
"I ate nine hot dogs," the big guy said. "And," he added with a sly smile, "I'm proud of it."