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June 29, 2007

The Bristol Stomp

Jeez, I love getting into the town of Bristol, tucked among the mountains, a perfect village hamlet.Today I had a pick-up at the Bristol headquarters of Vermont Bicycle Tours, out on the Monkton Road. What a colorful Main Street - Cubber's, the Bobcat Cafe, the Village Creemmee. Like how many E's could you squeeze into one word? Deeeelightful.

The symbol of Bristol is a huge, roadside rock squatting inches off the main street on the northern outskirts of town. It's inscribed with a white-painted Biblical quote.Img_0046 How this boulder wasn't blasted to smithereens by the village fathers when the road was paved way back when is a happy mystery to me.

On the turn at the Lincoln Road, vehicles were parked on the side of the road for one of the state's wonderful swimming areas.Img_0048 Along this stretch of the New Haven River, the water flows wildly over the rocks, creating eddies and pools and white waterfalls. I felt like diving into the deep blue and frolicking with the locals.

Historical Note: For those too young to remember, the Bristol Stomp was a song that spurred a dance craze in the pre-Beatles early '60s.

June 29, 2007 at 08:35 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 28, 2007

Sad Sex

A few reflections on this week's Hackie story, "Let's Play Yahtzee" . . .

The Hackie oeuvre (could I get anymore pretentious?) seems to cover the waterfront - from farce to poignancy, politics to humor. A reader might reasonably assume that I make a conscious effort to mix it up; if a couple of columns in a row have been dramatic, I might then go for a story with comic overtones.

In practice, however, this is not how it works. I don't choose the stories; the stories choose me. Week in and week out, I'm out there pushing the hack. Every so often, a fare passes through my taxi that, for some reason, moves me. I jot down some notes, and at some later point, a column appears in Seven Days. The tenor of the story is dictated by what happened in the cab. In other words, I take what the streets give me.

Every so often, perhaps less than a couple times a year, something transpires that feels - well, to revert to my baby-boomer slang - heavy. The incident portrayed in this week's column certainly qualifies as such. So be it.

I wondered, as I wrote the story, whether it would be received or understood differently by men and women. Because here's the thing:  if a random guy makes unsolicited sexual advances, a woman's attitude is, "F..k-off!" But, reverse the scenario, and guys tend to gladly accept anonymous random sex, particularly if the offerer is attractive.

So, as the story reaches its denouement, I thought, "Jeez, a certain percentage of male readers will be thinking, What are you nuts, Jernigan?! Why didn't you just go for it? A gift horse in the mouth, and all that.

Maybe I'm way off, but this is what came up for me as I reflected on this story.

June 28, 2007 at 01:02 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 25, 2007

Hitchhiking Nyet!

Chew Chew weekend was in full chomp when I U-turned to meet a group of five people waiting at the Main Street taxi stand on the corner of St. Paul Street. I shouldn't be making U-turns on Main Street, but I do. Bad hackie.

There were three women and two men, one of whom was jumbo-sized. I lowered the passenger side window and called out, "Let's put the big guy in the front and the other four of you can jump in the back."

The big guy said, "No - it's just these two young women. They're working at a girls' camp, I think it is, up in Colchester. You heard of this? Can you take them?"

"Sure," I said. "I know exactly where it is."

There is an exclusive girls' summer camp located in the outer reaches of Colchester. For many years I've driven the counselors and other staff members when they hit Burlington on their night's off. Most of the staff, from my experience, are young foreign women. The bulk of the counselors seem to come from England and Australia, while the rest of the staff - kitchen, cleaning and the like - are mostly from Eastern Europe and Russia.

The guy asked me the price, which I quoted him. He then asked the girls if they had the money, and they said they did. Giggling, they stepped into the back seat, both of them cute, blond and petite.

Chugging along, at a break in the giggles, I asked, "So, where are you girls from? What's your hometown?"

The slightly taller girl said, "We are from Ukraine."

"Ah-ha," said I. "Are you from Kiev?"

'No, not Kiev. But near Kiev. How do you know Kiev?"

"To tell you the truth, that's the only city I could think of that's in Ukraine."

We got on the highway en route to the Chimney Corner exit. The same girl - she seemed to be the leader of the duo - asked me, "This highway  . .  umm, how you say? . .  is this highway busy?"

I had not a clue what she was getting at. "Do you mean during the day? You can see there's not many cars on the road at night like this. I mean, this is a small state - it never gets busy like in big cities. What exactly do you mean?"

