The man riding shotgun didn't hesitate when I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing the cab with the four vivacious women enthusiastically hailing me from the corner. "Are you kidding me?" he said. "By all means. Let's do it."
When it gets busy late at night, customers are generally amenable to sharing their cab. During the work day, traffic is thick and taxi-takers are rushing to scheduled appointments for work, doctors, picking up children and the like. No time for detours, in other words. But at night it's a different world, as the Lovin' Spoonful sang; getting home at 2:30 a.m. instead of 2:15 doesn't make a whole lot of difference. Still, I always ask first.
The four women squeezed into the back, laughing and talking. "Where to, ladies?" I called out over my shoulder.
"How about Montréal?" a tall redhead in the back replied, sending the foursome into a new paroxysm of hysterics. "Let's have a bachelorette party!"
I chuckled along with them, ignoring the fact that I get this joke at least once a night. Sometimes it'll be "How about New York City?" or some other faraway metropolis, but mostly it's about going to the Montréal strip clubs. Hardy-har-har.
"Montréal it is," I went along, good sport that I am.
"No, I'm only kidding," the redhead set me straight. "We're really at Stonehedge."
My first customer was going to the airport neighborhood, so it would make sense to drop off the women first. I turned to him and asked, "Do you mind if -"
"No problem," the man cut me off, correctly anticipating the request. "Take the girls first. I'm in no rush."
As we ascended the Main Street hill, the man slowly rotated in his seat - theatrically, calling full attention to himself - to better face the comely quartet in the rear. He was about 30, good-looking in the macho, chiseled-features mode, and was wearing a hip, striped gray sports jacket. He said, "My name's Rob, by the way. You ladies enjoyed yourself tonight?"
"Well, Rob, up until now," came the snide reply from the redhead, who was apparently their de facto leader.
And, just like that, things descended into an ironic, vinegary and altogether unpleasant back-and-forth between the front and back of the taxi - the battle of the sexes, 2007 edition. "Hang on a sec," I called out over the din. "Everybody start being nice right now! Peace and love, all right?"
My little speech seemed to do the trick. "So, where do you work?" the redhead offered up quite civilly to her erstwhile nemesis.
"Kind of all over the place," Rob replied. "I'm in international finance."
"Really?" a perky chestnut-haired woman by the window chimed in. Suddenly, this guy was sounding a lot more interesting. "Have you ever been to, like, Amsterdam? I always wanted to go there."
"As a matter of fact, I had a meeting there last month. And at the end of this month, I need to be in Jakarta."
I had no idea whether Rob was completely full of crap. If he was, the man was a superb liar, because the four girls had completely shifted from "whatever" to gaga. The rest of the ride was a lovefest, with Rob the center of attention.
As we dropped the four women at Stonehedge, the redhead - now a total Rob convert - asked him if he'd like to "visit."
"Sorry, honey," he replied, the self-satisfaction dripping off him like summer rain, "but I have some business meetings to prepare for."
As we pulled back onto Spear Street, Rob said, "I could have totally hit that."
"Seemed that way," I agreed, ignoring the casual misogyny inherent - at least to my baby-boomer ears - in the wording of his observation.
"I should have told them what I'm doing next. I'm getting out of the financial world and going back to my real love, which is music."
"That's cool. You got something lined up?"
"Well, actually, I'm helping produce Justin Timberlake's new CD."
As if watching an engrossing yet highly improbable movie, I suspended disbelief. Everything about this guy struck me as unlikely, but I wanted to believe. And, really, what did I have to lose? In this situation, my natural gullibility carried no cost.
"So, how did you get into music production?" I asked. "Were you a musician?"
"Not really, though I do play a little guitar. I grew up around bands and music. My father was the guitarist for a popular Burlington band." He then named one of the great local bands from the '70s and '80s. Though this band never garnered a national following, I could recall dancing to their music at many a club and outdoor concert.
"It was kind of a weird upbringing," Rob continued. "I remember he gave me this little black leather jacket when I was about 8, with the band's name sewn on the back by my mom."
We pulled up to his condo off Patchen Road, and Rob paid me the fare. I said, "Good luck in Jakarta next month, and also with the Timberlake project." I had bought in hook, line and sinker.
"Thanks, man," he said, his eyes betraying not a hint of fakery. And who knows?