"Do you smoke, man?" The young man sitting beside me wasn't taking a sociological survey, nor was he merely curious about his cab driver's personal habits. He asked the question because, undoubtedly, he and his roommate in the back seat wanted to smoke in the cab on the ride back to their Northgate apartment. I'm asked this question about five times a night.
"Are we talkin' cigs or marijuana?" I replied.
The guy smiled, cocking his head. My question to his question was slightly provocative, and he looked like he was attempting to size me up, to ascertain my intentions. Before he could answer, I simplified the discussion.
"Hey, it doesn't really matter, because I smoke neither. When I was your age I smoked both, but that was 20 years ago last century, actually."
We turned onto the Northern Connector, my favorite local stretch of highway. I was already living here when they built it, but I can't recall the political give-and-take that resulted in the placement of two gorgeous bridges spanning the road. The spectacular, all-wood arched bridge, in particular, is graceful and magnificent, and must have cost a ton to construct.
The roommate in the rear seat perked up. "I thought all the Burlington cabbies smoked weed. Like it was a job requirement or something. Am I right, Ty, or what?"
Ty lifted his baseball cap with his left hand, and with the right, ran his fingers through his thick, wavy, brown hair. It occurred to me that the last time I smoked pot I still had hair like that, too.
"Don't pay attention to Ben back there," Ty said. "He thinks everyone's a stoner."
Ben reached over the seat and playfully knocked Ty's hat off his head. Ty caught the hat, stretched into the back and whacked Ben a couple of times with it. The easy physical joshing made plain these roommates were also buddies.
"Tell me, man," Ty continued, "why did you stop smoking? Din'cha enjoy it?"
This is an interesting question, I thought, and something I haven't considered for many years. I hesitated in responding because of a natural disinclination to get into my private life with customers, particularly those I don't know. When it comes to personal revelation, I feel like those tribal people who react violently at attempts to photograph them. Some apparently believe a photo might capture their soul. It's not that I don't enjoy talking about my favorite subject me I just prefer to do it with people I trust.
But there was something about the demeanor of these two young men, Ty in particular, that felt earnest. So I adjusted my own baseball cap this stimulates thinking and began to speak.
"Okay, this is what happened. Life became more interesting with a clear mind than a stoned one. It wasn't a moral decision, or even a health consideration. It was just that I would light up, when I stopped to think about it, in search of certain things intimacy, fun, creativity, even cosmic awareness. Well, I began to notice that my marijuana use was counter-productive to these ends. More of that good stuff was available to me when I was straight."
I glanced to my side and read a strange look on Ty's face. I said, "You do know what I mean by straight,' right? I don't mean heterosexual; I mean off drugs."
Ty rolled his eyes. "We know what you mean, man," he replied with a sigh, like this wasn't his first time attempting to carry on a conversation with an aging baby boomer.
"Just checking," I said, chuckling. "Anyway," I continued, "that's why I quit drugs. I think you just get older and your priorities and outlook change. It was something like that."
"I totally know where you're comin' from, man," Ben jumped in from the back. "I graduated college a couple of years ago, and I feel like I'm stuck in this rut. I mean, me and my friends, we hang around Finnigan's just about every night, and it just ain't working anymore. Like, I gotta get on with the next phase of my life. Maybe drinking and weed won't be part of it."
We turned onto Northgate Road, and I eased to a stop in front of the guys' unit. Ben got out, while Ty lingered to pay the fare.
"Listen, I'll be honest with you," Ty said, handing me the money. "We are going into that apartment right now and getting stoned out of our faces."
I raised my hands and flipped them up at the shoulders. "No need to explain, justify or apologize," I said. "You asked me about my drug history, and I just told ya. I'm not preaching, advising or recommending. Do what you got to do, man. You know, whatever gets you through the night it's all right."
Ty laughed, shaking his head. "You sure you don't want to join us? You know, once more for old time's sake?"
"As tempting as that sounds, brother, I don't think the old heart can take it." I shifted the taxi back into drive, and drove off into the fray, straight down North Avenue.