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December 30, 2007

Second Childhood

When I went out to drive last Saturday night, I discovered a fat pen on the backseat, left by a previous night's customer. I had no idea why it was so chubby, so I began to fiddle with it.

Towards the top was a little button. Ah-ha. When I pushed it a sharp, tiny red dot appeared on the dashboard. Well, ain't this cool, I thought to myself. I began to point the dot all over the place in the car, and then noticed that it's range was a good 50 feet; I could place the dot on buildings on the street, even into the front rooms through the windows. I thought, this is gonna be fun.

Idling downtown in front of Nectars, I noticed a group of friends sitting around a table by the front of the bar. I placed the dot on the forehead of one of the girls, a la a Hindu woman. Immediately, there was commotion at the table as all of them glanced around trying to figure out what was up. The moment one of them glanced outside, I looked down and away - lah di dah, lah di dah. I waited a couple of minutes and did it again. Same result. I had to cover my mouth with my hand because I was laughing my ass off.

Next I pulled in front of RJ's next to the Flynn Theater, and pulled the routine on people dawdling on the sidewalk. The key, I was finding out, was to move the dot around for a few seconds and then stop, so they couldn't detect where it was coming from. I was laughing so hard I had to pee. It was addicting. Never mind that I was acting like an obnoxious eleven year-old.

I played with my new toy all night, even passing it to interested customers and letting them try it out.

The next day my brother told me that the thing was actually a small laser, and I could have done serious eye damage to my victims.

Oh, well - playtime is over.

December 30, 2007 at 02:59 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 28, 2007

First Night Burlington

Beginning in 1982, Burlington was the second city in the country, after Boston, to put on a "First Night" - an alcohol-free community New Year's Eve celebration. Our Queen City is nothing if not cutting edge.

It's a wild day and night for me, the busiest of the year for hacking, with no close second. I won't get rolling until 8pm, because that's when I finish up my First Night gig at the First Congregational Church. For the fourth year, ol' Jernigan will be making two appearances, at 4 and at 7. I invite y'all to the show. Come early - the Church venue seats 200, but we always sell out.

The day has become a wonderful yearly ritual for me. My mother-in-law - whom, notwithstanding decades of stand-up comedians, I adore - Jet Blues-it from Long Island. She, my wife and brother all get into the act helping me prepare, set-up and sell Hackie books. Between shows we hang out at the City Market tent for hot dogs and coffee. Woo-hoo!

I do many appearances throughout the year at bookstores, schools and organizations, but First Night is the mother of all shows for me. It's congruent that it happens in a church, because the yearly connection with the community in this way revives me spiritually.

Hope to see you there. Happy New Year.

December 28, 2007 at 06:41 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 25, 2007


Still feeling quite reminiscy. This is a seasonal affliction I come down with annually. So here's a posting in that spirit.

Back in the '80s, I regularly worked the airport. Things were far less organized back then. The taxi regulations were sketchy and the enforcement, such as it was, was spotty. It was like the wild frontier. I loved it.

One of the fleet drivers who likewise appreciated the pleasures of airport work was a huge fellow universally known as "Big Phil." (For those of you in possession of my first book, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, you may recall that I wrote about this guy in the story called, "Big Phil's Gone." For those of you not in possession of the book, click the icon on the right side of this page marked "Buy the Hackie Books!" and, well, do it.)

It was great hanging out with Big Phil and the other regular airport cabbies. Flight arrivals were far and few between back then, so there was all the time in the world for mega-schmoozing.

Big Phil had this routine he would pull out when the conversation lagged. His eyes would light up with a mischievous twinkle and the rest of us would be, like, "Uh-oh - here it comes." He would then announce in a booming voice that befit his gargantuan frame, "Bumpy-Boo!" Like a bull moose in rutting season, he'd then charge at one of us, bumping the guy stomach to stomach, which usually sent the object cabbie flying back a few feet. The goofy grin on his face was worth the juvenile insanity of the act. Plus, I guess it's an open secret that men actually like to touch other men (I mean even straight guys), and Bumpy-Boo was a great, if inane, excuse for some quality male bonding.

At a certain point, if I recall, a lot of cabbies just began calling him Bumpy-Boo. And that's kind of hilarious, too, if you think about it.

I had a routine up my sleeve that Big Phil enjoyed, one that he would periodically request. Venezuela was enjoying their first big oil boom at he time, and a lot of wealth had been created in the country. For some reason, our Vermont ski slopes had caught on big time with the Venezuelan tourists. We cabbies, during the winter, all looked for one of these lucrative fares up to the mountains. To help encourage the cab-taking process among our Latino visitors, I had composed a little ditty. Big Phil loved to hear me recite it:

Hello wealthy Venezuelans,

Won't you take my gringo taxi?

Please don't rent a car or bus it,

That would be grody to the maxi.

Hope ya'll had a warm and meaningful Christmas. Onward and upward in 2008!    - JP

December 25, 2007 at 08:55 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 22, 2007

The Inner World Beckons

The last few weeks I haven't posted too many "incident" stories. You know - the slices of life as they play out in my taxicab. It's not that the well has run dry. I have a million stories, and every night on the streets replenishes the aquifer. Like last night I drove the undercover security guard from Old Navy. Every day, he busts two or three shoplifting teenagers and he loves his job. There's a blog-worthy story, by jeezum.

It's the time of year is what it is. As Christmas and New Year's approaches, I find myself emotional and reflective. I dwell on the passage of time, what's been lost and what's been gained; I think of old friends I haven't been with in years, family members far away; mostly, I ponder the vastness of living. What is the meaning of being, as Sting called it, a spirit in the material world.

As 1999 passed into 2000 - the Millennium New Year's - I wrote a "Hackie" column which dove directly into the heart of my feelings about all of this, well, life. It's as close as I've ever come to putting the ineffable - which seems to call to me from just beyond the next corner -into words. And here it is, a Hackie-Blast-From-The-Past:


The first widespread snowstorm coated northern Vermont in mid-December. The evening news broadcast the inevitable film of vehicles spun off the highway; beaming skiers and snowboarders; and the sober warning from the state transportation spokesperson to stay off the roads unless "absolutely necessary."

Everywhere there was significant accumulation, as high as a foot and a half in Stowe. Burlington - and only Burlington - had zero, I mean barely a trace. It was the oddest snowfall pattern I had seen in my 20-plus years in the north country. Driving my taxi on a Saturday night, the streets were perfectly dry. Every so often I'd notice a passing car - obviously from out of the area - its bumper and roof piled with fresh snow, its side streaked with slush, salt and road gravel.

I was grateful Burlington had somehow dodged the storm. While severe snow conditions increase the number of calls, you can't make any time - as anyone who has driven during and in the aftermath of a blizzard knows all too well. For cabbies, this translates into fewer fares per hour and less revenue. In any case, I'm too old for vigilant, white-knuckled driving - when the white stuff seriously flies, I put out the "closed" sign and pack it in.

It had been a decent Saturday night for the time of year. Most students were studying for finals or had finished up and gone home for the semester break. The locals don't go to the bars and clubs much in December; free time is filled with shopping and preparation for the holiday festivities. Tourism and business conferences are likewise on hold during the lead up to Christmas. As the night wound down, I was glad to have a few bucks in my shirt pocket. On a last spin through downtown, a thirtyish man hailed me with a waving left hand; in his right hand he held a bulging gyro sandwich. As I pulled to meet him at the curb, he attacked his hand-food with a lusty chomp while he opened the front door to speak to me.

"You want to take me to Richmond?" he asked in garbled gyro-speak.

"I don't see why the heck not," I replied, and off we took.

As we headed south on 89, it was like entering another climatic zone. Passing through Williston, snow started appearing on the sides of the road; by Richmond, the snow was falling quietly, with steady force. My escape from the storm had lasted until the last run of the night.

He had me pull into a driveway next to a general store in downtown Richmond. "This is my place," he said. "I just gotta run in to pick up some things and I'll be right out." I sat in the taxi watching the snowflakes land and evaporate on the windshield. In less than five minutes, my customer returned with a bag in his arm filled with grocery items.

"Listen," he said, "my car's right here, but I'm really in no shape to drive. Could you take me up to Bolton Valley? I live in one of the condos up there. I'll pay you whatever you need."

Though the ski area is called "Bolton Valley," it's anything but. It's a mountain, with a bear of an access road, the bane of local cabbies. On a snowy night like this, I knew it would be straining the transmission on the way up and hell on the brakes on the way down. But this is my job; the guy was being responsible by not driving after drinking; I wasn't going to abandon him in Richmond.

I said, "that's going to be a hectic trip on a night like this, you know. If you hadn't noticed, this rig ain't exactly an SUV. I'll take you, but I gotta get 60 bucks."

"How about I give you a hundred? I appreciate what you're doing."

Whoa! I thought - that's what I call serious appreciation. "Well," I said, "the 60 will be fine, but I won't turn down a good tip. Let's get you up there."

Through Jonesville and into the town of Bolton, snow was everywhere - on the ground, in the air - and the road was greasy, as the Vermonters say. The first-of-the-season confrontation with winter conditions is always stressful, especially since the near absence of snow in Burlington had lulled me into complacency, if not denial. But I quickly adjusted. It's all so familiar:  the frigid air; the gleaming white; the foggy, frosted windows; the steady crunch under the wheels.

We swung a left onto the access road and began the long ascent to the ski area. From years of experience, I know that low gear, slow and steady, gets the job done on these mountain inclines, and steadily we climbed.

"Man, there's a ton of snow up here," I said to my customer. "It's great that the ski area finally has the solid ownership to get this place happening again. I've heard this mountain has some fabulous skiing."

"You got that right," he replied. "this area is a for-real snow belt. It's always snowing up here. I've seen days when Sugarbush or Stowe gets nada and we're buried."

The higher we rose, the more beautiful it became. The headlights illuminated the dark woods etched in glistening ice and snow. It was all mysteriously enchanting, the way Vermont gets, the way we love it. There was no more talking now, and the silence was natural, and it was peaceful - just me in the front, my customer in the back and the gently swirling snow whooshing against the vehicle as we moved through space. The driving settled into a comfortable groove; I took a deep breath and my thoughts drifted.

I thought of the two thousand year mark, just days away. Whether or not this benchmark in time carries an intrinsic meaning is beyond my understanding, yet I clearly sensed some power of the date washing over me and filling me with reflection.

I gazed out into the twinkling night air and felt a wave of deep feeling. I couldn't tell if it was sadness or joy; it seemed to spring from a place in my heart deeper, more fundamental than mere emotion. What felt like ancient tears rose to my eyes. I found myself silently mouthing the words "thank you" though I'm not sure to whom it was directed.

In that instant this thought came to me:  I don't know to where our souls journey when we die, but I hope the place feels something like this mountain, at this moment.


December 22, 2007 at 08:34 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2007

Oh, Christmas Tree

Dont'cha just love Christmas trees in public spaces? The Burlington area has some great specimens. One of the neat parts of my job is, like the Beach Boys, I get around. Here's my picks for the three top tree jobs:

1. Honorable Mention:  The St. Michael's tree located in the field in front of the observatory on Route 15. This is a gigantous, gorgeous tree decorated with splendor every year by our friends, the Purple Knights.

(My favorite line from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": A troop of English knights confront a French guard soldier played by John Cleese sitting lookout atop a castle wall. Cleese looks down at them with a pure distillation of French disdain, and says, "You stupid English ka-nig-its - I will fart in your general direction, I will wave my private parts at your aunties.")

