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May 31, 2007

A Case of the Crabs

The Discovery Channel is an odd and wonderful TV channel. It's part of a larger company (surprise, surprise) which owns a network of cable stations, including TLC, Animal Planet, the Military Channel and a bunch more. Our own Church Street Marketplace has a "Discovery Store" derived from the general concept of the channel, featuring products based on specific shows.

You'd think, from the name of this station, that the concept is earth, nature, exploration, science - that kind of thing. But, in fact, many, if not most of the shows fit only tangentially into this category.

For instance, there's a show (near and dear to my heart) called, "Cash Cab," in which unsuspecting customers in a regulation NYC Yellow Checker taxi are asked questions by their cabbie/host along the route to their destination. They can win hundreds of dollars if they're sharp. The flip-side is, if they get three questions wrong, they're unceremoniously booted out of the cab. Kind of harsh, but - hey - they were dumb.

Probably their most popular show is "American Chopper," in which a father and his two sons operate a motorcycle customizing shop. The family is at once heart-warming and dysfunctional, and don't think the three of them don't play up the dysfunctional part.

But my favorite Discovery show, the one that truly invokes my TV addiction, is "The Deadliest Catch." This show stations video crews on a a number of the 100 or so fishing boats that ply the fishing grounds of the Bering Sea, an unforgiving body of water bordering on the Arctic circle. Every year it seems that a boat goes down and seamen die in the frigid waters. It's said that this is the world's most dangerous job. The men go out, they risk their lives, because they can earn many thousands of dollars for a couple of break-backing weeks with barely any sleep.

The lure for me is related to cabdriving, my chosen profession. I'm drawn to work that I can fully understand, and, in this increasingly virtual world, there's more and more jobs I simply cannot fathom. I have friends who work at IBM and I really can't grasp what they do. Guys tossing half-ton metal cages over the rails filled with rotting cod as bait, letting them "soak" for a couple days, and then hauling them back on board filled, hopefully, with clicking-and-clacking king or opelio crabs - this I can understand.

I enjoy watching men working together under extreme conditions. This appeals to me. (Sure, you think - sitting on my easy chair eating a pizza. But anyway.) It relates to the one aspect of cabdriving that leaves me unfulfilled: Hacking is a solo endeavor. I think I could dig working in concert with other people on a joint mission, a dangerous mission. "The Deadliest Catch" satisfies these fantasies of mine.

May 31, 2007 at 09:56 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 30, 2007

Good-bye Groovy UV'ey

They're gone. Well, most of 'em, anyway. This is the "day after" aspect of the Hackie column of 5/30/07, "Pomp and Circumstance."

The three largest local colleges hold their graduation ceremonies in ascending order of their respective sizes: first comes Champlain; next St. Michael's; with UVM providing the big finish. They're here; they're here; they're here; and then - literally, overnight - they're gone!

The Monday after Sunday's UVM graduation is a yearly revelation. Like the couple who, having shipped their youngest child off to college, looks around the house in amazement and lets out a huge, "Whew!", the Burlington community experiences the yearly out-migration of 20,000 students as a similar release from a type of two-sided bondage.

We need these students; their salutary effect on the region's economy can scarcely be overstated. But, man - things sure do quiet down when they split! I'm referring not so much to the numbers of people in town, but the energy level. Let's face it:  18-21 year-olds are intense. On the day they leave, the average age on the downtown streets goes up about eight years. (These are all, of course, scientific numbers.)

Which raises the number-one misconception about the local taxi industry. While the students account for a huge slice of the fares during the fall, winter and spring, business is actually busier during the summer months when they're away, at least for us independent cabbies. This seems counter-intuitive, but Burlington rocks all summer long with weddings, business conferences, festivals and tourists of all stripes. Plus, the locals, who might go out once a month during the long, cold winters, seem to hit the town almost nightly once the weather gets truly inviting.

P.S. Anyone who caught the homage to the old Rolling Stones song, "Good-bye Ruby Tuesday," in the title of this entry gets hackie extra-credit.

May 30, 2007 at 04:46 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 29, 2007

Marathon Man

I always enjoy marathon weekend in Burlington. The event attracts a more, let's say, lucid crowd than the beer festival later in the summer. Or the Green Mountain Chew Chew food fest, for that matter. And, of course, I get to drag out my marathon joke for the occasion.

