"They've modernized the décor, and it really looks great," Alex explained to me from the shotgun seat. "Yeah, two of the old bartenders bought the place, and one of 'em's a friend of mine. Tonight was what they call the 'soft opening' — just invited friends and relatives. The official opening is not for a couple weeks."
It was an early Friday evening, and I had just picked up Alex at what had been CK's Sports Bar in Winooski, now reborn, he informed me, as the "Last Stop." CK's had enjoyed, if that's the word, a raunchy reputation as a down-and-dirty watering hole. It will be interesting, I thought, to see how things change under the new ownership.
"So, Alex, you got big plans for the weekend?"
"Well, it's still early, so I'll probably go downtown later. But, for tomorrow and Sunday — no, not really."
Alex took a phone call, and I could hear a girl's voice on the other end. "Yeah, RJ's sounds good," Alex said. "See ya there."
"So, that was a female," I said, chuckling. "That's a good thing, brother."
"It was my kid sister, Jernigan," Alex replied, shooting me a smile. "So, not that good a thing."
I dropped Alex off at his apartment on Drew Street in the Old North End and worked the next few hours downtown. Things were slow, as they usually are in April, at least until the first truly warm weekend. Then all hell breaks loose, which I mean in the best possible way. Just past midnight, Alex called again.
"Could you pick us up at Church and Main?" he requested.
"That intersection gets a bit chaotic. If it's all right, let's make it right in front of Nectar's, and I'll be there in 10."
I pulled up and Alex took the front while a young woman stepped into the back seat. "Jernigan, this is my sister, Annie. If you could drop me on Drew and take her to the New North End, that would be great. I'm going to pay for it."
"Aww, you don't have to do that, Alex," Annie said.
"Well, I am."
"That's a good big brother," I said.
"Yup, he's the best," Annie agreed.
We dropped Alex at his place and continued up North Avenue. I asked Annie, "You're a local girl, right?"
"Yup, I grew up right down the road in Colchester."
"Go, Lakers," I said, calling out the local high school moniker.
"You got it. I'm a Laker girl, all right."
"You working in town?"
"I'm an office manager in Williston."
"Doesn't sound like you love it."
"You picked that up, huh? Well, I don't, really. But I'll probably be moving shortly, so it's no time to be job searching for a change."
"Where are you headed?"
"My boyfriend is about to graduate from the State Police Academy and is going to be a game warden. So, it all depends where he gets stationed. It could be as far away as, like, Brattleboro."
"Sounds exciting and a little scary. But, if he's a good man, I guess it's worth it."
I could see Annie's face light up in the rear-view mirror. "He is a good man," she said. "We've been together two-and-a-half years. Yup, he is a keeper."
"How did you guys meet, if I may ask?"
"We met online."
"Just chatting, or on a relationship site?"
"Well, it was Tinder, believe it or not."
"I totally believe it," I said. "Among young folks like yourself, it seems to be more the rule than the exception that couples find each other on the web. Is Tinder the one where you just place a photo?"
"No, you can include a bio."
"Gosh, that must be tricky, because anyone can write anything about their history. How do you know if the person is bona fide?"
"That's a good question. But isn't that true about anyone you meet? I mean, unless you're talking about a catfish situation, where you meet someone online and they never want to hook up in person. That should be a red flag for anyone with half a brain. There's even, like, a TV show about it."
As we passed the North Avenue shopping center, Annie told me to slow down, and we pulled into her driveway, coming to a stop.
"I don't normally have cabdrivers drop me off at my real address," she said. "I'm worried about being stalked, that sort of thing."
Gosh, it's tough being a woman, I reflected. Even in relatively safe little Burlington, a woman has to be aware of things that I, as a man, never even have to consider.
"Yeah, I've heard that before," I said.
"But my brother told me that you're, like, totally trustworthy, and I can see he was right about that."
"Well, I appreciate your trust," I said, reaching up to my visor to grab a business card. Passing it to her, I asked, "Can you read the tagline?"
"I sure can — 'safe, clean and friendly.'"
"Annie," I said, "you can count on it."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.