Springtime is for lovers, I mused as I drifted through downtown Burlington in my taxicab on a Thursday evening. Romance might hatch in winter's depths, consummated under thick blankets by candlelight. But with the weather turning warmer, lovers emerge and take their romance out for a spin: walking hand-in-hand, dining together al fresco in full public view, pausing in the street to steal a kiss or two. Yes, to me, lovers on the streets are as sure a sign of spring as crocuses and fiddleheads.
The cellphone rang, interrupting my reverie. "Hey, Jernigan, it's CJ. Pamela and I are at the Whiskey Room. Could ya come and get us and take us home?"
Pam and CJ, longtime customers of mine, no longer qualify as young lovers, having been together more than 20 years. They're married and have good jobs and a beautiful home in the golf-course development on Dorset Street. But lovers they are nonetheless, and as I've observed them in my cab through the years, it's evident they still take pleasure in each other's company.
I pulled up to the entrance of the bar earlier than promised, so I shot CJ a text to let them know. (By experience, I've learned that texting works far better than calling when you're trying to reach someone in a noisy bar. And probably when you're trying to reach someone, period.) "Be out in a sec" was the quick reply, borne out when the two of them came through the door a minute later.
As they snuggled into the back seat, it was clear their night on the town had been just what the doctor ordered. "Date night" for married couples is no frivolity; it's a necessity, really, in our stressful 21st- century world.
"Jernigan," Pam called out, a giggle in her voice. "Did we ever tell ya how CJ and I got together?"
"I don't believe you have," I replied. "It was back when you were going to UVM, I seem to recall. Do I got that part right?"
"Yeah, that's right. I'll tell you the whole story. It's all about Nectar."
"You mean Nectar's bar?"
"Well, yeah, but I'm talking about the man himself — Nectar Rorris. Back when I was at UVM, the city was trying to get the big, orange neon sign removed. You know, at the front of the bar? Something about the zoning laws. Anyway, Nectar's was our favorite hangout, and we loved the sign. So I organized a letter-writing campaign to that free weekly paper. What was it back then, before Seven Days?"
"I think you're talking about the Vermont Vanguard, or maybe it had already changed to the Vermont Times."
"Yeah, I think it was the Vermont Times. Anyway, we succeeded, and the sign was saved! After that, Nectar and I became, like, buds. Me and my friends practically lived at that place. This was before they cracked down on underage drinking in Burlington." Pamela paused, letting out a laugh. "I mean, back then, you could flash a library card and the bouncer would wave you through!"
CJ, who had been listening avidly, jumped into the storytelling. Which was appropriate, because this was where he entered the picture.
Picking up the thread, he said, "So now it's August of 1991, and I was visiting Burlington for a business conference. The keynote speaker was going to be Governor Snelling, but, the day before his talk, he dies of a heart attack. It was kind of tragic, actually. So out of respect, the organizers cancel the whole second day of the conference. And I'm, like, What to do for a free day in Burlington? I figure I'll call a girl I knew in high school, Pamela Mackenzie. She was a few years behind me."
"Aha," I said, fully invested in this tale. "Your high school sweetheart?"
Pam laughed and threw her arm across her husband, as if to say, I got this one, honey.
"No, far from it," she said, still chuckling. "We actually hated each other in high school. That's the thing, so it was weird when he called me."
"Well, maybe not really," I suggested. "People think of hate as the opposite of love, but I believe they're wrong. Indifference is the opposite of love. There's a reason for the plot line of every romantic comedy. When you supposedly hate somebody, there's some strong feeling brewing in there."
"You might be on to something, Jernigan," CJ said. "Anyway, we spend the whole day together wandering around Burlington and falling out of hate and into love. That night, she took me to Nectar's with a bunch of her girlfriends. We're all drinking, and I start to get worried that I won't have enough cash to cover the tab. Remember, this was back in '91, when bars didn't take credit cards and your ATM card might not work in every city. My bank, if I remember, was based in Providence, where I was living at the time.
"So Nectar was serving us, and I ask him what it's up to. He goes, 'You mean the tab?' I say yeah, and he says, 'Don't worry about it; it's on the house.' I'm, like, stunned, and Nectar looks right at me with his big, craggy, kind face and says, 'You're with Pammy. She's yours now.' He could tell I had totally fallen for her. And we've been together ever since."
And that was the origin story of Pamela and CJ. Every couple has one, and they find comfort in repeating it on a regular basis, like observant Jews reading from the Torah every Saturday at the synagogue. It helps a couple remember who they are and where they started. And it was telling the way Pamela and CJ shared their story: together and laughing. Because isn't that how couples stay together season after season, as springtime fades and the years pass? Laughter is the glue.
"That's a great story," I acknowledged, as we turned off Dorset Street and wended our way toward their home. "Match.com has nothing on Burlington's own Nectar Rorris!"
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.