The cellular rang just before midnight on a recent Wednesday. How much for a ride from Middlebury to Burlington? a young male voice inquired.
I paused before responding, but not because I couldnt use a good fare on this otherwise slow night. My hesitation arose from the nature of the request why would a person need a cab from Middlebury to Burlington at this late hour?
Well, the answer to your question is 55 dollars, I said. But, frankly, Im a little nervous about driving empty down to Middlebury for a pick-up. So, Ive gotta ask you what the circumstances are. Give me some assurance youll be there when I arrive.
Sure, man, I understand. Its my girlfriend. Shes a sophomore at UVM, and were having kind of a rough patch. I told her Id come up tonight, and my friggin car wont start. Ill pay the 55. Ill be there, I promise.
He was speaking fast now, like he was in a time-limited audition. My names Matty. I live on top of the Alpine Shop, right in downtown Middlebury.
All right, Matty, I replied. You sold me. My intuition told me I could trust this guy. He sounded sincere, and woman problems were a perfectly logical explanation for a young man taking an expensive cab ride at midnight. Meet me right out on that main intersection at 12:30, okay?
Thanks, Ill be there. I really appreciate this. Two other cab companies turned me down.
Great, I said. That gives me a boost of confidence. Ill see ya in 45 minutes.
When I arrived in Middlebury it was drizzling. Under the rosy glow of the corner streetlamp stood a young man of about 20, a pizza box balanced between his hip and left hand, a slice in his right. His hair was sandy brown and tousled, and he had an honest, open face. He looked, in fact, exactly like I had imagined him, based on his voice.
Thanks, man, he said as he climbed into the front seat, pizza box first. Im so happy to see you. Dya want some pizza?
No thanks for asking, though. I actually just had a slice from Mr. Mikes on the way out of town.
As we headed north on Route 7, Matty chomped away at his food, seemingly nonchalant. He didnt appear distraught in the least, which surprised me given the situation as he had explained it. Either this was one cool character, I thought, or he was taking the opportunity of this ride to forget about his relationship travails.
So, Matty, you going to Middlebury College? I thought all students had to live on campus.
Matty returned a half-eaten slice to the box, which was open on his lap, and wiped his lips with the back of one hand. The rain was still falling softly, more like a mist now, and the tires whooshed rhythmically along with the windshield wipers. So long as I didnt try to push it and I knew better the driving conditions were fine, even pleasant. It felt cozy inside the warm vehicle.
No, Im not a student. I grew up in Middlebury. Im a homeboy, Matty said, chuckling at that thought.
Huh, I said, taken slightly aback. I stand corrected. I had pegged him and his girlfriends bond as an intercollegiate love affair.
Stop me if Im being nosy, but how did you hook up with a UVM student? I asked.
Oh, we went to high school together. We started going out back then.
Wow, I said. Thats a long time. So, are you working in Middlebury?
You bet. I work at two jobs the Ben & Jerrys scoop shop and Waterfront Video.
Waterfront Video? You commute up to Burlington?
No, they have a branch in Middlebury. They carry, like, the coolest films. Its a great place for me to work Im, like, the total movie geek. At some point I know Im going to have to go to college and get a career, but I really dont know what I want to do. My folks say that it doesnt matter, Ill figure it out once Im in college.
Well, I can see your folks perspective, but I wouldnt minimize the stuff there is to learn living atop a sportswear store and selling ice cream and videos. I bet youll know when its the right time to pursue school again.
I hope so, he said, picking up a new wedge of pizza, because some days I feel like Im approaching slacker territory.
Having provided such sage advice on the young mans work and school issues, I moved onto his love life. So, whats going on with this girl?
Matty shook his head and lowered the pizza midway to the box. Im not sure, man, Im really not. What she says is that I dont really listen to her.
Youre in luck, because I just happen to know something about that. This is the deal: You just listen. Dont try to solve her problems. Its that Mars-Venus thing.
That what? Matty was looking at me with a bemused smile.
Never mind, I replied. The point is Hell, I dont know what the point is!
We laughed together, and talked about vintage movies the rest of the ride to Burlington. When we arrived at the dorm, a pretty, bright-eyed girl was out in front, wearing an old-fashioned yellow rain jacket.
Thats her, Matty said.
I figured, I replied. Itll be okay. Just remember that listening thing.
Sure, man, he promised, and walked out into the rain, and the waiting arms of his high school sweetheart.