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September 27, 2007


A few nights ago, I sat at the US Airways arrival gate at Burlington Airport reading a USA Today. The only place I ever read USA Today is at the Airport as there is usually a free one lying around, and the sports section is quite good. It was nearing midnight.

Here's a rule-of-thumb:  the later in the day the scheduled arrival, the greater the chance of it being significantly late. It's quite simple. As the day goes on, each late flight tends to delay later flights, and on and on. I do my best to monitor the ETA via the airline's website and 800-number, but these have grown less reliable through the years. So, often, I come nice and early and wait around. If the person arrives and you're not there, that's terrible customer service, not to mention you might lose the fare.

As I sat there reading, two little brothers - maybe three and six - were climbing all around the room. Their mom, a small and slender women, perhaps Filipino, was keeping track of them in a careful, though non-oppressive manner. In other words, she was letting them have their play, so long as they didn't seriously bother the other folks.They were both sweet little kids, so nobody in the arrival area seemed to mind their exploration.

The mom occasionally checked in with a group of people standing over to the side, maybe a couple of other women and a half-dozen men. To a man, the guys had powerful physiques - they were tough-looking dudes, though they were being quite sweet and caring towards the mother. There was an excitement and anticipation among all of them.

The US Airways flight finally arrived at half-past 12, and the first passengers began wandering in. There's an inner door leading to another waiting area inaccessible to non-ticketed folks. The arriving passengers walk through this inner door, pass through the waiting area for about 30 yards and then though the actual arrival gate to meet their friends and families.

A big man, dressed in thick army boots and full fatigues of gray, green and brown blotches came through the inner door and sprinted towards us.

The mom said to her boys, "There's your daddy!"

The man came through the gate, fell to one knee and embraced his two children, tears streaming down his face. The two boys were talking to him non-stop, telling him all the things he needed to hear, like about a new bike and a puppet show they saw and important stuff like that.

After a minute or so with the boys, he got up and embraced his wife, who came up just to the center of his chest. They didn't say a word, just held each other for a long time. He then walked over to his waiting friends, whom, at this point, I had identified as fellow soldiers. The men were misty-eyed. As they each shook his hand and embraced him, one of them said, "Welcome back, brother. What has it been, a year?"

"It's been 15 months," the man replied, and you could read the pain of that reality on every line of his face. "Fifteen months."

September 27, 2007 at 03:13 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 25, 2007

The Luminous Power of Storytelling

Rereading this week's Hackie column got me thinking about the stories we tell one another, and how that process binds us in our common humanity.

In "The Back Story," I find out that a regular customer - Chase, a man that I've much appreciated and admired - spent the better portion of his twenties as a marijuana dealer, and not a nickel-and-dimer at that. As a result of his sharing this intense piece of personal history, I feel as if I understand him so much better. And, I would bet, Chase feels that as well.

Susan Cheever, the daughter of the brilliant author, John Cheever, wrote a memoir about her father. During an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Susan said this about the functioning principle of Alcoholic's Anonymous:  Connecting with another is the highest level of human spirituality, and we connect through our stories.

This statement moved me immensely. On one level, I've always suspected that we're all in AA, whether we acknowledge it or not. By this I mean that we're all beholden, to various degrees, to our lower natures. Perhaps our life's journey is defined by the struggle to rise above, to hear, what somebody has called, "our higher angels."

Storytelling for me works on just these levels. I'm moved and honored by the stories shared with me (both in and out of the taxicab), and I'm moved in another way when I retell the stories in my writing, or speak them in heart-to-heart conversations with my kith and kin.

September 25, 2007 at 01:42 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 20, 2007

My Day at the Beach or Hooking Up Catherine

This is my favorite time of year to wander around the waterfront. The weather is sumptuous and the summer crowds have dwindled. Img_0234


I strolled onto Perkins Pier, my eyes focused on the sprawling blue ahead of me, my handy camera at the ready. I am still hoping, once in this lifetime, to spot the great lake monster.

Img_0223 At my feet, I heard a scurrying and looked down. A graying brown chihuahua, the size of a squirrel, paused and gave me the once over before continuing on his way. I followed him and snapped a picture. If Champ does appear today, I thought, this pooch better move away from the water's edge because he would make a tasty hors d'oeuvre for the great beast.Img_0227

"Peanut, c'mere girl!" a woman called from the benches behind me. The mini-dog responded to her master's voice and headed towards her. I followed.

