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November 29, 2007

Kitchen Ninjas

The last Hackie story, "Cooking For Life." is an appreciation of a local head chef. I've always thought of great cooks as rock stars.

When I was a teenager I worked after school as a messenger for a building corporation in Manhattan. Before my shift started, I would often eat lunch at a diner located on the ground floor of my employer's office. I would look for a counter seat where I could watch the short-order cook in action. He was a squat, powerfully-built black man, who, with just one assistant - a younger guy who manned the fryolator - would turn out all the meals, including take-out, for a restaurant that seated at least 75 people, taking orders coming in rapid-fire from four waitresses and the counterman:  Cheeseburger - in the well. BLT Down. And, I kid you not - he kept it all in his head, nary an order slip!

This man moved like a martial artist in constant fluid motion, his arms methodically carving air with effortless efficiency. I would sit at the counter, eating my burger and watching the plates of food appear on the shelf, "order up." It was mesmerizing.

Gordon Ramsay, an English chef with a world-class reputation, has a reality TV show in which he comes to the rescue of failing restaurants. The show is called, "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares." (Of course, I watch it regularly, in lieu of an actual life.) What impresses me is his presence in the kitchen. The guy is General Patton with a spatula, his sheer energy and charisma lifting the cooking staff to new heights of culinary achievement. Yeah, I know these reality shows shoot umpteen hours of footage and edit it down to create the desired storylines, but nonetheless . . .

So, I guess my point is, I dig cooks, and I relished this opportunity to write about one. I feel so spoiled as a writer:  the "Hackie" column allows me to write about everything and everyone that turns me on.

November 29, 2007 at 10:59 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2007


This past weekend I was a little down in the dumps. I couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it's the month. Is anything bleaker than November? Or it could have been a case of post-Thanksgiving letdown.

When I'm plying the streets of Burlington feeling blue, I shamelessly trade on the goodwill of "Hackie" to cheer myself up. It's a simple process of casually working into the conversation with the fare that I'm Jernigan Pontiac, the writer of the column.

I would never, of course, simply announce, "Guess who I am?" That would be too much, even for the likes of me. Oh no, I just wait for the customer to come out with something like, "I bet you pick up some interesting people. You must have some great stories."

That's all it takes. I then come back with, "As a matter of fact, I have a separate mini-career in which I chronicle my taxi stories." You know, casual as can be.

About 90% of the time, the customer goes, "Oh my God! Don't tell me that you're the guy who writes those stories in Seven Days?"

I demurely bat my eyes and say, "Oh, do you read the column?"

"Are you kidding? We love that column! It's so great to meet you!"

And away goes those blues!

I don't know if I suffer from horribly low self-esteem or, like the large and lovely Harvey Fierstein, I just wanna be loved. Is that so wrong?

November 27, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 24, 2007

Post-Turkey Post

The weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the slowest of the year for the downtown late night scene, aka "my bread and butter." Folks scurry around during the day in the frenzy of Christmas shopping, but few are in the mood for bar-hopping having barely recovered from Thursday's turkey extravaganza. Plus, the students are away until Monday.

This weekend has followed suit, though the first wintry cold of the season has helped some. Late late Friday, I scooped up a young woman from India. She was short and pretty, with a round face, dark skin and wide, glistening eyes. As she climbed into the front seat, she was absorbed in an emotional phone conversation, breaking just for a moment to give me her Farrington Parkway destination.

"Oh, that's horrible, Brady, just horrible. How's your father holding up? .  . . Oh my God, it was supposed to be, like, this routine operation. How could this have happened? . . . I know, I know . . . I'll see you tomorrow. I'll be over at 11 . . . I will tell my mom. I'll call her; she's on a trip to India, coming back next week . . . Yes, me too. I love you."

"Oh, I can't believe it," she said, now speaking to me. "My best friend's mother just died yesterday. She was just in the hospital to get, like, a cyst removed, something simple, and a pulmonary blood clot developed - or something like that - and she went into a coma and was dead in two days."

"Jeez," I said. "That's a shocker. Did you know her well?"

"Oh, yeah. Brady and I have been close friends since, like, high school. His mother was a doll. I still can't believe this."

"Life is fragile, isn't it? My mother died young as well. She was folk dancing one Friday, had a heart attack on Saturday and was gone on Sunday."

"I don't know what I'd do if my mother died," she said. "It's not that we're exactly close, but, like, I so depend on her."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," I said as I took the diagonal right onto Ethan Allen Parkway. "It makes me think of that song by James Taylor - Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel. Old James got it right, don't ya think? You never know."

The girl paid the fare as we idled in her driveway, and said, "Thanks so much."

"Namaste," I replied.

"How do you know that?" she said with a chuckle. "It means 'hello' or 'good-bye'"

"I thought it also means, 'the soul in me acknowledges the soul in you.'"

"Perhaps. I'm actually Muslim."

"Well then, Salamu Alaykum."

My customer smiled warmly and replied, "Wa Alaykum As-Salam."

November 24, 2007 at 05:47 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2007

So What Else is New?

Here it comes. There's a reason why millions of folks have flooded the southwest, Florida and southern California, while the population of Vermont is 623,908 (as of 2006 - we've probably grown by 11 people since then.)

The reason was on display this morning as I drove north on 1-89 with Irene, a Plainfield woman, en route to Burlington Airport. Last night, the weather-people were warning of sloppy - icy, sleety, rainy, snowy - conditions in the morning, so I had called Irene to move up the pickup time.

Things were good, if not great, until we came close to Waterbury at around 7:30am. Then it deteriorated. With alacrity.

This in-between time of year, late fall/early winter, is the worst. The friggin' worst. The culprit are those darn temperatures hovering around freezing. In the space of a few miles, the roads were coated with icy snow or rainy ice or snowy sleet, or . . .

And, of course, many people had forgotten how to drive in these conditions. Which is understandable; it has been - let's see - a whole eight months. The traffic slowed to about 40 mph, and cars began to appear in the meridians and off the shoulders.

A half-mile past the Richmond exit, the traffic began to slow to a stop.Thinking quickly (I have been doing this for one thousand years), I Huey-ed back south at one of the state trooper highway breaks. (Yes, yes - that's illegal.) Within minutes, we heard on the radio that a tractor trailer had spilled blocking both northbound lanes, and the highway was now closed north of exit 11. So my instincts were right on the money.

We got off at Richmond and headed west on Route 2 in the heavy rush hour commute. In a half-mile, Route 2 came to a stop. Reassuring my customer that she would - I repeat, would - make her flight, we scurried back and got on Route 117 towards Essex Junction. As we got within a few miles of 5 Corners - you guessed it - the traffic again began to slow to a stop.

Pulling out all the stops, I took the left onto North Williston Road (you can get out your map at this point and follow along), and then, in a few miles, the right onto Mountain View Drive, which took me onto Industrial Avenue. Praise be the Traffic Gods, but the traffic was moving!

Onto Williston Road and the right onto Airport Drive, and we made it to Burlington International with 45 minutes left to spare. My customer was quite impressed. I am now Irene's "hero."

On a Thanksgiving note, I'd like to express my thanks to Seven Days for sponsoring the "Yo, Hackie!" blog, and for all of you readers who have clicked on for these past seven months or so. Thanks especially to all of you who have taken the time to write in with comments. I continue to have a ball writing this thing, and I hope to remain interesting at best, or, at the least, entertaining . . .

peace out,  jernigan pontiac   

November 20, 2007 at 05:43 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 19, 2007

Saturday Night's All Right

I don't know what was going on this past Saturday night. I myself witnessed three street fights, two in front of Nectar's and one in front of Mr. Mikes. Was it something in the air, the water, the moon, the stars? It is uncanny how Burlington seems to express a group energy. Some nights are all peace, love and understanding; others it's downtown Baghdad, outside of the Green Zone.

Most so-called bar fights might originate within the confines of a bar but quickly spill out onto the street. Hence the term "bar bouncer": these guys are trained to "bounce" the warring parties out of the premises. The city of Burlington strictly enforces it's liquor laws so the bar owners do everything in their power to subdue the combatants. Too many fights, out-and-out brawls or fights resulting in serious injury, and the bar is looking at a suspended license.

As a long-time observer of bar fights, I have two points to make.

First, it's never about money, sport teams, politics or religion. Men (and these altercations are 99.9% testosterone-fueled male affairs) may argue, even vehemently, about all sorts of things, but they only come to blows about one thing: women. These fights are always over the girl.

Second, when one of these fisticuffs break-out, it looks nothing like anything you've ever seen on TV or in a movie, or, for that matter, in a boxing ring. Regular guys fighting in the street are like two cobras going at it, throwing punches as fast and furiously as they can. There's no technique involved, just throw, throw, throw and aim for the other's guy's head. It's ugly.

The last fight of the night was the worst of all. I was idling in front of Mr. Mikes Pizza at two in the morning, awaiting a couple of students. Suddenly, like a human tsunami, two guys come hurtling out the door, locked in a desperate embrace. In the frigid night air, they began wailing on each other - nose, eyes, neck, wham, blam, slam.

I threw my taxi in gear and shot up to Church Street where, late night, you can always find a couple police officers. Pulling up parallel to a cruiser, I honked, lowered my passenger window and shouted, "Bad fight at Mr. Mikes. There's two guys really goin' at it!"

The officer said, "Thanks," clicked on the blue lights and called for back-up. Fifteen seconds later, I watched him screech to a stop in front of the restaurant and jump out. A minute later, back-up arrived and the phalanx of cops managed to break it up.

And here's my guilty confession:  A part of me loves watching these fights. From the very beginning - the traded insults, the posturing, the shoves - to the bloody denouements, I'm transfixed. The last fight in which I was a participant took place in fifth grade. Yes, it was over a girl, and, yes, I lost.

November 19, 2007 at 02:38 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 15, 2007

Police Gone Wild

From The Keystone Cops to the Police Academy movies, wacky cops have been a fertile well for American comedy. Following in this fine tradition is my new favorite TV show (I am truly addicted to it), Reno 911! (Don't forget the exclamation point!)

This is a series that has been running on Comedy Central since 2003, and we're now getting 2 rerun episodes a night at 10pm in Burlington on the CW, Channel 20. The show is a take-off on another TV show called Cops, a for-real documentary of police officers in action. (Hilariously, Cops airs on the same station right after Reno. The irony alone is head-spinning.)

Every episode follows a squad of the Reno, Nevada police force in the station and on their daily calls. Needless to say, they are utterly and cluelessly incompetent.

What makes this show so original and compelling is the improvisation. The scenes obviously have "beats," as they call them in improvisational theater exercises: certain actions that need to occur to move the plot, such as it is, forward. But, other than that, the dialog and action is improvised by the actors, and each cast member, including the marvelous collection of minor players, is sterling at this most pure form of acting.

An actor once told me the basic rule of improv:  never deny. Whatever your fellow actor puts out there, that becomes your reality and you go with it. So improvisational theater is akin to a great jazz band, jamming after-hours, going where the muse takes them.

The wikipedia site lists the all the characters on the show and their ridiculous personality traits and back stories: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reno_911!

(A year or so ago, a movie version of the show was released, but I found it less funny than an average TV episode. The TV show has a certain jury-rigged, low-key charm that was lost when it was blown-up to feature length.)

So, if this is your cup of tea, and you want to laugh your ass off before bed, check it out.

November 15, 2007 at 12:39 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 13, 2007

The Bartender's Sister

Chevy is a new regular customer whom I've been driving around for a few months. He's a hard-working trades guy, mostly drywall. It seems that if you excel in a trade - carpentry, electrical and the like - you will never want for work, and that's Chevy: he can work as much or as little as he desires.

One pillar of his flexible lifestyle surely is his lack of family. With no wife or kids to look after, a man has a certain freedom of a fancy-free nature. Chevy keeps his overhead down, as well. A contractor buddy of his owns a warehouse and (illegally) rents him an office room in the huge building, outfitted with a bed and maybe some basic appliances. I'm not saying I would like to live like this, but it seems to work for Chevy.

Other than work, his main outlet is making the nightly bar rounds. (This is where I come into play courtesy of the stringent DUI laws.) He seems to know and like everybody, and he's a champion carouser. But mostly the point is to find and pick-up women. Chevy is probably in his early 40's so he doesn't approach this task with the single-minded ardor of a twenty year-old. If he scores, he scores; if he doesn't, he doesn't. As Sinatra sang it, "That's life."

This past weekend, he called from one of the service clubs in Winooski. When I arrived, he got into the front with me. Before we took off, a woman came out the door and calmly got into the back seat.

"Hey Irma," Chevy said, as if this was an expected development. "Would you like to go to my place or yours?"

"No, that's OK, I'm good," Irma replied. "I'm just going downtown."

"You do know that I ordered this cab, Irma?"

"Oh, yeah," she replied, with the logic of the semi-groggy, "you could just drop me downtown."

I looked over at Chevy who shrugged and said, "Well, let's take the lady."

As we drove through Winooski, Irma said, "Pull over at that ATM so's I can get you money for the fare." She got out, worked the machine's buttons unsuccessfully for a good five minutes and returned to the cab. She tapped Chevy on his shoulder and said, "Cover this for me, will ya? I'm Babbo's sister."

Babbo is a well-known bartender at one of the local bars. Among a certain segment of the Burlington population - well, the demimonde - having him for a brother immediately establishes your bona fides.

Chevy said, "You're Babbo's sister? For real? What don't we just go to his bar so he can pay the fare for you?"

"I would," Irma replied, "but we're fighting."

"Ah-ha, so you're fighting. That explains it. All right, I'll cover your fare."

"You're a peach," Irma said, and leaned over his shoulder to kiss him on the cheek.

Chevy lit up for a moment. "You're sure you don't want to come back to my place to party?"

"Nope," Irma replied, settling back down in her seat. "I'm good."

November 13, 2007 at 02:11 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 11, 2007

Random and Obscure Fact: Steam

In 1969, a bunch of studio musicians wrote and recorded a tune that will live forever. Though it was a hit at the time, it quickly faded into cultural obscurity as they never had another hit song.

The Resurrection.

The 1980's rolled around. On afternoon, at a blow-out game in a football stadium, the victorious home fans began to mock-serenade the losing team with "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Good-bye." It was genius and hilarious (in a nasty sort of way, the ultimate "rubbing it in"), and quickly caught on at sporting events throughout these great United States. Now even the team bands get in the act:

The name of the band assembled by the studio musicians who wrote this gem was called Steam.

Last week, I drove a young man who told me that, back in the day, his father was a member of Steam.

(Was the guy pulling my leg? I don't think so; This is far too random a story to make up and share with a cabdriver. In any event, let's call it true.)

So, right here in our own South Burlington, a musical celebrity dwells among us in humble anonymity! (I thought you'd like to know this.)

Hey Hey - Good-bye!

November 11, 2007 at 10:24 AM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 09, 2007

Still Tubing It

It's been a long while since I posted under the category, "My TV Addiction." It's not that I have stopped or even cut down on my viewing. I wish. No, the reason is my belated discovery that blogging about television represents the hands-down corniest, dweebiest - all right, let's say it - lamest use of weblogs since they came into existence. Who knew? Well, everybody I guess, except me.

But, what can I say? My TV addiction continues unabated. I figure I might as well put it to some, if not good, use.

Two new comedy series were introduced late last season: "'Til Death," and "Rules of Engagement." Both of these shows are semi-funny and semi-watchable. In other words, if I have the TV on and there's nothing better, I'll tune in.

What strikes me about these two sitcoms is their identical plot. Both feature a middle-aged couple, married for quite a while, who are friends with a twenty-something, newlywed couple. The older couple is cynical and jaded about marriage (quelle surprise!), while the younger twosome is - you got it! - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I guess the TV wizards wanted to hit both demographics.

The older husband on "'Til Death" is played by Brad Garrett, late of "Everybody Loves Raymond," and on "Rules of Engagement" by Patrick Warburton, who played "Putty" to hilarious effect on "Seinfeld." These guys are pretty much the named stars of their shows, although "R of E" also has the ever smarmy David Spade as a regular.

Isn't TV amazing? The plots on these two shows could be switched with each other any week because the premise and characterization are the same. Either one of these shows could be much better; I find the writing just too predictable, never daring or deep.

Ah well - anybody out there digging either one of these series? What are you watching this fall season?

November 9, 2007 at 07:24 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 06, 2007

Hippies are Everywhere!

Ratdog played the Memorial Auditorium this weekend. You know what that means.

When the Grateful Dead disbanded upon the death of their leader, Jerry Garcia, in the summer of '95, the Deadhead horde was bereft. Grateful Dead shows were about way more than music. For thousands of their avid fans, following the Dead around the country on their never-ending tours was a lifestyle. What was next? What's a hippie to do?

For a year or two the times were tough. But, slowly, other so-called "jam bands" took up the slack, led by our local boys, Phish. And, before long, the various Grateful Dead band members took up new projects. Ratdog, fronted by Bob Weir, is one of those.

When the show let out, 2340 hippies exited Memorial Auditorium and spilled out onto the streets, joining the (probably) 2340 hippies already on the street who were sold out of the show. That's a lot of hippies.

And this is the, if I may, groovy thing about hippies. It's not so much that they all look alike, but it's all about being a member of a tribe. On some level, I think all humans crave that feeling. Having been to Grateful Dead shows - back in the day, let me tell you - the concerts create a scene of collective ecstasy, drugs not necessarily required. In a sense, it's about losing one's individual identity and merging into the collective soul. My friend Don refers to this state of mind as "spiritual creaminess."

In our culture that exalts so-called "individuality" above all other attributes, I, for one, dig the tribal ethos of the hippies. My generation generated the first hippies, but new generations have carried the torch. Thank goodness for that - we need 'em.

Sunshine daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes, blooming like a red rose . . .

November 6, 2007 at 06:00 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack