Did you ever long to be wanted? Pulling up to the intersection of Church and Main late at night on the Brewfest weekend, I was greeted by a small crowd of people, most of whom wanted me. Granted, this was solely because I was piloting an empty taxi, but still, it was a nice feeling.
In the pre-Uber era (insert sigh emoji), this was a common occurrence. Nearly every Friday and Saturday night, cabs were at a premium come last call at the bars and clubs. Nowadays, with the Uber-cab infestation (sorry, but they truly descended upon Burlington like biblical locusts), it takes a special event — such as the Vermont Brewers Festival — to swell the taxi demand enough to create shortages. I pine for the old days.
Like a ballboy or -girl at a baseball game deciding who in the crowd gets tossed the foul ball, I got to decide which lucky taxi hailer got to take my taxi. I focused on a stocky young man with a tumult of curly red hair and matching beard. His flannel shirt was checkered red and indigo, and his pants were loose and bluish-black, like those of a blue-collar workingman. In homage to Bernie Sanders and the working class he extols, I chose him.
My customer climbed into the back seat, and I waited as he smiled at me in the rearview mirror. Realizing this routine was new to him, I pivoted in my seat to prompt him with "Where ya headed, buddy?"
"The Baymont Hotel, I think it is," he replied.
"Jeez, I'm not sure I know that one. Ya got the address?"
"Sorry, I sure don't," he said, and I smiled at the New England accent and syntax.
"Oh, wait," I said. "Is that the old Handy Suites? Does Susie Wilson Road ring a bell?"
"Yeah, I think it does."
I shifted the cab back into drive and we took off. "Yup, I had to think for a second," I explained. "The place recently changed names. The hotels often do that, and it's hard to keep up."
I take pride in my area knowledge. When a tourist asks me, "Do you know where fill-in-the-blank is?" I reply, "I know where everything is." This usually elicits a chuckle, though my hubris — now that I think about it — verges on Trumpian.
"So, did you enjoy the brew fest?" I asked as we ascended the Main Street hill.
"What's the brew fest?" he replied.
What a sweet, shy dude, I thought. I'd bet he hardly talked to anyone tonight. Burlington tourists run the gamut. From country folk to sophisticated New Yorkers and Montréalers, they all find a welcome in the Queen City.
I explained it to him, and he said, "I guess that accounts for all those people. I wondered about that."
"What brought you to town, then?"
"I'm working construction for a couple months up here. Just got in yesterday."
"What's your trade?"
"Technically a welder, but they put me on general labor in between the welding."
"Somebody once told me that they always need welders. Like, if you're a good welder, you got a job for life."
"Yup, I'll go along with that. At least I hope so."
"So, where do ya hail from?"
"Northern Maine," he replied. "I worked for 10 years at a paper mill until the boiler exploded. I guess there was no insurance, and they couldn't afford to keep the place going. So I trained in welding and have been doing that for a few years. I don't mind traveling, so I get plenty of work."
Thinking of the great wilderness expanse that is northern Maine, I said, "So, I bet you're a hunter."
"All my life. My father and grandfather were game wardens, and they wanted me to follow in their footsteps, but I could never do that. I guess I'm not much of a people person. I kinda like machines."
"Didja ever take a moose?" I asked.
I'm somewhat obsessed with the elusive forest giants. Though I myself would never dream of shooting one, I do like to hear the stories. While I've seen scores of deer through the years, I've only once spied a moose. I've heard they prefer the seclusion of the backcountry.
"Nope, I've never gotten a moose permit," he said. "But if you ever get the chance, moose is the best. You wanna get a female moose — a cow — and it's wicked delicious, really tender if you cook it proper. You can feed a whole family for a month or more, maybe all winter."
We reached the Baymont Inn & Suites, and I pulled up to the front entrance. Mr. Redbeard paid the fare and voiced his appreciation while passing me a good tip. I wasn't expecting that from so uncosmopolitan a person, which made it extra sweet.
I handed him a business card, saying, "I'm Jernigan. Call me if you need me again. What's your name?"
"Thanks," he said. "And the name's Harvey."
"Harvey from Maine," I said, chuckling. "I won't forget that."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.