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April 30, 2007

Eva's Interview of Me

I was honored in January of 2007 to be interviewed by everyone's favorite vlogmeister, Ms. Eva Sollberger. (Check out her 7D Vlog, "Stuck in Vermont.") I think she did a wonderful job, in four short minutes, of capturing the many facets of my fabulous personality. But, you be the judge . . .

April 30, 2007 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Weekend Fun & Games

Well, it was a typically busy Burlington weekend. End Time is approaching for the students, and they were out partying in numbers, final exams be damned.

As Saturday night rushed towards last call, I began thinking, "Wow, I'm doing pretty good tonight; let's see if I can finish up with a flourish." Can you jinx yourself with thoughts? I wonder . . .

My next fare was a guy from Wolcott and his gynormous friend, who immediately passed out next to him, like Jabba the Hutt in repose. So, all the way to Little Eagle Bay (formerly "985 North Avenue," much less sexy) my entire discussion was with the Wolcott fellow. I have an affection for Wolcott. To me, it's like the heart of Vermont - tucked in there, humbly, in the Northeast Kingdom. My wife lived in North Wolcott for a spell many years ago, and, in 2001, I drove my brother to a home in that town where he bought a nifty little Toyota, which is still running strong.

Anyway, just as we pulled to a stop, Jabba, snoozing there in the back seat, opened wide his baby blues and, in the next instant, the projectile vomit was all over the back of my seat, the top of my jacket, my hat and the steering wheel.

"Sorry," he said.

"Get your friend out of the cab," I said to the Wolcott person.

It's like a volcano, I figured. One eruption may just be the beginning. Although I was fuming (there's no excuse for this behavior unless you're 15 and it's your first time getting drunk), nothing I could say would remove the vomit from my clothing and vehicle and return it to the insides of the offender where it rightfully belonged. So, I just took a twenty buck tip, accepted the profuse apologies from both of them, and rushed to the carwash.

A half-hour later, this is what my taxi smelled like:  A heady blend of cleaning fluid, air freshener and vomit. How lovely is that?

One final reflection, slightly random as it is:  At Cumby's, I searched out the green, pine-scented, tree-shaped car deoderant. They were out of that flavor, so I bought the "new car" scent. Where the "new car" scent arises from in an actual new car is a mystery to me. But, darn if that little air freshener didn't have my old buggy smelling just like it was direct from the showroom. That is, if someone had already vomited into it in the showroom.

Wow, this was a pleasant posting . . .

April 30, 2007 at 04:27 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 27, 2007

The Muse Arrives

Under the category, “Hackie Unplugged,” I will be chatting about the Hackie column, which appears fortnightly in Seven Days and also (well, at least the three most recent columns) on the 7D website, from the perspective of the back-story or sometimes the after-story, if that’s a word. From emails I’ve received through the years, it seems folks find this stuff interesting.

The column of 4/18/07, entitled, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” was the type of story I love to write: nothing overtly dramatic; just a regular person trying to find love in this cruel world.

Generally speaking, the Hackie stories describe people and incidents that occurred in my taxi over the near past, maybe within the last month or two. But this is not always the case. There are truly an infinite number of ways to write a particular story and sometimes I jot down notes for a column that I don’t yet “get” how to write. So, I let it marinate in my subconscious until the answer comes.

The record is 20 years. In the first Hackie book, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, is a story entitled, “Stewed Prune.” The incident took place in the mid ‘80s. It took a couple of decades until one day – Eureka! – I figured out how to write the darn thing.

“Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes” was not quite so bad, but the fare actually occurred last summer. Although all the Hackie stories are true, I will take the liberty to bring the timeframe forward when there’s been this delay I’ve been talking about. Does this make me a bad person? I hope not.

Anyway, here’s that classic Hackie story, “Stewed Prunes.” Enjoy.


 Mr. Townsend met me at the door, shirttail hanging out, toothbrush tucked in his cheek. “Jernigan, hang out in the living room,” he said, already turning his back on me to go up the stairs. “I’ll be ready in a bit.”

 I shook my head, took a deep breath and strode into the big house. This was Warren, up near the Sugarbush ski slopes and the property could only be described as a small forest palace. Everything about the place screamed money, from the one-of-a-kind hand-carved dinner table to the four-car garage. I appreciate artful design in a home, but Mr. Townsend’s Vermont get-a-way was neither graceful nor elegant. It struck me as ostentatious - wealth on display.

