F orget July 4th, St. Patrick’s Day or, for that matter, New Year’s Eve. Over the last few years, another celebration has muscled its way to the pinnacle of Burlington’s party calendar. For sheer number and enthusiasm of revelers, the annual Vermont Brewers Festival now trumps them all. That’s the street-level assessment of one local cabbie, anyway.
This year’s beer bash was as rocking as ever, lousy economy be damned. Trolling that weekend on a downtown street, I felt the presence of a pink cloud off the taxi’s starboard. “Hey, bud,” said the cloud. “You available?”
I came to a complete stop and turned to face a big-and-tall man with a mop of salt-and-red-pepper hair. He was wearing a billowy, pink cotton shirt open to reveal a hairy chest, and tan cargo pants with enough compartments to operate a mobile five-and-dime. Pontoon-sized coral Crocs festooned his feet. All that was missing from the ensemble were a couple of medallions dangling from thick chains.
“I guess I’m available,” I replied. “What can I do ya?”
“You can do me a round trip to my nephew’s apartment on School Street. I gotta pick something up and head back downtown. The name’s Donny, by the way.”
“Let’s do it, Donny,” I said, reaching across to unlatch the front door and offer up the shotgun seat. This was not your average Burlington taxi customer — beer festival notwithstanding — and I wanted to imbibe the full experience, from mop to Croc.
“Man, oh, man,” Donny said, smacking his hands together as he hit the seat. “These French fries are everything my nephew raved about.” I glanced over and observed the just-finished clamshell of Nectar’s gravy fries balanced on the man’s lap. “I had a couple of rounds of sushi earlier in the evening, so this is just what the doctor ordered.”
I said, “Run that by me a little slower, brother. I don’t think I’m exactly grasping the relationship of the sushi and the gravy fries.”
He broke out in an ear-to-ear smile, signaling his delight with the query. “Well, it’s this theory I’ve developed that I call ‘dietary aerobics.’ After a few platters of sushi, I like to finish off with French fries or, say, a pizza pie. You see, this will push the plaque right out of your system. It’s, like, flushing the old arteries.”
“I see, I see,” I said, hooking a right onto Loomis Street. “That’s a very innovative concept. How’s it working for ya?”
Donny let out a hearty laugh, placing the empty clamshell on the mat between his Crocs. “Well, it’s like this,” he explained, twice slapping his prodigious abdomen with both his palms. “My old dad lived to age 89 smoking a pack of Luckies daily, until the day he keeled over. On top of that, he would drink at least two Old Fashioneds every night before dinner. So, we Renard men know how to enjoy life to the fullest and live to tell about it.”
At School Street, we pulled to a stop in front of the nephew’s place, and my customer was in and out in a flash. “So, Donny,” I asked as we headed back downtown, “where do we call home?”
“I’ve lived in Vegas since the mid-’80s. Greatest town on Earth, let me tell ya. I wouldn’t — I couldn’t — live anywhere else. The casinos, the clubs, the women — God help me! It’s 24-hour action.”
Donny of Las Vegas got me thinking as I drove along North Street. I don’t begrudge anyone their choice of domicile, and I don’t believe any single geographical location is intrinsically “better” than another. I just consider myself incredibly fortunate — blessed, even — to have found a place to call home that so naturally buoys my spirits.
That being said, I do collect places that might be dubbed the “Anti-Vermont.” For a while my leading contender was Los Angeles. A qualifying factor: In Vermont, folks are who they are; pretense and posing go over about as well as phony maple syrup. I’ve spent a little time in L.A., and, well…
Donny’s capsule Las Vegas travelogue got me reconsidering. Perhaps Sin City has the edge on the City of Angels as the true opposite of Vermont. More research is needed.
As we reentered Burlington’s version of the Vegas Strip, Donny suddenly began to pound his chest. “God almighty,” he griped, “I got this killer heartburn.”
“I have some Rolaids here,” I said, reaching over to pop open the glove compartment and fish out a roll. “Want one?”
“You are a lifesaver, brother,” Donny said, grabbing the antacids. In one fell swoop he popped eight of them — half the pack, anyway — into his mouth. Aghast, I watched as he pulverized them in five wood- chipper-worthy bites, and swallowed. He then burped and said, “I feel better already.”
“Where can I drop you?” I asked, shaking off the Rolaids image.
“My nephew’s gonna meet me at — where the hell did he say? — oh, yeah, Manhattan Pizza. I could go for a pepperoni pie right about now.”
“Really?” I asked, incredulously, as the guy looked like the Mount St. Helens of coronary candidates. “A pepperoni pizza pie?”
“Dietary aerobics, my friend, dietary aerobics.”