A big man approached my cab at the taxi stand on lower Church Street. With one steady hand he was maintaining the stability of the chunky woman at his side — all blond hair, boobs and too much makeup. I recognized the man as one of the friendly and competent bouncers who work the front door at Nectar's. I admire these guys: total professionals skilled at de-escalating drunken conflict.
My passenger window was open to the warm summer night, and the guy made eye contact. "Can you take her to Lafountain?" he asked.
As this was a street name found in more than one town, I "disambiguated," as Wikipedia terms it.
"Winooski or Burlington?" I asked.
The bouncer posed my question to the woman, who couldn't have cared less. It took him three attempts to finally focus her attention and get an answer: "Burlington."
"How much?" the man asked me. Nectar's takes care of its customers and will pay for a cab when the situation warrants it.
"Eight bucks," I replied. He handed me a 10, graciously telling me to "keep it."
Before she stepped into the back seat of my minivan, the woman felt the need to hug her benefactor, not once but a few times. Gamely, the man accommodated, until he managed to break it off and hoist her into the vehicle.
"Lafountain," she called out to me.
"Yeah, I got it," I replied, turning off my radio to better monitor her noise output. I've become expert at detecting the telltale pre-vomit sound profile, and this woman was a prime candidate for a digestive eruption. Normally, I wouldn't even drive someone so inebriated, but the fare was prepaid, and I knew her destination was just minutes away.
I booked it toward the Old North End. There is a limit to the speed you can risk on the local streets, and I confess to nudging the envelope. I'd only owned this vehicle for six months, and a regurgitator had not yet anointed it.
Because I drive hundreds of people — on weekend nights, many of them tipsy — I knew the odds were against me. Still, I was determined to delay the christening for as long as possible. The quicker I got this woman out of the cab, the better.
As I turned onto North Street, my customer began emitting low gurgling, growling, burpy sounds. That's it, I thought, and yanked the vehicle to the curb, jumped out and rushed around to open the sliding side door.
"OK, could you get completely out of the car?" I asked.
She turned to me and snarled, "No!"
"Look, you sound like you're gonna throw up, so just step out, do your thing, and we'll get you home."
"I don't have to heave, so I'm not getting out. You're being mean!"
Against my better judgment, I acceded, and rushed back around to the driver's seat. It was a race against time.
I took the right onto Lafountain. "Lemme know," I said.
"Keep going, keep going," she instructed.
We crossed Cedar Street. "Keep going," she repeated.
"We're running out of Lafountain," I informed her.
"All right," she said, "stop right here."
I stopped, popped the transmission into park and darted around to the side door, the relief beginning to enter my body. I do believe I've dodged a bullet, I thought as I slid open the door.
She plopped out, and I steadied her for the walk up to her door. "Just wait a second," she announced, shaking free and bending back inside the vehicle. I assumed she was checking to see if she left anything behind as she lowered her head toward the floor mat. She then began to vomit.
For a moment, I was paralyzed. My mind could not wrap itself around what I was witnessing. What human being intentionally vomits into a cab he or she has just taken? I thought of caged monkeys who hurl their feces at their keepers, but I could sympathize with those monkeys. Surely they have just cause. But this woman's behavior? Beyond the pale didn't begin to cover it.
Popping out of my fog, I screamed, "Are you fucking kidding me? Get the fuck out of my cab!"
When she ignored me and continued retching, I grasped her shoulders and forcibly pulled her out. She stood there, facing me with a maniacal grin, chortling with satisfaction. It was like a ghastly psychedelic experience, like I had ingested some bad acid and wandered into a Stephen King funhouse.
In a flash, I came to my senses and my center, and simply stepped away. Because this is what life has taught me: There are certain people I need to avoid, as nothing good will come from interacting with them; there will be no meeting of the minds.
This lesson has been a tough one to absorb for a person who, by nature, craves harmony with everyone who comes into his orbit. I usually find a way to positively connect with my fellow humans, but there is a limit, and this woman was beyond it.
I drove off, returning home to clean out my minivan. Despite my explosion of anger in the shock of the moment, I bore no ill will toward the woman. In fact, I sent her, and continue to send her, positive energy through the ether. Just not in person.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.