 This customer always kept me waiting, and it drove me nuts. He was fanatical, even paranoid, about my getting there on time - sometimes calling two or even three times to confirm the pick-up. But when I arrived, he was never ready to leave. If he wasn’t dressing, he was yelling into his cell phone at someone in a New Yorkffice. Most of the time he traveled by private jet, so departure times weren’t set in stone; whenever we arrived at Burlington Airport, the pilots and plane would be waiting.

 Worse than that, half the time he wouldn’t have money on him, like he was the Queen of England or something. “I’ll get you next time” was the refrain. He always made good, but sometimes it would be weeks.

 So I sat stewing in the living room, ensconced in a big, plump, purple chair. I think the interior decorator might have intended a post-modern nod to the classic La-Z-Boy, but to actually sit in the thing was like being embraced by a giant prune.

 After the better part of a half-hour, Mr. Townsend popped into view, smiling vividly if not manically. The guy is so tightly wired, I’ve actually wondered if he’s a cokehead. I know he’s a partner in a Wall Street law firm specializing in corporate takeovers, so cocaine would not be out of the question. Pirates guzzled rum, after all, to fuel their dirty deeds. 

 “Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s go, go, go.” In his left hand he held the omni-present laptop, in the right a small gym bag. I think he maintains a complete set of clothes up here, one in his New York City apartment and another at the law office. It’s really a snap: every time you purchase an article of clothing, you simply say to the clerk, “Make it three.” 

 We cruised along Route 100, passing Harwood Union High Schooland Lots o’ Balls mini-golf. It took lots o’ balls to come up with that name, I thought to myself. As we drove along, Mr. Townsend received and initiated a series of cell calls, and with each successive call he grew more agitated. His half of the last conversation was straight out of the Sopranos.

 “We’ll bury him. Ya understand? He’s dead. Dead man walking. This deal is happening; end of story. He thinks - what? - he’s gonna screw us in the eleventh hour? He won’t know what hit him, like an alligator on a fucking poodle. That goes for the whole board, if they stick with this moron. The blood will flow like blood. You saw the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? That’s what I’m talking about.”

 I glanced up at the rearview to see Mr. Townsend shaking a Lucky Strike out of the pack. Yes, I let him smoke in the cab, just one of many compromises I’ve made to maintain this steady, lucrative fare.

 “Ya know what?” he said, apropos of nothing. “It’s not about ‘greed is good.’ That misstates it.” He inhaled with a vengeance, drawing the essence of Lucky Strike deep into his lungs. “It’s inserting a moral judgment where none is called for. Greed is reality. It isn’t ‘good’; it isn’t ‘bad’. It’s air.”

 Mr. Townsend, I knew from experience, was not remotely interested in my reaction to this thesis; in his world, I’m wallpaper on wheels. But I was glad he said what he said, because in that moment I made my decision.

 We reached the private plane terminal, and Mr. Townsend snapped the computer back into its case. He said, “Good news - I have some money on me. I owe you for last trip too, correct?”

 “Yup, you sure do.”

 He handed me the money and said, “I probably won’t be back up until after the holidays. I’ll call you then.”

 “Don’t,” I said.

 “Whaddaya mean, ‘don’t’?” He looked both puzzled and irked.

 “Sorry, but I’m not driving you anymore, Mr. Townsend, so you’ll have to call some other company.”

 “Are you kidding me?! What’s this about?”

 “Oh, it’s hard to say, really. Let’s just say I’m moving on.”

 “I don’t know what the fuck your problem is.” He was glaring at me with such venom, for a moment I felt like dead man driving.

 “I don’t know what my problem is either, man.” Just before he slammed the door, I added, “The thing is, it might not even be a problem.” 

April 27, 2007 at 10:03 AM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Gilmore Girls - Am I the Only One?

It’s my intention to go through the TV shows I regularly watch, and discuss same on this blog. This should take, say, a couple of years.

I am a TV addict. I’m not proud of this truth, but nor am I ashamed. That’s the great thing about middle-age: you start accepting and stop apologizing for who you are. I will never understand the mechanics of an automobile and I am a TV addict. I can live with both these things.

For seven years, I’ve (breathlessly) watched the Fox TV show, “The Gilmore Girls.” For this offense, my brother regularly refers to me as "the girlie-man.” I accept this appellation. He’s a younger brother, and I teased him relentlessly through his entire childhood, so he’s entitled. Anyway, I don’t mind being a girlie-man.

Why “The Gilmore Girls?” Well, it’s about 3 generations of women: the middle-aged grandmother, Emily; the thirty-something daughter, Lorelai; and the, now, 21 year-old granddaughter, Rory. (When the show began, Rory was just 15. Awww.) The show is unique in this regard: Lorelai is a terrific, if unconventional mother, and Rory is a smart, well-adjusted kid. How often do you see that dynamic on TV, or movies for that matter?

This is not to say that the show is realistic. It’s set in the fairytale town of Starr’s Hollow, where everyone knows, loves and respects each other. Another conceit is the dialogue: every character speaks in the quick, witty repartee of a ’30s screwball comedy.

But the show is heartfelt and extremely well-written. The characters feel like real people and, by now, I care about them. Ah, the magic of drama. When the show ends – perhaps this season, it’s not yet been decided – I fear I shall have to weep.

Any G-Girls aficionados out there?

April 27, 2007 at 08:42 AM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Imus in the Evening

I have a regular taxi customer who weighs in at about 6’2”, 200 lbs. For his size, he’s not svelte; he's not flabby. Beefy is the word. I’m not quite sure of the relevance of his appearance to this story, but nonetheless.

A couple nights ago, he calls for a trip to the downtown bars. I arrive at his condo, and it’s the guy and five of his friends. My customer is the smallest of the five. This is not an exaggeration; they look like teammates on a rugby squad.

I say, “Let’s put the biggest dude in the front, the other four squeeze into the back,” and they follow this suggestion.

As soon as we’re underway, the inevitable razzing begins – kind of like free-for-all ragging. This is fine. I’m a guy; I understand how men show camaraderie and affection: by pointing out each other’s faults, inadequacies, poor hygiene, sexual failures – all that good stuff and more. Except, with this group, it quickly devolves to “nigger” this and “fag” that.

I hate it. This type of casual racism and homophobia hits me viscerally, like a want to strike out, puke, cry, scream.

So, we motor along towards downtown. I’m driving way faster than is usual for me, because I want this fare to end and I’m suppressing a knot in my stomach. But, I’m saying nothing.

Here’s where I draw the line: if customers in my cab are spewing hate, I stay out of it unless they try to involve me in it. In that case, I tell them my views: that gay people or black people or whomever are our brothers and sisters and I take it personally when they are smeared and attacked in this way. So, leave me out of the discussion.

I’m thinking that I need to draw a new line, one closer to the bone. It’s feeling like remaining mum is endorsing or, at least, acquiescing to the hate. And, given the state of the world in 2007, perhaps it’s too late in the game to let it ride.

What do you think? What do you do?

April 27, 2007 at 07:26 AM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 19, 2007

My Opening Salvo

So begins a new chapter in the Hackie saga . . .

Ten years ago, this month, the first Hackie column was published. The column was sparked by the notion that my life - the day-to-day world of a Burlington cab driver - might provide fertile ground for an ongoing series of stories. How long would it run for? I had no idea. But before I knew it, the months turned into years, and now I've lasted longer than the Beatles. And there's no end in sight! Sheeeesh . . . .

Through the years I've received so many notes and emails from readers of these stories. My experience is that the typical Hackie fan is a pretty thoughtful soul with a lot of valuable insight into the collective work-in-progress known as life.

Hence, this new blog: "Yo, Hackie!." I conceive of it as a place where Hackie fans can interact with me and one another. For my part, I look forward to a venue where I can share things in a more free-wheeling form than occurs in the column. Every Hackie story is painstakingly crafted over a two-week period into a complete self-contained little epic. (Like what the famous record producer Phil Spector called his "wall of sound" productions: "Little symphonies for the kids.") I actually have a lot more to say than comes out in the columns, and I think this more informal setting might be just the ticket.

Because the Hackie columns condense sometimes a whole life into about 1,000 words, readers are often curious about the "before and after" of the story. The "Yo, Hackie!" blog might be a good spot for me to get into that.

The 7D website editor - the glorious Cathy Resmer - has suggested that I carry around a camera and snap away during my cab shifts. Then, through the miracle of modern technology (which she promises to reveal to me), I can post cool photos on the blog. Imagine that . . .

It is my hope that the discussions that evolve around this blog will be open-minded and open-hearted, non-partisan and kind. With the best of my ability, that's what I try to bring to the columns, and I hope that spirit will find its way into the blog.

On a closing note, I want to invite and encourage those folks who have not before participated in the on-line community. Please share your wisdom, whimsy and delights:  we're all on this boat together!

April 19, 2007 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack