Daniel March’s plane was due in at 11:20 p.m. but touched down well after midnight. Earlier in the day, the landing gear had failed on a Southwest Airlines jet coming into LaGuardia, resulting in a crash landing. (Thankfully, the passenger injuries were minor and few.) Even though my customer was flying in from Newark, any plane crash sends ripples throughout the system. So, all in all, I was relieved the delay was just an hour.
At the gate I met Daniel, a middle-aged guy with a neatly trimmed, graying beard and an easy smile. I wouldn’t call him plump, but he clearly wasn’t hitting the gym daily, which — at least in the moment — made me feel better about my own physique/shoddy fitness regimen.
“Did you check any luggage?” I asked, observing the two bags he carried, one over his shoulder.
“Yeah, sorry, I had to check one other bag,” he replied.
“Well, phooey to that,” I said, knowing this would entail some additional dead time — that is to say, nondriving time. (If my foot is not on the accelerator, I’m not making money, is how I see it.) As I intuited he would, Daniel chuckled at my quip, which established the tone of our conversation for the ride to come: I could allow the kidder in me to emerge freely because of a rapport we seemed naturally to share.
The flight was full, so, as I expected, it took close to half an hour for the bags to make their appearance on the luggage belt. While we stood around waiting, I got the basics of Daniel’s Vermont visit. He was heading to the Basin Harbor Club for a family vacation. No, it wasn’t his first time here and, yes, he loved being in Vermont. He also shared — after my nosy inquiry — what he did for a living: In Fort Worth, Texas, he serves as director of an art museum.
The rain was falling in a steady thrum as we exited the terminal and walked to my waiting taxi. “For two months, in May and June, it rained, often heavily,” I said as we positioned his things in the trunk, “but this is the first real rain we’ve had in a couple weeks now.”
“Well, aren’t I lucky?” Daniel joked. “Seriously, though — it’s kind of nice.”
“Yeah, I think so, too. I mean, so long as it don’t get torrential.”
As we made our way out of the airport and toward Route 7, I was weary but on task, still recovering from the past weekend, possibly the busiest on the calendar for us local cabbies. The annual Vermont Brewers Festival — locally known simply as the Brewfest — grows bigger and sudsier every year. The Saturday festivities featured two sessions, afternoon and evening, and I worked nonstop for 15 hours. One would think I’d have gotten too old for a shift of that magnitude, but apparently I haven’t — the switch goes on, and I’m good for the duration. Once the switch is turned off, I might collapse in a heap, but so long as I’m rolling, I’m as focused as the Buddha.
“So, I’ve never met a museum director,” I said, picking up the thread. “What’s the size of your place? How many folks do you manage?”
“I’d say it’s a midsize museum. Full-time staff — let me see … I think we’re at 82 at this point.”
“Holy moly! You’re leading a small empire down there! Must be an amazing job. Are you a natural-born Texan?”
“No, I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I went to college at Bowdoin, in Maine, so Texas has been this whole new thing for me — arid, flat fields as far as the eye can see.”
“Not to mention that they’re executing somebody, like, daily.”
“Well, let’s not get into that. But, yes, it is a vastly different environment.”
As we motored south, the rain volume and intensity began to increase. By Ferrisburgh, “pelting” was the word that came to mind.
“How do you drive in this weather?” Daniel asked, with just the slightest hint of alarm in his voice.
“As long as I can see the yellow line down the middle, I figure we’re good. Plus, as you might have noticed, I’ve really slowed it down.”
I babied my Buick LeSabre down the road — a powerful American sedan ignominiously transformed into a snail. We continued to talk about the world of museums, which, unexpectedly, I was finding fascinating. We touched on acquisitions, curating, fundraising and Daniel’s unique position at the center of the cultural milieu in a rapidly growing city.
I asked questions, but mostly just listened, keeping my eye affixed to that sweet yellow line. The rain was just not giving me a break; it was actually starting to feel like some personal vendetta.
The road went into a long descent, and I noticed we were passing through the old New Haven train junction. Oh, that’s nice, I thought, instantaneously followed by, Holy crap! We’re 10 miles past Vergennes and the turn-off to 22A and the Basin Harbor Club! Absorbed in the conversation amid the ongoing downpour, I had utterly lost track of our location.
I immediately pulled onto the shoulder, saying, “I’m so sorry. I just realized I missed our turn.”
Daniel was magnanimous. “Hey, don’t worry about it. This time of night, I’m really in no rush. Besides, I’m enjoying our conversation.”
“Oh, jeez — thanks. I’m so embarrassed. I never make mistakes like this. I pride myself on my professionalism.”
“Yeah, but this rain is totally crazy. I really don’t know how you’re seeing anything.”
“Well, thanks for that. OK, then — we’ll blame it on the rain.”
With that, I made a U-turn and headed back north. Having made its point, the bloody rain quickly petered out. Sure, now.
When we finally made it to the lakeside resort, the night sky was clear over the Adirondacks, the stars and moon showing off for all to see. I understand the ludicrousness of anthropomorphizing the natural world, but it’s never stopped me.
As we eased up to Daniel’s cabin, I put on my best folksy pilot’s voice and announced, “Well, the landing gear is down, and we anticipate a smooth touchdown.”
Daniel chuckled, saying, “Oh, sure — I bet the Southwest pilot said the same thing yesterday coming into LaGuardia!”
“Whoa, doggy!” I exclaimed, raising my eyebrows in mock shock.
“Too soon?” Daniel backpedaled.
“Ya think?”I said, and we both cracked up.