More giggling, and then, "Can we get ride? Is that permitted?"

Now I got it. "No, no - you can't hitchhike on the highways." My paternal instincts kicked in at the thought. In the rearview I could see they didn't understand. "You know - hitchhiking." I stuck my thumb out and energetically pantomimed the act.

"Yes, yes," they said from the back, with tons more charming laughter. "Why not?"

"Well, like I said, it's illegal. But, anyway, you don't want to be on the road late at night with your thumb out."

"It is dangerous? Why?"

"C'mon girls." I was growing frustrated at their apparent naivete. The thought arose that they were pulling my leg, but then I remembered where they came from - two strangers in a strange land. "The two of you, getting in random cars. I mean, use your imagination."

"Is there bus to camp?"

"No, there's no bus. Get a few of you together and split the fare - that'll be cheaper."

"Can you make deescount?"

You have to admire their pluck, I thought to myself. "Sorry, girls - no discount. It's too long a ride; I can't cut the fare."

"OK," they said, and immediately went back to their talking and giggling, happy to be in America, ready for an adventure.

June 25, 2007 at 07:41 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

June 23, 2007

Magic Kingdom

Like lepers, artists have a penchant for forming colonies.This may be a poor analogy as, historically, lepers have been forcibly herded into separate communities while artists congregate voluntarily. Still, it pertains: like lepers, artists have often been stigmatized as unfit for normal society. Img_0043

One fine day a couple years ago, wandering the neighborhoods on the outskirts of Burlington's downtown, my eye was drawn to colored hanging lights which appeared at the end of a driveway between two buildings. In one of the ways (of many, unfortunately) I retain the mentality of an infant, I found myself drawn towards these lights. (If you jiggle keys in front of me, this will have a similar effect.)Img_0045_2

The driveway leveled out in a communal parking lot serving a number of residential houses, among which were a couple of elaborately decorated - not to say, festooned - courtyards. The houses themselves were ornamented with all manner of large photographs, dolls, sculptures, one-of-a-kind, wacky outdoor furniture - Willy Wonka and Peewee's Playhouse goes to Gingerbread Land. Img_0041 A few large cats roamed the landscape; they seemed to have strange little cat-homes set here and there amid the splendid clutter.

As I slowly rotated around 360-degrees, a la Julie Andrews in the opening credits of A Sound of Music, I was dazzled by this fantasy mini-world cloistered mere yards from the busy streets. Img_0042 Though I didn't know it at the time, during later visits I discovered that a number of local artists lived in this organic development, which included a glass blowing and metal work studio. Img_0044

The various creative types who lived here had collaborated in fashioning this magical communal space.

I often stop by now on my walks, if only to see what's been added, subtracted, transformed. I wish I could live here; alas, my creativity doesn't run nearly so wild and free - I doubt I could make it past the screening and selection committee . . .

June 23, 2007 at 04:05 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 20, 2007

The Staff of Life

Let's talk about bread.

How lucky are we in Vermont, and especially in the Chittenden County zone, to have a collection of committed artisan bread bakers? The answer:  Very.

So many of them are so good, it's almost an embarrassment of riches when you peruse the bread shelves of the local grocery stores. For a guy like me who grew up on Wonder Bread - and cajoling my mother to remove the "crusts" at that - I've come a long, long way.

My entirely subjective vote for the grandest local breadsmith (and let's hear yours via comments) is the venerable O'Bread Bakery of Shelburne. The lovely Chuck and Carla Conway are the owners, and they have dedicated their entire adult lives to producing bread, real bread, bread that nourishes the body and soul. Since 1977, they have been one of the few, if only, private business allowed to operate on the grounds of Shelburne Farms. Visiting their ovens located in the towering castle barn is like a trip back to the 16th Century.

O'Bread makes a variety of loaves, each one more delectable and enchanting than the next. Allow me this paean to my favorite, their take on raisin bread, which they named, "Cinnamon Raisin Swirl." It's so friggin' good that words fail me, and I'm a certified professional writer. Let's just use a word so favored by the younger generation: This bread is sick.

A Chi Kung teacher of mine was attempting to explain "chi" to the class. The concept of chi underlies the entire range of Eastern movement practices including T'ai Chi and the various martial arts. (It's also the basis of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture.) So he says, "Chi dwells at the intersection where energy becomes matter and matter becomes energy." Hmmm, thinks Grasshopper . . .

