“Hi, Jernigan. This is Elijah. Could you pick me up at the top of Church Street? I don’t have any money on me. My grandma said she’d pay you tomorrow.”
“Elijah, how ya doin’, buddy? Sure, I can come get you, but what do you call the top of Church Street? We talkin’ about Main or Pearl?” (In my experience, this is a 50-50 proposition, so I’ve learned to ask.)
Elijah replied, “OK, I see what you mean. I’m on Pearl. Right in front of the U.U. Church.”
Elijah is a great kid, the son of the daughter of Angelique, an old and dear friend. She’s actually quite young to be the grandmother of a teenager, but the women in her bloodline seem to start their families at an early age.
Here’s the thing: I wasn’t going to take any money from Angie. The woman is broker than me, and that’s saying something. It was prime time on a Saturday night, so the ride out to Elijah’s house in Essex Junction was going to cost me in lost fares, and not insignificantly. Still, despite any misgivings, it felt right to take the kid on the house.
On my way to the pickup, Angelique called to say that her grandson might be calling me tonight, and that she would pay me tomorrow. I laughed and told her it had already happened, and not to worry about the fare. “You know I mean it,” she protested. “I can send you a check.” I assured her we were good, and she told me I was sweet, which is always nice to hear.
On the way out to Essex, Elijah mentioned that he wasn’t going to his home — which I knew to be just before the fairgrounds — but to a friend’s house in the Brickyard development. “No problem, buddy,” I said, biting my tongue. That’s another 10 minutes on a Saturday night, I thought.
I dropped Elijah at his friend’s house, and, on the way back through Five Corners, three men and a woman hailed me from across the road in front of the Lincoln Inn. I stopped the cab. One called out, “To the marina in Burlington?”
“Hop in,” I replied.
As they climbed into the taxi, a wave of peace and equanimity came over me. Sometimes our best intentions are affirmed. Sure, in the greater scheme of things, this was a trivial matter. And, yes, maybe I posit connections where, rationally speaking, none exist. But my free fare out to the Brickyard for a friend was about to be paid for, and to me it felt meaningful.
To make matters even better, this foursome was a friendly and gregarious bunch. All three men were tall and rangy, maybe in their forties, and the woman was petite and attractive with dark, shiny eyes. “Hey, I just got to ask,” I said to my customer in the shotgun seat. “If you got a boat docked in Burlington with all its fabulous clubs and restaurants, why come all the way out here to eat?”
“We always come here,” he replied. “This is the best food in town, my friend.”
I chuckled and said, “Well, I can’t argue with that. It’s a good joint, all right. You folks down from Montréal?”
“Yes, we are,” my seatmate confirmed. “I guess the boat gives us away.”
“I had a fare up to Trudeau Airport last Saturday. I figured the traffic wouldn’t be so bad on the weekend, but the Pont Champlain Bridge was down to one lane in each direction. Jeez, it took me nearly an additional hour coming and going.”
“Yes, it’s terrible,” the man agreed. “The province put off infrastructure maintenance for decades, and now we’re paying the price. I live and work on the island, so it’s not so bad for me. But for the folks who commute in from the southern suburbs, it’s a disaster. I know people who have actually sold their homes and moved into Montréal because the commuting time has become untenable.”
Something he said piqued my interest. “Did you say, ‘island’? Is Montréal proper actually an island?”
“It sure is. Just like Manhattan in New York City.”
“Well, knock me over with a feather. I just learned something new.”
As we passed the old Fanny Allen Hospital, I asked my seatmate, “So, how do you folks all know each other? Old college friends?”
“Not a bad guess,” he said with a smile. “We are the closest of old friends. Me and these two guys were all on the Canadian national fencing team. Adriana was on the Argentine fencing team. That’s when she met Thomas back there.”
“Wow, that is way cool. Did you guys compete in the Olympics?”
“Yes, in ’84 and ’88. In the 1984 Olympics we finished just off the podium in fourth place. I’m proud to say we were part of the best fencing teams that Canada ever produced.”
“Fantastic. Fencing is something like boxing, am I right? Like, it requires amazing reflexes and anticipation.”
“Yes, very much like boxing in the footwork involved and managing the spacing with your opponent. It’s all about the constant feinting or dekeing, trying to draw the other guy off balance and vulnerable to attack.”
“Cool,” I said. “The other thing I know about fencing is that, in real life, it’s nothing like the scenes in those pirate movies. You know, where the fights go on between guys for, like, 20 minutes. In real fencing, it’s generally over in, what — 10 seconds?”
My seatmate began to laugh. “It’s so funny you say that. Our coach — and he was the best coach ever for Canada — he used to have us set up these elaborate fighting scenarios, like in those movies. He would choreograph these fight scenes for us, and we would have a ball acting them out. It really broke up the tension with all the intense training we went through.”
I dropped the swordsmen and -woman at the marina next to the Burlington Boathouse. On and off for the rest of the night, I thought about one of my favorite childhood films, Captain Blood, which was a TV constant back in the day. The story’s hero was Errol Flynn, a leading man who really knew how to put the swash in swashbuckler. As an adolescent pining for love, I took as my model the way Errol — as Peter Blood, the reluctant pirate — wooed and won the hand of the commander’s niece, the delectable Olivia de Havilland. This was not an easy formula to replicate as a scruffy kid on the streets of Brooklyn, but I could have done worse.
A few days later, I received a warm note in the mail from Angelique. Folded inside was a 10-dollar bill, unexpected but totally appreciated.