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Mardi Gras Marathon



Published March 23, 2011 at 7:38 a.m.

Over the Mardi Gras weekend, I was behind the wheel of my taxi for well more than 40 hours. (I’d rather not even figure out the precise total.) An out-of-town round trip bookended this insane, three-day shift: I drove a University of Vermont student down to her Boston home on Friday morning and picked her up on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, it was that Sunday — the one that ushered in a two-foot snowfall. The return trip from Boston that should take three and a half hours took twice that due to the steadily driving snow. When I finally packed it in late that night, I was A-OK, fine and dandy, and buzzing like a hive of honeybees. When the adrenalin eventually wore off sometime Monday morning, I was crispy toast. As in, you could have buttered and served me up with a couple of scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee.

Even now, days later, I’m still slightly hungover, as if in recovery from a 72-hour bender. I’m certain things in Burlington were wild — that’s a given, with thousands of out-of-town visitors hell-bent on a boozy good time — but the details are hazy.

At one point, I do recall easing past Church and Main and glancing to my right to observe a stunning, 6-foot-tall woman wearing a tiny bikini and draped in vines and flowers. “Mesmerizing” wouldn’t do justice to her effect on passersby; “stupefying” was more like it. Granted, this was Mardi Gras, at which such a sight might be expected. But it was Mardi Gras in Burlington and the chilly first week of March, for Pete’s sake.

Bam! A man in the crosswalk slammed the hood of my taxi. “What’s wrong with you, man?” he screamed at me. “You nearly killed me!”

I jutted my head out the window and said, “Buddy, check it out.” I pointed to the half-naked goddess who was now arm-in-arm with two guys and smiling like the midsummer sun while a third guy snapped pictures.

The man’s eyes widened to saucers. “Oh, OK,” he said. “No problem. We’re good.”

I also remember an early fare from downtown to St. Michael’s College, just after the parade ended on Saturday. A girl was sitting in the back, her boyfriend in the shotgun seat. He hadn’t buckled up and the warning beep began to sound incessantly. Although this is undoubtedly an excellent safety feature, it drives me nuts on a nightly basis. When I first bought the vehicle, I actually had my mechanic try to disconnect it, but apparently it’s wired directly into the transmission and can’t be defeated.

“Is that my seat belt?” the young man asked.

I told him it was, and the girl in the back chuckled, saying, “Yup, I’m always trying to get him to wear his belt.”

“Hey, it’s your call,” I told the guy. “I mean, I haven’t had a head-on collision in, like, four months.”

I believe this is a hilarious thing to say, one of the 10 or so jokes in my comedic inventory. I repeat these 10 jokes endlessly, which is all well and good for random customers but for my regulars eventually becomes a source of near physical pain. Another sidesplitting example: If a customer asks if I have a cigarette, I say, “Sorry, I don’t smoke cigarettes, but would you care for some crystal meth?”

As my seatmate snapped on his belt, I asked them, “So, are you two going back downtown later for round 2?”

The guy replied, “No, I think we’re in for the night.”

“Really? What a couple of lightweights.”

“Just wait a minute,” the girl said with a laugh. “Dave here is a senior at St. Mike’s, but I graduated from Boston University last year. I mean, I got to get a good night’s sleep. I’m, like, an adult now.”

“BU — that’s a great school,” I said. “I guess UVM plays you in hockey every year.”

“Yeah, I was at the game last week in Boston, and when UVM gave up a bad goal, the BU fans started chanting, ‘You are potheads. You are potheads.’”

“Oh, my lord,” I said, “that is totally creative. Really funny, too, and a tribute — if that’s the word — to UVM’s reputation. Hey, by the way, what’s the spring concert at St. Mike’s this year?”

Dave replied, “It’s some group I never heard — Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, I guess.”

“Grace Potter is fantastic,” I said. “You should absolutely go. The band is awesome.”

“Yup, that’s what I’ve been telling him,” said the girl.

“It doesn’t hurt that she’s crazy-hot, too,” I added. “But she is the real deal. Folks compare her to Bonnie Raitt and even Janis Joplin. And she’s a local girl. I guess she grew up in Waitsfield.”

“All right, you sold me, dude. I’m going. Maybe you can come up for this, Donna.”

“That sounds great,” Donna replied. “If I can get off work, it might be doable.”

I said, “You know, in the early ’90s, Phish played the spring concert at St. Mike’s for two or three years in a row. This is before they became, like, a megaband, so it was a fairly big gig for them.”

“Yeah, I think I heard about that,” Dave said. “Phish rock.”

“Phish do rock,” I agreed.

The last Mardi Gras story I can extract from my rocky memory bank is more in the nature of a moving image. It took place — well, I don’t know when it took place. What I remember is being at the stop sign at Ben & Jerry’s on Cherry and Church streets, when a young man on foot shot through the intersection like a sprinter. Three seconds later came a police officer in hot pursuit. The crowd on Church Street parted to watch the race and — this was the cool part — everybody was cheering for the guy to get away. It was like “Run, Forrest, run.”

I could swear I experienced other noteworthy incidents over this three-day marathon, but it would take a licensed hypnotist to dredge them up.