The woman who climbed into the shotgun seat of my taxi had white powder makeup covering her face and accentuating her large, sad-raccoon eyes. She wore classic black ballet flats and black-and-white-striped tights. In the center of her chest was a scarily realistic gaping bullet hole. She looked at me, and I looked at her.
"I get it," I announced.
"If you do, I'm impressed," she replied.
"You're a mime that somebody tried to kill. Because, of course, everybody hates mimes. God knows why, but it is a thing."
"You got it! I tried to get my boyfriend to be the murderer, but he balked."
In the rearview mirror, I caught the boyfriend's eye, and he shot me a wave and a shrug. To be fair, he was a decent zombie. Zombies, however, don't hate mimes and are, I believe, incapable of any human emotion. I'm sure a zombie would eat a mime, I thought, before dropping the mental thread altogether.
Halloween fell on a Saturday this year. When it falls on a weekday, the adult segment of the celebration is dispersed: Some wait for the actual night of the 31st, while others party the preceding weekend. There's no such ambiguity when it hits on the weekend, particularly Saturday, and the downtown crowds reflected this both in numbers and rip-roaring enthusiasm. Needless to say, we cabbies were in high demand.
At 2 a.m., daylight saving time ended and clocks "fell back" to 1 a.m. Would this extend for one hour the 2 a.m. "last call" at the bars? I never did get an answer to that question, as a call came in that became my last fare of the night.
"Hey, Jernigan, this is Graydon. I know you must be busy, but any chance you could pick me up at the UVM police station? I need a ride home to Jericho."
"Sure, man," I replied. The guy's name was familiar, but I couldn't place it. This is not unusual, given the scores of people who use my taxi on an intermittent basis. Combine that with a brain just barely hanging on to middle age, and I'm lucky to remember the day, month, year and president. "Where's that located?" I asked. "Off East Avenue, right? By the heliport?"
"Yeah, that's the place. How long?"
"Fifteen minutes. I'm just clearing Essex."
Yes, Graydon, it dawned on me the moment I hung up. He's a guy I've known for probably 20 years. I couldn't recall exactly how I knew him — some association with his parents, perhaps? Whatever the origin story, Graydon was a person I held in great affinity. Though I don't recall ever socializing with him, we always stop and chat whenever we run into one another in town, and Burlington is compact enough to make that roughly a yearly occurrence. And, apparently, he'd kept hold of my taxi number.
When I took the turn onto Carrigan Drive, Graydon was waiting on the side of the road. He climbed into the seat beside me, and we took off. I was pretty sure of the circumstances that gave rise to this moment.
"Oh, man," he said, with a deep exhale. "Did you ever have a day that went just great until the very end, when everything turns around 180 degrees?"
"I have," I replied. "You want to tell me about yours?"
"I was at this awesome Halloween party, and driving back I must have swerved slightly in the road, and a UVM cop pulled me over. I blew point-oh-eight, and they towed my car, and — well — here I am. I feel so stupid, so embarrassed."
"That's terrible, man. Just over the limit, too."
"They told me I'll receive a notice in the mail. I suppose it will be a DUI, right? The officer did say they appreciated that I was completely cooperative. That should help if I talk to the DA or whoever handles this? It would be my first DUI, so that's in my favor, too, I guess."
I said, "I'll tell you this — it will pay to get a lawyer to represent you. It's definitely worth the money if you're facing a DUI charge. A good defense lawyer will have the ear of the DA and could negotiate on your behalf. If you try to do this on your own, you're basically screwed. Sorry to say, but that's our legal system."
"Thanks, I'll definitely keep that in mind."
Graydon lived on the Richmond side of Jericho, so we took the highway rather than Route 15. I wasn't rushing. Frankly, I was enjoying spending this time with him, even under the crummy circumstances.
"Enough about my sad story," he said. "How's your night going?"
I smiled and told him — everything from the wounded mime to my ongoing tussles with Uber. When it comes to Uber, I explained, I feel like the old-time cabbies like me are the Mayans and the Uberites are the conquistadors. "In other words," I summed up, "we're fucked."
Graydon laughed. "I'm sure you'll find a way, Jernigan. I expect that your customers will stay loyal to you. I can't imagine any of them defecting."
"I hope you're right," I said. "Thanks for the support."
This was so like Graydon, caring about my well-being on what was probably his worst night of the year. The guy is simply a warm human being. That's the only way to put it. I know each one of us can work on being a better person, but that presence of warmth almost seems God-given.
We got off the highway at Exit 11, and, after a few miles and a turn up Barber Farm Road, we reached Graydon's long, steep dirt driveway. I wondered about the road name, whether there was once a Jericho farmer who cut hair on the side.
Graydon paid me the fare, and we shook hands, which eased naturally into an intimate four-hand shake. Looking him straight in the eyes, I said, "Don't get down on yourself. We're all only human, which means we all make mistakes and do stupid shit now and then. I mean, it's not like you shot a mime or something."
Graydon chuckled and said, "Thanks for the ride, and I'll see you around."
I knew I would, and I smiled in the comfort that Graydon is part of my world.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.