What does this have to do with O'Bread's Cinnamon Raisin Swirl? Hey, don't rush me.

The thing about this heavenly loaf is that it's just too savory to call bread; it's more like cake. But, then again, it is definitely bread-like in shape and size. So, this is what I've come up with:  O'Bread's Cinnamon Raisin Swirl dwells at the intersection where bread becomes cake and cake becomes bread.

Thank you very much.

June 20, 2007 at 12:54 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 16, 2007

Uhhh . . . Phone Number?

Under the rubric of the category "Hackie Unplugged," I reflect on the most recent Hackie column. This week's column, "Please Mr. Postman," is a tragic tale about an unfulfilled promise of a check in the mail. Oh, the humanity . . .

The basic plot:  A couple of times a year, I arrive with a customer at his or her destination, and - oops - no money, and no way to get any. So, I give the customer my mailing address, and they swear, under oath, to send me a check.

Guess what? The check never comes.

Rereading the current version of this fiasco, I had a revelation. Why not ask the customer for his or her phone number? This way, when they fail to send the check, I can call them and say, "Remember me? Send me the check. Thank you."

Isn't that brilliant? And it took me a mere 25 years to come up with this.

June 16, 2007 at 01:25 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Commentary Commentary

This weblog is receiving some very fine comments. But, I want more, I tell you -  more! Wit or eloquence is not a requirement! Heck, I'm rarely witty or eloquent.

I especially want to encourage those who have not before participated on-line. Hackie readers are cool people, and I know you have a lot to say. Feel free to digress beyond the subjects of my postings. Go wherever you want to go . . .

So, let's get with it; let's see those comments. It's fun!

June 16, 2007 at 01:07 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 12, 2007

Ben & Jerry's - The Early Years

The venerable Ben & Jerry's - the super-premium ice-cream company which alone is responsible for a 2.5% weight gainImg_0035 among American consumers in the last couple decades - opened for business in 1978 on the site of an old gas station located on the corner of College & St. Paul Street in downtown Burlington, Vermont.

In 1988, in celebration of their 10th anniversary, a plaque was embedded into the sidewalk of the famous corner. Img_0033 I take tourists to see this all the time; it's like our own Shroud of Turin. They also made up thousands of T-shirts imprinted, "BE 10 AGAIN."

I arrived in B-town in 1979, one year after the opening of Ben & Jerry's. They had made it through their first winter (no walk in the park for a Vermont ice cream store), and already had begun to garner the reputation that would slowly lead to success on the national stage:  Delicious ice cream with wild toppings combined with the good-time vibe of a couple of jolly ex-hippies. (Well, maybe not even "ex.")

Early onImg_0034, they began showing movies against the looming brick wall on the side of their property. If I remember correctly, they would hang a huge white sheet for better projection.  Many a night I spent slurping a cone and watching a flick under the stars.

In the summer of 1980, my friend, the lawyer David Watts, invited me to be a member of the Ben & Jerry's-sponsored volleyball team in the Burlington Parks & Recreation League. We ultimately won the tournament and arrived triumphantly, trophy in hand, at the store. Ben said, "Boys - you done good. Anything you want, it's on the house!"

You've never seen a pack of grown men revert so quickly to their boyhood selves. All of us over-ordered sundaes, shakes, sodas, cones - you name it. It's extra-tasty when it's free.

For one of their many celebrations - this one might have been the Mother's Day free cone day - Ben & Jerry (the actual men, not the company) would stage an elaborate act in front of the store. First, Jerry would come out and explain that we would be treated to a rare visit from a "mystic from the east." This learned sage, according to Jerry, had studied the esoteric yogic arts, or something like that, and would now demonstrate his spiritual powers. After about five minutes of stuff like this, Jerry would announce, "Presenting - ladies, gentlemen and kids - Benhini ben Coheni!"

A sound system would blast "Rubberband Man" by the Spinners, and out would come Ben Cohen, barefoot, draped in layers of white sheets, a turban upon his head. There followed another round of "explanation" from Jerry, until finally Benhini would lay supine upon a wooden bench, undraping to expose his prodigious stomach. Jerry would then balance a cinder block upon said stomach. Another five minutes of explanation, warnings, etc. The coup de grace would be Jerry hoisting a sledgehammer into the air, coming down on the cinder block, cracking it to pieces. "Rubberband Man" blasting, the crowd going nuts, Benhini ben Coheni would slowly exit the premises, his hands up in "Namaste" to everyone.

Three more cool things about B & J:

My friend, Arnie Carbone, worked in flavor development at the company, and his office was visible to the factory tour-goers up above in the catwalk. Whenever a group passed above him, he held up a sign which read, "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!"

Once when I drove a family of tourists to the factory, I wandered around the back and found a "flavor graveyard." Each of the retired flavors had its own gravestone, like "White Russian."

How could you not love an ice cream company that names a flavor, ""Chubby Hubby?"

June 12, 2007 at 04:27 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

June 11, 2007

Faux Cabbie?

This past weekend was crazy busy, more of which I'll get into in the Hackie column of 6/27. Suffice it to say, as Saturday wound down I was frayed, played and waylaid. It had been a lucrative couple of days, but I was more than ready to pack it in. One more spin through downtown was all I had left in me.

The seats were already up on the tables when a stray young man wandered out of Mr. Mike's Pizza and hailed me. He had baggy shorts, curly hair sticking out every which way and a T-shirt which read, "Where am I going, and why am I in this handbasket?" This kid has a sense of humor, I thought to myself as he plopped into the front seat talking on his cell phone.

"Wait, wait," he said with the slurry speech of someone who'd made the bar rounds that night, "lemme put you on with the cabbie." He then passed me the phone.

His friend gave me an address, and I said, "Yup, I know Dewey Drive - right up before Northgate."

"That'll be $9.50," I said to my customer, "and could you pay me in advance?" The guy was looking and acting a little sketchy, so my intuition told me to get the dough up front.

"I'm not paying before I get there," he replied, indignant at the very suggestion. "Hey - where's your meter? I don't think you're even a real cabbie!"

"Well, in this town taxi meters are not required unless you're working out of the airport. Besides, did you notice the taxi light and the writing on the side of the vehicle?"

It took all my effort to spit that out. I could tell this was a discussion that wasn't nearly over.

Utterly ignoring the inescapable logic of what I had just told him, he said, "That's it!" He broke into a broad, self-satisfied smile, like he had just cracked a police case. "You're a phony cab. You're in deep shit, man. Deep shit."

I threw the taxi into drive, and shot up to the next corner directly behind a police cruiser. "Get out of the fuckin' cab," I said calmly.

"I'm not getting out until I get your license number."

"47Q359Z," I said.

"Wait, let me get out my phone . . .  OK, gimme that again."

"496V487W," I said, as randomly as the first time. The guy dutifully punched the numbers and letters into his cell.

Opening his door to get out, he said, with the passion of the truly wronged, "I'm gonna report you, man! Don't think I won't."

That's the sign, I said out loud to myself as I pulled back into traffic. Time to call it a weekend.

June 11, 2007 at 04:39 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 10, 2007

Food from the Top of the World

Friday nights blow me out of the water. Week in and week out, it's crazy, man, crazy! On Saturday mornings, I rarely rise before 11, and, when I finally drag myself out of bed, I'm still buzzing from the previous night's cacophony of cabbing. Img_0026

The summer months offer a special morning-after pill in the form of Govinda & Bijaya Serchan's food stand at the Burlington Farmer's Market. You can find me there every Saturday noon without fail. This lovely couple is from Nepal, and they have brought their special cooking touch with them to the Green Mountains. I'm told that within the Himalayan kingdom the Serchan family name has been associated for generations with great culinary talent.

For the ridiculously low price of $4, the Serchans will fill up a plastic bowl with gorgeous rice, a savory vegetable curry and then, with a big smile, they'll ladle on the lentil dahl for the finishing touch. Img_0025 On the side, it's up to you to spoon on the sweet sauce, hot sauce and cool yogurt raita. I come prepared with my Tupperware container, the perfect size for a double portion. I then hustle back home, open a ginger ale and consume my Nepalese feast while I watch just about any afternoon sports show on the tube. By late afternoon, I'm fully recovered and ready to hit the streets for the Saturday night reprise.

I have my doubts about globalization and all its supposed benefits. But the forces that delivered this gracious couple from the opposite side of the earth to our lucky community can't be all bad.Img_0027

(The handsome woman to the right of Bijaya helps the Serchans out every Saturday. She told me they have made her an "honorary Nepalese." And that is an honor.)

June 10, 2007 at 02:53 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack