It was the heart of the summer and the Queen City was jamming. The fares spilled in and out of my taxi in waves, each one a mini-story unto itself.
The cul-de-sac at the terminus of College Street was eerily quiet. I was about to zip up the hill when I noticed a bride and groom walking up from the boat docked next to the Community Boathouse. As the newly minted husband held his wife’s hand, she reached down to shed her high heels. The cliché is true: Every bride is beautiful. This girl was stunning in swaths of white chiffon. The groom was no slouch himself in a snazzy tuxedo, his tie undone and a smile on his face like he’d just won the lottery.
I called out to the betrothed through the open window of my taxi, “Hey, you folks need a ride anywhere? It’s on me.”
They looked at one another and nodded. “Sure,” the woman replied. “That’d be so sweet. We’re only going up to the Hilton, but my feet are killing me.”
They climbed into the backseat — no small job for the bride in her wedding gown — and the two of them held four hands as one, their eyes glued to one another for the short hop to Battery Street. “Have a great marriage,” I said as they got out at their hotel, and I continued up the hill.
Moments later, a mom and her son hailed me in front of American Flatbread. “We’re staying at the Doubletree,” she said, “but could we stop somewhere to pick up playing cards?”
“Absolutely,” I replied. “I believe they sell cards at the downtown Shell.”
At the store, the boy enthusiastically volunteered to go in and make the buy. Simple things can be exciting when you’re 10 years old. “My son is crazy into card tricks,” the woman said with a weary, maternal sigh. “He just has to show me his new ones.”
“You are a good mom,” I said. “And, hey — at least the kid still wants to hang out with you.”
Next up in my cab was a woman, maybe 30, staying with a friend on Bartlett Bay Road. “What a convenient place to live,” I jested. “Right next to Magic Hat Brewery. Yee-haw.”
On the drive down Shelburne Road, the woman told me she had just quit a job she hated in San Francisco and was moving to Vermont. “My life is passing by, and I felt it was time to start doing the thing I love most, which is writing.”
“Well, good for you,” I said. “Vermont is the place to fulfill your dreams, and it sounds like now is the best time to do it.”
I dropped my San Francisco lady and hustled back to town. At the Ben & Jerry’s corner of Church Street, a gaggle of tourists flagged me down to take them to the Comfort Inn on Route 7. They were all decked out in biking shorts and the like, some with colorful kerchiefs around their necks. “Is five OK wit you?” one of the men asked, his Québécois accent making me think of a plate of steaming poutine.
“No problem,” I assured him. “Just put the biggest person in the front with me and the other four in the back.” As it turned out, the tallest among them couldn’t have been more than 5’7”. “You are some petite Montréalers,” I joked as they piled in. “Like Munchkins.”
“Munchkin?” said a woman in the back. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”
“You know — The Wizard of Oz? The little people?”
“Ah — oui, oui!” she said, and they all laughed. “We are de Munchkin people.”
They told me they were bicycling up to Grand Isle the next day, and I recommended Penny Cluse for breakfast before they set out. “What kind of name is dat?” one of the Munchkins asked.
“If I got this right, I think it was the name of the owner’s dog. You know — le chien.” I know about 23 French words and will not pass up an opportunity to use them.
A bit later, back downtown by the Vermont Pub & Brewery, a nattily dressed African American man raised a hand. He turned out to be from D.C., an environmental lawyer for the State Department up here for a meeting. “Man,” he said, “this town is young. Where does an older person go for a drink and some music?”
I chuckled and said, “That’s a good question. The night scene here is real young. In B-town, you’re over the hill by your mid-thirties.” I laughed again. “I guess that makes me over the hill, through the dale and all the way to grandma’s house. Hey, I’ll tell ya what — I could take you to the bar at the Holiday Inn. You get a nice older crowd there.”
“Thanks, brother,” he said, “but you might as well just take me to my hotel. My night is over, man.”
My next fare, a silver-haired lady, was going to the Marriott on Battery Street. On the jog through town, we passed a group of women laughing uproariously — a bachelorette party in full swing. The star of the evening wore a gold tiara and a frilly, violet-hued boa wrapped around her neck. Tucked under her arm, this bride-to-be carried a 5-foot-long pink balloon with two cantaloupe-sized balloons attached at the bottom.
“Oh, Lord, is that what I think it is?” my customer queried from the back seat.
“Yup, I believe so,” I replied.
“Well,” she said, “I fear this bride might be seriously disappointed on her wedding night.”
I dropped the fare at the Marriott and noticed a party under way in the fully windowed first floor of the new addition. It seemed like a mixture of adults and a lot of exuberantly dancing teenagers, mostly girls. The crowd was at least half Indian, many of the older women dressed in brightly colored saris. A man stepped through the function room’s outside door to smoke a cigarette, and I could hear blasting Bollywood music. I asked the partygoer, “Is that a wedding?”
“No, not a wedding,” the man replied with a smile. “It’s a sweet-16 party. My niece.”
At that moment, a call came in from a longtime customer. “It’s Ivan and Jill from Lakeshore Drive,” he said. “We’re at Drink. Could you take me and my wife back home? On the way, we need to drop off Myra on Macrae. Somehow, Dan got lost, and she is pissed.”
I scooped up the three of them, and I could tell Myra was not a happy wifey. I know all these people fairly well, having driven them for years. Dan, her husband, is a good guy, but apparently he wasn’t behaving himself this evening. Not exactly a wedding night at the Hilton for this couple.
Arriving at Myra’s house, she said, “Oh, shit — I don’t have any money on me. Could I run in and write you a check, Jernigan?”
Ivan interjected, “Myra, don’t worry about it. We got you covered.”
I said, “Either that, Myra, or you could make out with me for a little bit. That’d work, too.”
Myra allowed herself a half-grin. “That’s a nice offer, Jernigan, but I’m just not in the mood tonight.”
“Aw, that’s too bad,” I said. “Maybe next time.”
And so it goes: Another Saturday night for your Vermont cabbie.