“Armani? Wow! My fashion knowledge is primitive, but that sounds like a great job, particularly right out of the chute.”
I was conversing with a customer sitting beside me in the shotgun seat. Vanessa was a cute wisp of a girl with olive skin, big dark eyes and long black hair. She was wearing a silvery pullover, black leggings and black work boots. Frankly, to me she looked about 16, but as she had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and was working for Armani while living with her boyfriend and her brother in midtown Manhattan … well, apparently she wasn’t 16.
“Omigod — and I’m so totally fortunate!” she said. “A lot of my classmates haven’t found jobs yet. Or else they’re, like, waiting tables or just living with their parents. It sounds like a glamorous job, but I’m, like, one step above the interns. But I am on the team organizing marketing events and publicity shoots. And I am getting paid, so that’s awesome.”
“So, Vanessa,” I said, getting down to the business at hand, “do ya got better information on the destination? You were a little unclear on the phone.”
“Yes, I do!” she replied with the pride of a schoolgirl who’s done her homework. “My friend sent a Google Map link with the invite.” She paused to fish a piece of paper out of her small backpack. “OK, here it is. He lives on Mile Point Road in Vergennes.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing. You mentioned Mile Point Road on the phone, and I know where that is. But we need the house number.”
“Oh, bloody hell — I didn’t get that. Can’t we just go down his street and find the place?”
“Well, that might be sketchy if you haven’t been there before. It’s called ‘Mile Point’ for a reason. There must be a couple dozen homes on the road.”
“Let me see if I can pull up the email again on my Blackberry.” Vanessa clicked and prodded the device, but to no avail. “Darn this thing,” she said. “I can’t seem to get service. If I could only call my brother, he could look it up for me.”
“All right — we’re making progress here,” I said. “My cellphone is archaic, so you can’t get online, but you can call your brother.” I lifted the phone out of its jury-rigged dashboard cradle and passed it over to her.
Her brother picked up on the first ring, but, after 10 minutes of back and forth, he wasn’t able to access her email account. It seems that even the most modern technology in the hands of the most tech-savvy people can’t always solve the problem at hand.
“Look, Vanessa,” I said, “don’t sweat it. We can go with your plan. We’ll head down the road and look for a house with a bunch of out-of-state plates. You did say a number of people are driving up from all over the place.”
“Thanks so much, sir,” she said sweetly. I appreciated the tone, but it is a bittersweet time in a man’s life when he becomes a “sir” to the pretty young things of the world.
We were tooling down Route 7 in Charlotte, through the sweeping, curved section with the drop-dead-gorgeous vista composed of the shoreline, the lake itself and a few small islands. Across the glistening water, the Adirondacks were vibrantly alive in the noonday sun, tempting me to reach out and brush the treetops, making me imagine the rustle of the leaves — green, gold and red in the run-up to the autumnal equinox — beneath my palm.
“How’d you end up at the U of P?” I said, restarting the dialogue. “I think I can detect a little of the Brit in your accent.”
“Good ear,” she said, chuckling. “I grew up in Manchester. My mum is as prim and proper an Englishwoman as you can find. She did marry dad, though, who is Persian.”
“Interesting,” I said. “And by Persian, this means he was from Iran?”
“Yes, that’s right. But what with the political turmoil these days, Persian is the preferred term. Anyway, I always wanted to come to the States, so I followed my older brother when he made the big move. I do love it here. New York City is a blast.”
“Well, good for you,” I said. “Hey, so what’s the party about? A birthday or something?”
“Funny you ask. It’s some sort of hippie party. The guy who’s hosting it told me it’s a ‘bean,’ if that makes any sense to you.”
“A bean party. That’s weird … Oh, wait a second. I think he’s talking about a ‘be-in’.”
“What on Earth is a be-in?”
“Oh, it’s one of those ’60s things. The be-ins took place in, let’s see — ’66, ’67, maybe. Before I was old enough to be involved, anyway. A bunch of folks would gather together, maybe in a park, to just, well — be.”
I glanced over, and Vanessa was staring at me like I was speaking Neptunese. I said, “Hey, what can I tell you? You really had to be there.”
“Anyway,” she said, “we’re all supposed to dress up like the hippies. I was checking Facebook, and it seems a lot of my friends are taking it super-seriously. But I haven’t done anything! I checked some websites with vintage clothes from the ’70s, but I am, like, clueless! And I’m in the fashion world, too. I’m such a loser.”
“The ’70s?” I said. “Vanessa, that’s the disco era. You ain’t even in the right decade, girl!”
We both laughed, and she said, “See what I mean? I have, like, no idea!”
We made it to the Mile Point Road, and, just as I expected, we couldn’t find the party house. Luckily, some locals hanging out on their porch had watched us futilely driving around their neighborhood and came out to the road to offer assistance. They knew Vanessa’s friend and directed us to the house.
As we pulled into the driveway, I said, “The party’s tonight, right? I’ll tell you what. Get a ride into Vergennes with one of your friends. There’s a nice secondhand shop right on the main street. See if you can find, like, a long skirt, a peasant blouse, a nice wide ribbon for a headband, or maybe a floppy hat, and a couple of bead necklaces. Oh, yeah — also some jangly silver bracelets would be a good touch. You’ll be the hippiest hippie chick at the be-in.”
Vanessa said, “Oh, thanks so much.” And as she got out her money, she looked up and added, “I just might do that, sir,” her bright smile so charming I didn’t even mind the “sir.”