Sadly, my material is limited. I have not more than 10 jokes I recycle endlessly through my out-of-town customers. (For my regular fares, I try to limit the repertoire to once a year per joke, hoping that they forget year-to-year.) For instance, if, along the way, I'm forced to execute a hairy traffic maneuver and I sense some alarm in the vehicle, I say, "Don't worry, folks. I haven't had a head-on collision in, like, five months." Rim-shot!

So, on marathon eve, I use this one-two punch on the customers who appear the most clearly non-race-worthy (you know, 250-pound guys with a sausage in one hand and a kielbasa in the other): "So, I guess I'll be seeing you eight tomorrow morning at the starting line?" After the raucous laughter begins to subside, I hit them with, "I get tired driving 26 miles!"

It's just a gift to be so very hilarious.

May 29, 2007 at 01:18 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2007

Queen City Water Gods and Goddesses


Inviting public space elates me, and Burlington has acres of it. What's better than the Church Street Marketplace on a summer night?

My favorite warm weather haunt is the Burlington bike path. I like it when it's busy with walkers, runners and all-wheeled travelers; I like it on lazy weekday afternoons when the traffic is slow to none.

Just south of Perkins Pier, beginning at the Waste Water Treatment Plant, a small peninsula juts out and the shoreline bends to the left. This stretch is home to a series of gorgeous white stone sculptures. I have not discovered a plaque indicating the name of the artist responsible for this public art; for that matter, I don't know if it's the work of a single artist or many. The pieces are not signed; nor are they titled; they are wordless!

Some of them appear to be unfinished, which, to me, only adds to their allure.


Here's Poseidon, I guess. I'm not sure what he's holding. Looks important, though.

Here's a mermaid playing a tune. On really still days, if you get close and listen quietly, you can hear the song. Img_0015

Here's two practical items, a canoe and roller blades. Img_0013_4  Img_0018 A day in which you use both these items is probably a real good day.

If anybody out there knows more about these public treasures, I'd love to hear about it. Especially if you are the creator!

May 24, 2007 at 04:06 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 22, 2007

Cry Cry Cry

Since the coming of DVD's, I operate as a typical 4 year-old, watching the movies I love over and over and over again. For instance, I've seen Bowfinger one million times. This Steve Martin movie somehow slipped under the radar when it was initially released, but, for my money, it's one of the all-time inspired film comedies, with brilliant performances by Steve, Eddie Murphy (playing two roles!) and Heather Graham.

But when it's time for a good cry, I mean a three-hankie extravaganza, there's a pair of movies that do the trick for me.

In 1998, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris and Julia Roberts came together for Stepmom, an achingly tender movie about love and how it never really dies. Many might find this fare overly schmaltzy, but - hey - I weep every time I see it.

The Bridges of Madison County is an unusual case of a fabulous movie coming out of a so-so, albeit super-popular book. Credit the director, the amazing Clint Eastwood, who also co-starred with Meryl Streep. The chemistry between the two of them is electric and it's totally adult sexuality, kind of rare in American movies. The ending scene, with Meryl in her car, in the rain, longing for Clint with every molecule in her body, is so very, very moving. Sob, just thinking about it.

Let me end by throwing in a third movie from 1983, a story about the resurrection of the soul, starring Robert Duvall. Aptly titled, Tender Mercies, I'd have to say that this film has helped me keep on track as a human being. It's good medicine for the soul. And, yeah, it'll have you in tears.

What are the movies that make you cry? And why?

May 22, 2007 at 08:05 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 21, 2007

The Fare That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Nothing went quite right this graduation weekend in my little taxi world. First of all, it wasn't nearly as busy as past years in the downtown bars. I fully expect the newly-minted grads to celebrate their rite of passage by drinking to excess and hailing cabs. For some reason, this year's crop held back some on this score. Shame on them. And, among the folks I did drive, I couldn't quite communicate with my customers smoothly; the hackie flow just wasn't happening. Maybe it was me.

On Saturday night, three guys piled into the rear of the cab outside of Mr. Mike's Pizza. We need to get to Milton, and how much is it gonna cost? Says I, where in Milton?

"Well, we live just about near the center of town," replies the big guy in the middle, who was dressed great. Actually, all three of them were. "Benways charges us $35. Will that work for you?"

Before I could respond, another of the trio adds, "We'll take good care of you."

I understood exactly what he meant:  There's a good tip in it for me for taking this out-of-town trip. But to be cute - and, boy, I'm nothing if not cute - I say, "Well, I prefer to hear that kind of offer from my female customers, but the $35'll be fine."

