I noticed a gaggle of friends exchanging hugs as I approached the Sweetwaters corner in downtown Burlington. Slow down, I thought this could mean the end of their night on the town and one or more of them might need a ride home.
Actually it was subtler than thought. After two decades of hacking, my reactions out on the street have become instinctive. When it comes to the ebb and flow and rhythm of cab driving, I leave the cerebral cortex behind and enter the realm of the intuitive.
My hunch did not go unrewarded, as one of the group a tall, blond-haired man turned and flagged me down. He looked to be in his twenties and nicely lean; that is, he appeared athletic, not skinny. His clothes were attractive, too, and thats not something I tend to focus on in men, anyway. I especially admired the brown summer jacket, which looked like ultra-soft brushed suede.
Take me up to Malletts Bay? he asked through the open passenger window.
I dont see why the heck not, I replied. Jump in the front.
As we pushed off, I noticed his knees were cramped up to his chest.
You know, you can move that seat back, I suggested. You are one large unit, man. Whaddaya, about six-six?
Thanks, he said as he reached under his seat and released the latch, sliding the seat all the way. And yeah, Im just about that tall.
So, are you up visiting? I asked. From the stylish way he dressed, I took him for a flatlander. Not that Vermonters cant put on the dog with the best of em, but his attire seemed very New Yorky.
Yeah, Im visiting my folks, he replied. I grew up here, though. Colchester-born and bred.
Where ya living now?
Ive been living in Manhattan the past few years.
Wow, the Big Apple. Ya working there?
I sure am. Im a model.
Holy crow! You mean like a male model? As the words left my mouth I got the inanity of my question. Sometimes I wish my brain-mouth connection had a tape-delay feature.
Yeah. How good a female model do you think Id make? He was looking at me with faux exasperation. I got the feeling he was used to getting weird reactions to his profession.
Sorry, man. Its just you know, I dont think Ive ever met a male model before. What do you do? Like, catalogs, fashion shows?
All of that, he replied. Ive done some modeling on TV shows, too, like The View and The Today Show.
Get outta here! Thats, like, way cool.
It is way cool, he said, chuckling at my decidedly uncool enthusiasm.
Sometime around 1978, I realized that not only was I not cool, I never would be. It was a valuable insight. Since then, I havent worried about it.
We were nearing the end of the Northern Connector and about to cross over the new Heineberg Bridge its roughly 10 years old, so I should probably retire the new. I glanced at my customer, who was gazing out at the moonlit landscape. He looked peaceful.
Jeez, it must seem so provincial back here in Vermont with the life you now lead, I said.
The guy suddenly straightened up in his seat, like I had struck a nerve.
Screw that! he said. Theres no place like Vermont. The people here are so awesome. I love being back home.
I know what you mean, man, I replied with a big smile. I know what you mean.
My customer directed me to a relatively undeveloped area of the bay, and on a dirt road off a dirt road we came upon some truly luxurious single-family homes.
My father built all of these, the guy said, beaming with pride. Yup, he sure did. Hey, do you have a minute? he added. I could take you up to the job site where hes building a new house for the family. Its just down a ways from our existing home.
Sure, I replied. Thatd be great.
At the end of the road, on the lakefront, we came to a massive, three-story house under construction. The exterior was a golden-hued wood, and I counted three stone fireplaces. It was hard to believe the structure was for one family; it looked more like a small hotel.
We pulled to a stop in the makeshift parking lot out front. This is magnificent, I said. It must be a dream come true for your dad.
It sure is, he said. And he deserves it. Hes built up his construction company over a lifetime of hard work. Hes a real self-made man.
What does your father think of your job? I mean, what could be further from house-building in Vermont?
He thinks its great. Hes proud of me that Im doing something that I enjoy and making a good living to boot.
We drove back to his folks home. I turned on the dome light to help him count the money for the fare. It was at that point I finally got a good look at him. I could see how he got into the modeling business: He resembled one of those blond, blue-eyed, all-American types in a Ralph Lauren ad.
Well, I said, now I can see you are friggin gorgeous.
He let out a big laugh. That aint going to get you a better tip, you know.
Hey, I said, laughing along with him, you cant blame a guy for trying.