For a Burlington-based cabdriver, a fare to the outer reaches of an outlying town - Essex, Colchester, Shelburne - is a perfectly decent fare. Except, that is, during the couple of hours around 2 a.m. on weekend nights. These are the precious hours of "last call," when the crowds pour from the clubs and bars, ready for their cab rides to hotel rooms or homes. The last thing a cabbie wants during the late-night rush hour is a long haul. The money is in maximizing short trips, such as quickie runs up Williston or Shelburne roads, or to the various neighborhoods of Burlington proper.
This time of night, some cabbies actually decline the longer runs, but I consider that unethical. Folks need to get home wherever they live - if you're a taxi driver, that's your job. So, I wasn't thrilled when a young couple hailed me at the height of a recent nightly rush, climbed into the back seat and said, "Colchester Point - is that all right?"
"Sure thing," I replied, and headed for the Northern Connector. Luck of the draw, I thought. If you let the inevitable ups and downs of the biz get to you, you're not cut out for hacking.
But as it turned out, I had scored the daily double: a less-than-desirable destination and passengers who hit the seat squabbling.
"Courtney, why'd you pull me outta that bar?" the man said. His voice was flat, yet seething with emotion. "A guy's talking like that, hitting on your girlfriend, he's gotta expect an ass-kicking."
"Matt, I told you," Courtney replied. I could tell this was not their first go-round on this particular subject. It was also clear that if the guy believed his actions bespoke some kind of chivalry, his girlfriend was having none of it. "The cops were on their way, for chrissake. I saved your ass."
"Well, I'd rather be in jail now. That guy needed a beating."
Glancing up at the rear-view, I noticed that Courtney was a looker: long, corn-silk blonde hair setting off a beautiful face, and a body to match. Among the twentysomething bar-hoppers, she would be deemed "hot." I could imagine guys constantly making passes at her, at least when her boyfriend was not at her side.
"Look, Matt," she said, with a bored irritation that signaled her final statement on the matter, "girls hassle me all the friggin' time when we're out together. They all want to get with you. Do you see me getting into fights? Do ya?"
A brooding silence ensued, which I much preferred to the verbal sparring. As we took the left onto Porters Point Road, Courtney said to me, "You take plastic, right?"
"No, I don't, sorry. Do we need to stop at the ATM?"
"Yeah, could you pull into this Merchants?"
I swung in, put the car in park, and waited . . . as Courtney took quite a bit of time in the ATM cubicle. I turned to Matt and said, "Why don't you see if you can help her out with the machine?"
Matt sneered at me. "Yeah, right. So you can just take off and leave us here stranded? No way, man."
"What the hell are you talking about?" I retorted. "What kind of logic is that? Why would I abandon you without getting my money? That makes no sense whatsoever."
"Hey, I'm from Manhattan, man, so I take cabs all the time. You think we don't have the money, so you just want to get out of here."
"Well," I said, "this ain't Manhattan. And furthermore, you're two middle-class kids and your girlfriend's a local, so I know I'm gonna get the money eventually. Plus, I'm not going to leave you out here five miles from her place. C'mon."
"Sorry, man," he said. "I'm just used to the big-city vibe. I'll go in to help her."
"By the way," I added gratuitously, "in the situation with that jerk and your girlfriend, the more powerful action is to walk away."
"Yeah," he said, stepping out of the cab, "I guess I knew that."
Five more minutes passed. I resigned myself to the fact that tonight's bar rush was now officially a bust. The couple finally returned to the cab, both of them apologizing profusely. Something was amiss with her card, or the machine - they couldn't quite sort it out. "Just leave us here, man," Matt said. "We'll walk. We can't ask you to drive us any further. We feel terrible."
"No, I'll drive you home. Is it your house, Courtney? You got a checkbook there?"
"No, we're staying at my aunt's while she's out of town."
"Well, if I give you my address, will you promise to mail me a check this week?"
"Yes, absolutely. I feel, like, so bad."
"Yeah, I got that, but I'll tell you - I never end up getting the check when this happens. So, this is all about your integrity. You got what I'm saying?"
"Oh, you'll get the check. I swear."
A couple of weeks have passed, and - surprise - there's been no check in the mail. But I know that, in the moment, Courtney really meant to do the right thing. It's just a case of poor follow-through. It always is.