The guy, chuckles, and says, "Sorry we can't help you out in that way."

So, off to Milton we drive, the three friends laughing and talking amongst themselves. As we approach UVM, one of them says, "Yeah, my ex is real busy this weekend preparing for the graduation. You remember Mike, right? He works in the recruiting office." There follows a rousing discussion about what a catch Mike was, and how'd you ever let him go?

So, now I'm feeling slightly embarrassed about my opening crack to these guys, which I had thrown out there as just a little male hetero bonding. Of course, as gay people, this is probably nothing new to them, but still I'm feeling a little bit of that foot-in-mouth disease.

Next, as we merge onto the highway heading north, I hear them talking about haircuts and the relative competency and price of Burlington's hair salons. So, totally unsolicited, I jump in with, "Yeah, I just can't see the difference between a $15 haircut and one that costs $30." Yup, I'm just a regular guy; gay, straight - what does it matter?

Their conversation grinds to a halt, and, in the rear-view, I see them looking towards me like I'm from another planet - a remote, declasse planet where the difference between a cheap and expensive haircut matters not a whit.

Maybe they're right, I think. Maybe we are on different planets. But I like to believe we're in the same solar system.

May 21, 2007 at 04:51 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 17, 2007

Trust Fund Road Warriors

Here, in the artfully titled category, "Hackie Unplugged," I offer my biweekly notes on some aspect of the most recent Hackie column. Now you know.

"Hooters vs. The Ground Round" - aka, the story of 5/16/07 - raises an interesting issue about the craft of writing. (Well, I would find it interesting.) Some folks might imagine that fiction writing offers a true universe of choices - one can make up anything, right? - while, a non-fiction scribe like yours truly (I like "yours truly" because that's how Freyne refers to himself in his column, the "Inside Track") is bound by the truth of what occurred.

Well, that's true as far as it goes. In my experience, there is a nearly infinite number of ways to write about any actual occurrence. As I've written previously, it sometimes takes me months, if not years, to figure out how to write one of these Hackie stories. And, the issue comes down to:  what to choose to say about the subject fare. Choices, baby - choices. I guess that's what any form of art comes down to.

So, back to this most recent story. One aspect of these two young people which I decided not to address was their obvious financial means. From their dress and traveling habits, it was evident that this couple had dough, and not from jobs, either. I got the impression that they weren't exactly roughing it as they moved from city to city over the past few years. I have no judgment about moneyed people, I should mention; to me, it's all about what you do with the karma you're handed. I've met bank officers who are truly practicing the deepest compassion towards others, and hand-to-mouth street people who I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw them. And, vice-versa.

Why did I not get into the money issue in this column? It wasn't about the heart of the story which, to me, was about finding your way to the geography that feels like home. The money these kids appeared to have was just not relevant to telling that story.

May 17, 2007 at 05:01 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Katharine Montstream - man, the girl can't help it.

I think of her in the way I think of Bruce Springsteen. Like Bruce, it just comes out of her. For Bruce, it's a quality of courage and heart - a music that moves the listeners to the marrow of their bones. It's just his soul; everything he writes expresses this particular shining facet of our shared humanity.

For Katharine, it's the ethereal, magical beauty of the natural world, and her tools are paints and brushes. Working mostly in watercolor, though occasionally in oil, her work - and I mean every single one of her creations - moves me on the soul level. I just stare and get this dumb, happy look on my face.

And the paintings are so simple! Just the flashes of brilliant color, not a wasted stroke, and the earth, sky and water appear as if in a vision. Her primary subject is Vermont, in all it's seasons, delicacy and majesty. I have three of her prints hanging in my home, and I take refuge in them daily.

So, I suggest:  Visit her studio in the old Union Station on the foot of Main Street. Maybe Katharine will be there, a very friendly and open soul. If you're lucky, maybe her husband, Al, as well, who runs the family art biz and is a masterful framer. Here's their website:   http://www.kmmstudio.com/

May 17, 2007 at 03:04 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 14, 2007

Yellow Checker Taxi

When I was a young man, all of 18 years, I drove a Checker cab in NYC. What a beauty of a vehicle, which I, of course, didn't appreciate back then. I was also playing in a rock-and-roll band and going to Brooklyn College, but those are other stories. Every weekend, I showed up at the massive taxi garage on Flatbush Avenue (the fleet dispatched nearly 200 taxis), picked up the keys to my assigned cab, and headed north on Flatbush Avenue towards the Manhattan Bridge. It was mellower to work the streets of Brooklyn (if anything about driving taxi anywhere in NYC could be termed "mellow"), but the money was in Manhattan, so that's where I hacked.

My first week on the job, I decide to take my dinner break at an East Side Italian joint on Third Avenue. I order my pie, and the waitress asks me if I want a beer with that. Right away, my ego is boosted by a waitress thinking I'm old enough to order beer. I say, "Sure, give me a Budweiser." She says, "Hey, a glass is fifty cents (this was 1,000 years ago), but I can bring ya a pitcher for a buck." I go, "Sure, why not? Make it a pitcher."

An aside regarding my brand of substance abuse at this time in my life. As hard as this may seem to believe, I had rarely, if ever, drunk beer. This was the post-hippie/pre-disco era, and, for my friends and I, the mind-altering substance of choice was, you guessed it, marijuana. Yes, we inhaled, and mightily. Beer drinking was considered vaguely unhip, strictly for the "straight world."

So, out comes the pizza pie and my frosty pitcher of Bud. As I'm scarfing down the 'za and guzzling glass after glass of the ale, I'm thinking, Wow, what have I been missing? Beer is good!"

I finish up my dinner, and leave a big fat tip with the check, informing my waitress just how great she is. This must have meant a lot to her coming from a scruffy teenager with a long ponytail and a ragged army jacket. The next thing I remember is cruising south on Lexington Avenue, happy as a clam, reflecting on my new love affair with beer. I think I'm gonna have beer with every meal, even breakfast. This stuff is awesome.

"Hey cabbie - do you mind pulling over at the newsstand on 25th? I need to pick up the Post."

I look up at the rear-view mirror into the face of a middle-aged man in a dark suit. I have no memory of picking him up and not a clue where I'm taking him.

"Sure," I said, "no problem, sir." As I begin to pull over to the curb at the paper stand, I add, effecting my best air of nonchalance, "Where are we going again? Was that Houston Street?"

"Houston Street?" he replied, mildly perturbed. "I told you Vescey Street. You got that, now?" New Yorkers don't suffer fools gladly.

"Yes, sir," I replied, trying to sound way more coherent than I felt. My refreshing dinner beverage had worked it's way through my digestive tract and was now sloshing back and forth in my brain cavity. "Vescey Street it is."

May 14, 2007 at 03:18 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 12, 2007

Lakeview Terrace

Hacking - lo, these many eons - has taken me throughout Vermont, and especially through every neighborhood and street of Burlington. Now that I have this fancy-dancy digital camera, I'm beginning to shoot the homes, people and topography that I love. (Unfortunately, this technology didn't exist when I first started on the job because I could have captured some terrific action photos of the dinosaurs.)

Lakeview Terrace is a little stretch of road running behind Burlington College from Haswell to Berry Street. Though it runs parallel to the ultra-busy North Avenue, you only end up on Lakeview Terrace if you're going to Lakeview Terrace. No through traffic = quiet and relaxed.

Lakeview is among a group of neighborhood streets, like Crowley and Convent Square, which remind us Burlingtonians that we are living in a waterfront community. There's something about the windswept gardens, the fading, pasImg_0006_2tel-colored little homes, the lazy porches, the rock gardens replete with lakeshore detritus, that evoke the feeling and rhythm of the big lake undulating just over your shoulder. Lakeview most of all, as all the homes on the west side of the street have long rambling backyards which amble gently down to water's edge. Man, I bet these relatively modest homes could be bought for a song only 10, 20 years ago. It's a lucky bunch of folks who call this street their home . . .

This first shot is right on the corner of Berry Street. I call it the Gateway to Lakeview Terrace.

Here's one of those glorious porchesImg_0010. Oh lord, what a way to waste away a warm, spring afternoon! Pick your favorite local micro-brew, your very best sweetie and some great music just barely tinkling in the background. Talk about "rock on."

This is a typical backyard viewImg_0011_2. Can you imagine waking up, cruising into the kitchen to brew the morning java, and looking up into a picture window of this every morning?

Here's a last one - me attempting to go all Steiglitz on you. So,Img_0012 it's a front window, pussycat on the top of the sofa and continuing on through the rear window onto the lake. Not quite artistically realized, but, hey, I'm new at this photo-thing, so give me time!

May 12, 2007 at 04:28 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack