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The Leapling



Published March 19, 2008 at 6:18 a.m.

It was a busy Friday night, typical in all respects save the date - February 29. Unusual calendar dates used to hold some allure for me, until the Millennium came and went with nary a ripple. The countdown to Y2K, as it was dubbed, approached with the threat of a worldwide computer meltdown. As someone never quite comfortable with the digital revolution, I admit to feeling a certain letdown when the date switched over and the promised Armageddon failed to materialize. In the wake of that big fizzle, I yawn at supposed calendar anomalies.

On the corner by Mr. Mike's Pizza, a trio composed of a younger man and an older couple flagged me down. As the young guy settled into the shotgun seat, I couldn't get a read on him. Though he didn't appear to have been drinking, he did look slightly disheveled, like someone who had just undergone an ordeal.

He pivoted to face the man and woman in the back and asked, "I forget now, Dad. Where is it again you and Mom are staying?"

His mother said, "Andrew, your father won't remember. Let me get out the address." She opened her handbag and fished out a small notebook. "Here it is - 360 Main Street."

"Got it," I said, taking a semi-legal U-turn to head up the hill. Semi-legal maneuvers are my forte - quickie moves that allow me to make time, but are sufficiently benign to get a pass from our friends in blue. After 20-plus years on the job, it's a fine line that I drive with aplomb, if I say so myself. "Is that one of the frats?" I asked, visualizing that stretch of Main Street.

Andrew said, "No, my folks are staying at a B&B, I guess."

"Oh, of course," I said. "That would be the Lang House. It's one of the nicest places in town. Did you folks find a good restaurant to eat in tonight?"

"Not really," my seatmate replied. "We just grabbed some pizza."

"Pizza?" I scoffed, with a chuckle. "If you're staying at the Lang House, you should do better than pizza. There's a long list of fine restaurants in Burlington."

My customers chuckled along, more to be polite - so it seemed - than with any genuine amusement at my banter. "We'll see," Andrew's father spoke up. "Perhaps tomorrow night."

In a jiffy, we arrived at the inn, and I pulled up the driveway to the main entrance, around the back of the big Victorian. "I got this, Dad," Andrew said.

"All right, then," the father replied, and reached over the front seat to place a hand on his son's shoulder. Giving it a squeeze, he said, "Andy, you doing OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks again for coming - really. We'll see you guys in the morning at the hospital."

The parents left the cab, and I asked Andrew, "Up to the Fletcher Allen?"

"Yes, please," he replied. "I think they said something about going to the emergency room to gain entrance at this time of night."

As we took a left back onto Main Street, I wanted to ask the man, "Who's at the hospital? What's going on?" But, though I'm typically indiscreet, I thought better.

Andrew took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and said, "My son was born today."

"Really?" I said. "That is just great. Congratulations. I was wanting to ask about the hospital, but, you know . . . Hey, is this your first kid?"

"Yeah, it sure is. This has been a huge trial for my wife and me. They expected some serious heart problems with the baby. I kid you not - there were 15 people in the delivery room."

"Holy smokes," I said, trying to picture such a throng of medical personnel. "How's the baby doing?"

"The baby's doing great and so is my wife. Things turned out much better than anyone expected. The little guy has his eyes open, and I could swear he's smiling. He still has to stay under observation for a few days. They're giving him all these tests, but, so far, so good."

We arrived at the hospital, and the guy fumbled through his pockets looking for some money. "I don't know where anything is, man," he said. "I'm sorry to hold you up."

"No problem whatsoever," I said. "I understand. Take your time."

Finally, he came upon a handful of bills and counted out a few to pay me. I thanked him for the nice tip and asked, "So, have you named the baby yet?"

"We sure have. His name is Niko."

"That's a great name," I said, smiling at the new dad. The love glowing in his eyes was like the sun at daybreak. Fatherhood will do that to a man.

"Yeah, it comes from my wife's family," he said, and now he was getting misty-eyed. Under the best of circumstances, it's a leap of faith to bring a new soul into this world. This young man and his wife had been through the mill and had come out the other side, undoubtedly stronger for the tribulation.

"The whole lot of 'em are Greek!" he added, laughing as he stepped out of the taxi.