"Hey," I said, "I hope you don't mind that I snapped Peanut's picture. I thought I might post her on my blog."

"Sure," the woman replied. "What kind of blog do you write?"

"Oh, it's for Seven Days."

"You're not the taxi guy, are you?"

"I am indeed. Are you a fan of the column?"

"I love the column. You may not remember, but I emailed you a few months ago. I said that from your writing I could tell that you really understand women. I'm widowed, and it's been the hardest time finding a suitable man in this town."

I looked down at the grinning chihuahua at the feet of this warm and vivacious woman. If a hottie like this can't find a good mate, I thought to myself - well, that's just wrong.

I said, "I do remember your note, though I don't even understand toasters, so I sure don't know about women. But, anyway, how's about we post you on my blog and get you hooked up? Hackie readers are pretty cool people, if I say so myself. I bet we can dig up a good man for you."

"Well," she replied, "I'll give that a try! I mean, why not?"

So, here we go. Though this is a decent picture, I really should have taken a few more because it doesn't do justice to a very attractive woman. BTW, and not that this matters to the enlightened man, but she was wearing short shorts the day of this photo, and, let me tell you, she looked good in them. Boys, I mean good.Img_0231 She's widowed with some grown children.

So, let's hook up Catherine. If you're interested, or can recommend someone, post a comment or email me humbly stating your qualifications as a boyfriend. Broadly speaking, the winning candidate will be stout-hearted, kind-spirited to a fault, and between the ages of 40-60. I'll pass on the responses to the lady-in-waiting.



September 20, 2007 at 06:45 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 19, 2007

High School Sweethearts

Teenage love is a powerful force.You're walking the high school corridors, feeling like an alien, struggling to fit in with the humans - heck, trying to pass for a human. And, of course, you feel like you're the only one.

Then, one fine day, he or she catches your eye and, suddenly, life makes sense. The first kiss is like heaven, as is the first everything to follow. You pledge your lifelong love and you mean it.

Then comes the wall, aka, graduation. High school romance rarely survives this rite of passage, particularly if one or both of the partners is off to college come September. But sometimes . . .

I approached the Amtrak station to pick-up a call to UVM. A young woman flagged me down, a small backpack pulled over one shoulder. Her eyes and long straight hair were dark, and she had the broad face and wide-set eyes of a Native American. She climbed into the back seat and we were off.

"That was the Living/Learning Center you wanted, right?" I asked over my shoulder.

"That's right," she said. I glanced up at the rear-view mirror and could see she was beaming. Affixed to her teeth were those modern braces, clear instead of silver. On her pretty face, the effect was endearing. "Do you need the address? I can call my boyfriend."

"Nope," I said. "I know how to get there. So, you're visiting your boyfriend this weekend?"

"Yes, for the first time since the summer. We've been together since junior year in high school. I'm going to school at Three Rivers College back home in Connecticut. It's sooo tough being apart. This long-distance thing is murder!"

"What part of Connecticut is your school?"

"It's in Norwich, which is real close to Mohegan Sun. You know, the big casino."

"Sure, they advertise constantly on the TV. You got any relatives who work up there?"

"Yes, a couple of uncles and a cousin or two. It employs tons of people."

We arrived at the Living/Learning suites and I pulled up to the "Director's Circle," the typical drop-off point. A slender, serious-looking young man immediately came through the doors, walking quickly and then jogging. My customer got out and ran towards him. They met on the sidewalk, collapsing into each other's arms.

"I missed you, baby," he said, after a long kiss.

"Me, too," she replied, her eyes misty with relief and love, "me, too."

The guy then walked over to the open door, handing me a twenty. "Keep it," he said.

"Thanks, man," I said, "and have a great weekend."

"Oh, we will," he replied, his eyes never leaving the eyes of his beloved.

September 19, 2007 at 12:20 AM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 14, 2007

Digging Johnson

The past couple of weeks have delivered the most beautiful days of the summer. Could it be any sunnier? Could the breezes be more delightful? When the Fletcher Allen Hospital called me with an afternoon fare to Johnson, the smile on my face was Julia Roberts-like.

Praise be to Allah, the universe deposited me in the Green Mountains when I young man, barely out of my teens. My first Vermont home was located in the village of Johnson, just up 100C, a stone's throw from the Power House covered bridge. Img_0189

Vermonters love their covered bridges. Like family members - and there's just over 100 still standing - each one has its own name. The Power House bridge is a classic beauty, spanning the Gihon River. In the spring, the run-off from the surrounding mountains creates some terrific white water, and the river sections north and south of the bridge lure the kayakers.

Here's a shot from the western side.Img_0194_3  Can you see my taxi hanging out on the pull-off on the left?

Downtown Johnson features a community - I don't know what to call it - drinking hole right on Route 15. Img_0186 To me, it feels like a shrine, with clear mountain water streaming through every moment of every day, year after year.

Img_0185 Img_0183

On the trip out to Johnson, I was held up in traffic along three stretches of Route 15 due to road construction squeezing the passage down to a single lane. So, for the return ride to B-town, I took an alternate route, the Pleasant Valley Road out of Jeffersonville. As I came upon a farm in Cambridge, I noticed stacks of picked pumpkins, giant and glorious, like basketballs on steroids.

On the crest of a hill appeared a collection of beauties on the vine. What stopped me in my tracks was their color, so brilliantly orange, nearly fluorescent in the late afternoon sunbeams.Img_0197  Maybe, I thought to myself, the gourds are more vibrant of color before they are harvested and begin their slow decline?Img_0198

One final note: after shooting the pumpkin pics, I began my march down from the ridge. Thirty yards from my taxi, a farm dog exploded from the barn across the road, yelping like a jackal and tearing towards me. I paused for a second, my eyeballs bulging like the actor, Marty Feldman, before bolting towards the cab. I beat the pooch by 2 seconds, leaping into the front seat and slamming the door. Photography is dangerous, people!

September 14, 2007 at 04:27 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 10, 2007

Female Nuptialian Behavior

The steady march towards full rights for women has certainly reached the domain of marriage ritual. Bachelor parties - a long-time staple for the groom and his cohorts - have given rise to the bachelorette parties (originally dubbed "hen" parties), where the bride gets to, well, go nuts and embarrass herself as much as her future husband.

I'm not sure how this ritual plays out in other parts of the country, but, here in the Queen City, it has become de rigueur for the bride and her pals to eventually wind up downtown carousing the bars and clubs.

These bachelorette posses are immediately identifiable amid the hubbub of a weekend night crowd:  they are the ones whooping it up on the street, arms in the air, dancing and yelling like maniacs. The matron-of-honor is generally the organizer and instigator-in-chief, leading the pack from club to club. But the women of the evening is, of course, the bride-to-be, and she is identifiable by the tiara and veil. (The demure and oh-so-dainty accoutrement of a giant inflatable penis has also become a popular carry-along.)

A beautiful and giddy bride graciously agreed to a photo by an anonymous cabbie this past weekend. Please rise in your seats - here comes the bride:



September 10, 2007 at 12:29 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 07, 2007

Voila - Our Friends, the Byelorussians!

Hackie Illustrated for the very first time! James, my customer from the latest Hackie column, sent me this picture of the two women from Belarus. Aren't they quite beautiful?


September 7, 2007 at 11:02 AM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 05, 2007

The Lure of the Soapbox

In the latest "Hackie" column, "From Byelorussia With Love," I drove right to the edge. Hopefully, I didn't go over.

Like my fellow bigmouths everywhere, I am ready to share my brilliant opinions at the drop of a hat. This is bad enough for my friends and family, but, as a columnist for Seven Days with thousands of weekly readers, the scale of the potential problem grows exponentially.

It's my sense that the "Hackie" thing has sustained over the years (10+ and counting) largely as a result of the "vibe" of the stories. I try oh-so-hard to write sans agenda. I craft these stories with the simple purpose of portraying life, as I said in my video interview interview with Eva Sollberger, "in all it's beauty, heartache and craziness." If I started weaving my opinions into the mix, it would slowly poison the well.

Don't get my wrong. Opinionating is the bread and butter of most newspaper columns. It's just not "Hackie."

So, in this latest story, here's the paragraph that made me a tad uneasy:

I can't shake the feeling, though, that something's desperately out of whack. A more equitable economic distribution among the various peoples of the world would go a long way to healing our planetary woes, from terrorism to ecological meltdown. Plus, isn't it just the right thing? That's me, I caught myself and chuckled. Another cabbie political philosopher.

Rereading it now, it's not too bad. But, anytime I start feeling that urge to climb onto the soapbox, I try to remember the admonition of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry persona:  If I wanted your opinion, I'd beat it out of ya."

September 5, 2007 at 06:55 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 01, 2007

The Epoch of Daniel

I had occasion to visit the Davis Student Center, UVM's newest building. Img_0141 Everyone in town is aware of this edifice, both for it's monumental size and because it sits right on Main Street, not 30 yards off Burlington's central traffic artery.

I'm here to report - 'tis glorious, indeed! The heart of the structure is a three-floored atrium infused with natural light.Img_0138  I have no idea just how many different functions this building is designed to serve, but, the day I visited, it was teeming with happy students visiting the bookstore, the dining area and just hanging around in the various and welcoming, well, hanging-out areas.

As I made my way to the new offices of the school newspaper, The Vermont Cynic, I thought about this new building and the others that have arisen of late. All of this campus growth and activity, it occurred to me, is a testament to the vibrant leadership of Dan Fogel, UVM's 25th college president, who took the reins in 2002 after a dismaying series of ineffective leaders.

The position of college president, particularly at a state school such as UVM, has got to be one of the most challenging leadership posts in all of the public and private sectors. Like a corporate CEO, a college president carries the ultimate responsibility for the entire organization. But unlike a corporate boss, the college leader doesn't have all the power.

Institutionally, the structure of a public college diffuses power among various interest groups:  the tenured faculty, the students and alumni, the town and state legislative bodies, etc. Therefore, perhaps more so than other organizational leaders, a college president has to rely largely on his or her charisma, the ability to inspire the various competing factions to unite behind a common vision and row in the same direction.

This is something President Fogel has done to near universal acclaim. Since the commencement of his tenure, enrollment is up, new programs are blooming, alumni donations have swelled the college endowment - heck, even the Catamount sports teams are winning!

So, there I am, thinking about El Presidente as I mosey through the Davis Center, and - God strike me down if I'm lying - President Fogel appears at the door of the Cynic office, the college Chief Financial Officer in tow. Somewhat starstruck, I introduce myself, and he shakes my hand saying, "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Daniel." (I love that - "I'm Daniel.") He then introduces the CFO, but, for the life of me, I can't recall his name.

We then converse a little about the campus and all the new developments and activity. Speaking with the guy, he oozes gravitas, but, at the same time, you get the feeling that there is no one he'd rather be talking with than you; with every word you experience his full attention. Man, this dude has presence!

Then together - that is, hello, just me and the President and the CFO - we walk into the newspaper office. You can tell it's newly opened - hardly even furniture or shelves, papers laying around everywhere. Fogel says to the startled staff, "Hey, that first issue this year was terrific, maybe the best ever." All around the room, the kids are lighting up. He then gets into a detailed discussion about one particular article. Leaving the office, I glance back and can just feel the boosted energy level:  I had just been witness to President Fogel in action, casually infusing another small part of UVM life with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

I pull out my handy camera and ask for a picture. Fogel goes, "How about in front of one of the posters?" (In an adjacent space, there was a poster sale going on.) "Sure," says I. We walk over and he says, "Why not in front of the Pulp Fiction poster? We could stand there pointing make-believe guns." It was the famous shot of Samuel Jackson and Travolta, guns drawn, scowling like emissaries from hell.

The CFO says, "Do you think this is a good idea? The two of us pointing guns?" The guy is being a spoilsport, but - give him his due - he is the wingman, looking out for the boss and the image of the school.

I interject, "Well, just stand there, but don't mime the gun pointing. It'll be fine."

So, here it is - my moment with the UVM heavyweights, President Fogel on the left:Img_0134


       Here's the famous statue of Ira Allen, located in the center of the UVM green. Ira and his bro, Ethan, along with their Green Mountain Boys (sounds like a bluegrass band), were heroes of the Revolutionary War. In his spare time, Ira founded UVM. Less well known about Ira is his terrific invention, the Allen wrench. (I made that last fact up, sorry.)



My, those catamounts were fearsome creatures!


September 1, 2007 at 07:37 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack