Spring has been teasing us lately: Here I am! No, I’m not! I don’t mind at all. Most every morning now I can hear the birds outside my window, and they don’t need Twitter to tweet their news. I have it on good authority from a pair of sleek robins that winter is over, baby.
Mine is an outside profession. Granted, I’m encased in a metal cocoon, but I’m not sitting in an office. And, being outside, the job is so much more enjoyable when the Carhartt jacket comes off and the taxi windows come down, even if only a crack. My customers feel similarly frisky, because, as soon as the weather breaks, business picks up.
“So, what do you think of this weather, buddy?” I asked the handsome, black-haired man sitting next to me. He looked a little north or south of 30 and struck me as decidedly clean-cut. Not many men these days wear a sports jacket for a night on the town. Not in Burlington, anyway.
“Oh, man — it’s great,” he replied. “A little bracing tonight, though, don’t you think?”
“Bracing is good, right? You know — like Aqua Velva.”
“Aqua Velva — omigod! The blue stuff? I think, like, my dad used to wear that.”
“Hey, now,” I said with a laugh, swinging the vehicle onto South Williams. “Don’t knock Aqua Velva if you haven’t tried it. You know, there was life and sex appeal before Axe.”
We were on a quick jaunt originating in downtown Burlington, proceeding up the hill, down the hill and over the Winooski Bridge to the Woolen Mill apartments. I trace this route many times a night and, often when I cross the bridge, it brings to mind my first neighbor when I moved to Vermont in 1979: Hope Reynolds, a luminous, elderly woman who, along with her husband, Cedric, introduced me to the “Vermont way.”
In the fall of 1927, Hope told me, she was attending nursing school at the Mary Fletcher Hospital. Word spread one afternoon that the Winooski River was raging and was a “sight to behold.” So, she and a couple of her classmates put on raincoats and walked down the Colchester Avenue hill to take in the excitement. Not two minutes after they reached the banks, the water surged and ravaged the Winooski Bridge. “Over 1200 bridges were swept away in the Great Flood,” she said, “and, don’t ya know, I was a witness.”
My customer interrupted the reverie. “Did you grow up here?” he asked.
“Yup, down in Windsor. I just got back from living in New York City. I was down there for two years.”
“Country boy moves to the Big Apple — that’s an old story. Why’d ya return? Couldn’t take the pace?”
“No, it was a job thing,” he said. “I actually loved New York. I found it super-exciting. The business world, the arts — it was one awesome rush.”
“So, what do you do for work?”
My seatmate turned his head to look out his window, taking a sudden interest in Greenmount Cemetery passing on our right. Either this guy has a special fascination with the departed, I thought, or he’s hesitant to answer the question. Trying to dispel the awkwardness, I said, “Hey, I don’t mean to pry, man.”
“No, it’s OK,” he said, straightening up in his seat. “I’m in finance. I work for one of the investment banks.”
“That’s cool,” I said, innocuously, now understanding his initial reluctance.
“Yeah,” he said, “who would have imagined that a white-bread job like that would one day carry the scarlet letter?”
“Look, I’m sure that you have conducted yourself honorably, like the vast majority of folks in your profession. Things have gotten a little nuts this past year, but I don’t think that should tarnish everyone who labors in the finance industry.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I’m taking calls every day from clients who have lost a significant chunk of their portfolio. It’s hard not to feel personally responsible.”
We passed over the “new” Winooski Bridge, the dark water below undulating with the rush of Green Mountain snowmelt. Beneath the tremulous surface lay the ruins of the old bridge — from that 1927 afternoon of Hope’s memory — in an eternal wake. No need to spend taxpayer money to haul it out, I guess. When I die, I decided, I’m going to ask my family to stash me down there with the old bridge. A fitting internment, I’d say, for an old hackie who’s dropped his last fare.
We spun around the traffic circle and pulled up to the entrance of the Woolen Mill. My customer paid the fare and said, “Sorry you had to drive a douche-bag finance guy.”
“Brother,” I said, shaking my head, “I think you’re gonna have to let that go. Either that or get into a new line of work.”
“Yup,” he said with a weak smile as he stepped out of the cab, “I think you might be right about that.”