I’m a denizen of Burlington International Airport. Well, perhaps that overstates it, as I don’t actually live there, but it feels like I spend more time in the terminal than in my own home. Long ago I stopped working the airport’s taxi queue; the often multihour waiting times left me beyond antsy. What bring me to the terminal now are scheduled pickups.
After 30 years prowling the building, through its many expansions, I know every square inch — at least those inches open to the public. But mostly I just take a seat by the arrival gate to people watch or read.
A recent week night found me awaiting a postmidnight flight for a customer — one Conor Patrick — who needed a ride to Killington. Home to the famous ski area, this southern Vermont town changed its name from Sherburne in 1999. As I understand it, none of the residents had anything against the original name; it was a promotional move, pure and simple, aimed at seamlessly associating the town with the Killington ski resort.
The townsfolk of Killington are a feisty bunch; at least twice they’ve voted to secede from Vermont and join the state of New Hampshire. Perhaps we could get Hanover in a trade? I always liked that town, and it would give us a beachhead on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River.
The arriving passengers began streaming through the gate; one of them caught sight of his name on my sign, made eye contact and walked over to shake hands. Conor was maybe 30, handsome, compact and brawny — a man of evident Gaelic roots. With his rich black hair, thick eyebrows and swarthy skin, he brought to mind a Seth MacFarlane/Colin Farrell hybrid. I was glad he hadn’t checked any bags, so we could immediately get the show on the road. After a splash of small talk, he suggested, “Let’s bounce,” and I heartily agreed.
I wouldn’t say all roads lead to Killington, but there are a few potential routes from Burlington. I decided to take the interstate to Bethel and then shoot across 107 to 100 South. It’s not the shortest GPS trajectory, but I assessed it as the fastest. If I was right, I could make it back to B-town by 4 a.m. Call me the Night Hackie.
“Are you up here for a ski holiday?” I asked my customer, who had taken me up on my offer of the shotgun seat.
“Yeah, just a couple of days, unfortunately. This is my second year in a row. Me and a bunch of old college buddies rent this cool house not too far from the ski lifts. We had a blast last year. It’s just great getting out of the city for a while. I’m constantly working.”
I said, “Now, I’m guessing by the way you said ‘the city’ that you’re talking about the Big Apple.”
“Guilty as charged,” Conor replied, chuckling. “I grew up in Philly, but I’ve picked up that particular New York conceit.”
“I’m hip,” I said. “I grew up in the city myself. So what part of town do you live in? Whatcha doing for work?”
“I’m living in Manhattan, in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. You ready for this? For rent, I pay 2500 dollars a month, and it’s not even high end. That’s New York for ya. It works for me, though, because I can walk to work. I’m at a small bank that specializes in refinancing and restructuring failing businesses. As I said, I’m working constantly. I hardly date or go out or anything — and there I am, living in the greatest city on Earth!”
“That sounds brutal,” I said. “I mean, I’d guess you’re making good money, but is it worth it?”
“Well, I have a plan. If I can keep this up for, like, another 10 years, I could basically retire at around 40. Then I could devote my life to my real passion, which is writing. In college I majored in English and used to write a lot. I love, like, Faulkner and James Joyce.”
“Me, too, man,” I said. “Like, how great is Dubliners?”
“My dad, he was a minor league baseball player who never quite made it to the majors. He kept at it, though, through his early thirties, until he finally threw in the towel. And then he never had much of a career afterward. I’m going about life in a different way. I figure, let me first make my money, and then I’ll pursue what makes me happy.”
Hope that works out for the kid, I thought as I steered the cab along the wide, gray ribbon of 89. The night was crazy cold, as cold as it’s been in years, maybe 20 to 30 below. I admired Conor’s ambition, his tenacity, yet I recalled a bumper sticker I had seen earlier in the week: Don’t Postpone Joy. Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure.
Inevitably, the conversation got on to sports, and Conor could have been a sportscaster, such was the depth of his knowledge. His dad being a ballplayer probably had a lot to do with it. In any event, as a typical man when it comes to this über-important subject, I was duly impressed.
We exited the highway and took the state routes — through Bethel, Gaysville and Stockbridge. The ravages of Tropical Storm Irene were still on display in this part of the state. We passed bridges and side roads under construction or reconstruction. Finally, we reached the rental chalet in Killington. When Conor paid me and opened his door, it felt like minus 1 billion degrees. The blast of arctic air was a reassuring sensation — the world was in order, things as they should be.
Now alone in my taxi and beginning the long ride home, I noticed wood smoke rising from a cabin. In the windless, frigid atmosphere, the smoke appeared not vaporous and billowy but dense and static. I beheld a gargantuan, free-floating vanilla mousse suspended in the sky. The effect was otherworldly.
It was then that I saw the full moon and wondered how I had missed it on the ride down. A line of poetry popped into my head — from high school English? — the opening of Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”: “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” As I barreled down the interstate, the giant, luminous orb would not stop glaring at me, unblinking, until — in capitulation — I got out my sunglasses and pulled down the visor.
Another mystical, magical night in the Green Mountains. I did make it home by four, which I, the Night Hackie, took as a point of pride.