2. First Runner-up:  The Church Street Marketplace tree at the foot (head?) of Church Street. It too is ginormous, and this year it's features some violet lights, which you have to love. Img_0252 The year-round Marketplace trees are bedecked with zillions of little white lights, which seem to pay tribute to the Christmas tree itself.

3. First Place:  The Shelburne Village Green Christmas tree. This beauty is located on Route 7, at the intersection of the Mt. Philo Road. There's something about this tree, it's classic simplicity, that melts my heart. Img_0245 The night of this photograph it had recently snowed and, like James Taylor sang, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting . . .

December 20, 2007 at 06:35 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 18, 2007

Best Pics of 2007

Cathy Resmer, Seven Days Queen-of-All-Things-Virtual, recently asked me about the lack of pictures of late on the Yo, Hackie! blog. "Tis true, I replied, I haven't yanked out the camera for quite a while. I do intend to remedy that situation over the winter months. Until then, allow me to present the Best Pics of 2007:


Back in the spring, I had the unique pleasure of interviewing Ollie the camel from Ferrisburgh. Don't you just love his eyebrows?


Here, gazing down at us from the center of the UVM green, is Ira Allen, Vermont's hero of the Revolutionary War and founder of the University. Stern looking dude, isn't he?


What a glorious summer day this was. These are the kayaks you can rent by the hour at Perkins Pier.


This is the Johnson Cold Spring in Johnson Vermont. This is flat-out the best picture I think I've ever shot! Just blind luck on my part . . .


What a mug on this guy! Merry Christmas, friends . . .

December 18, 2007 at 09:35 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 15, 2007

Lay Those Bricks

The last "Hackie" column, "The Touring Life," spotlighted a house painter living with his "old lady" at the Dutch Mill Motel. Regular readers of my stories may have detected the special respect I harbor for men and women who work in the "trades," those various skilled jobs on a construction site.

In 1979, I "made aliyah" - as the Israelis say - and located to Vermont. The following year, 1980, saw the construction of the Church Street Marketplace. The major construction aspect of this project was the bricking of Church Street. It took a few months, and I often had the pleasure of watching the bricklayers do their thing. Getting those thousands of bricks level and into the correct pattern took a team of experienced craftsmen.

One of bricklayers was an Italian expatriate with the face and body of Michaelangelo's David. The man was godlike - tall and dark, and darn it if he didn't have blue flashing eyes. Before long, the women of Burlington discovered him.

If you're reading this and under the age of, say, 40, it might be helpful to point out that this was still a time when women were less obvious about public displays of their sexual desire. But, this guy - this Italian bricklayer - soon began to excite waves of female lust (not to mention the homo-erotic version as well) from Charlotte to Milton.

The phenomena hit high gear during the heat spell of July, because that's when the Italian's tank-top (which was plenty sexy in its own right) came off by high noon. Women began scheduling their outdoor lunch breaks in droves to catch the show. And the guy did his job, laying brick after brick, seemingly oblivious to the hormonal havoc he was engendering.

And, in case you're wondering - yes, I was wicked jealous.

December 15, 2007 at 05:30 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 12, 2007

Manchester United

This past Tuesday I had a run to Manchester. This is an excellent fare for the midweek in December. I was happy cabbie.

My customer was a teenager in Barre. His father, who was out-of-town, had arranged for me to drive his son to a family get-together in Manchester. I carefully took down all the relevant information, most especially the address: 143 Elm Street. "Do you," asked dad, "need instructions how to get there?"

"No," said I. "I know how to get to Manchester, and I'm sure I'll be able to find Elm Street."

I picked up the young'un at 10am on Tuesday, and off to Manchester we drove. The town is in the southwest sector of Vermont, on Route 7 between Rutland and Bennington. There's a few potential routes to get there, but I decided to go maxi-highway:  89 to 91 to Route 11.

We approached the Connecticut River which neatly divides we Vermonters from our new Hampshirite brethren. This is also where we would connect with 91. Said the teenager, "I'm hungry. Do you have time to stop for a bite?"

"Well," said I, "you talkin' about fast food, or do you want to stop at an actual sit-down restaurant?"

"I'd like to have a nice meal, if that's OK with you."

The kid was polite and that scores a lot of points in my book. "OK, then," I said. "Once we get on 91, it's all small towns the rest of the way and who knows what we'll find. So, let's cross over into Lebanon, New Hampshire, where I know there's plenty of good eats."

We found a nice pub-type restaurant with plump friendly waitresses and cozy leather booths. My customer ordered chicken wings, a hamburger topped with bacon and just about everything else that could fit, and onion rings. Oh, yes, and a large Coke. Teenage boys know how to eat. I had a grilled cheese sandwich and a ginger ale.

As we left the pub and walked back to the car, I joked, "Well, at least we got to visit New Hampshire."

The kid gave me a strange look and said, "What to do you mean? I'm going to be staying in New Hampshire."

"What do you mean? I'm taking you to Manchester."

"That's right," he said. "I'm meeting my folks in Manchester."

Then it hit me: This kid is going to Manchester, New Hampshire, not Vermont. Stopping at Lebanon and my random comment had avoided a multi-hour driving error. Luckily, the distance from Barre to either Manchester was comparable, so the price quote I had given the father still worked.

The grilled cheese sandwich, by the way, was excellent.

December 12, 2007 at 09:49 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 08, 2007

Milton, By the Skin of My Teeth

During a lull in last evening's festivities, a wobbly, well-dressed man approaches my taxi. Before he arrives at the door, I have a 10-second window to make my decision.

Let's face it, intoxicated customers are my bread and butter. The ingestion of alcohol is the primary reason the lounge lizards and lizardettes leave their cars at home and take cabs. This means that any night-shift cabbie learns to cope with the tipsy ones or eventually packs it in. But, there's tipsy and there's drunk. In my experience - and I've been at this for over 25 years, thank you very much - the truly besotted always spell trouble.

Let me count the ways:

1. Can't find the money.

2. Has no money.

3. Throws up in the cab; on themselves; on you; on everything.

4. Can't remember where they live.

5. Aggressive, obnoxious, just plain nasty.

6. Falls asleep, dead to the world, as soon as they hit the seat.

7. Shall I go on?

Because of this laundry list of unpleasantries, I've learned to turn down fares from the obviously and totally hammered. However, the "decline" is a decision that must be made before the person gets into the cab. This can be a tough judgment call.

Last night, I take the guy. Once he hits the seat, I realize that he is drunker than he looked on the street. Maybe the fancy duds fooled me, I don't know. And, he needs to go to Milton. He gets this out before slumping over in the shotgun, sleepytime-time.

I shake him, he comes to and I say, "Thirty bucks - could you pay me now?"

"Suuuure," he says and fishes out a couple twenties. This only takes him about four minutes. "Keep it," he manages to get out as he passes me the bills. Then it's nap-time again.

On the highway between Winooski and Milton, his left arm suddenly swings across my body. I figure he must be dreaming and just lift it back to his side of the seat. Then he says, "OK, we gotta pull over."

"You gonna blow?" I ask, nonchalantly - I've been through this routine before.

"Yep," he says, and I quickly pull to the shoulder and click on the four-ways. Unfortunately, we were at a section that steeply sloped at the sides and the guardrails allowed for merely a car-width of shoulder. It's midnight, and, jeez, it's hairy to feel the cars swooshing by at high speed while my customer hangs out his door barfing in waves. Finally, he's done and we get back underway.

As we pull into the village part of Milton, I need to know where to turn and my guy is now into some heavy REM slumber. I shake him hard, his head pops up like some prairie dog, and he says, "Further," and it's back to dreamland. My confidence in his direction-giving is deteriorating by the mile. We might get to Georgia before he changes his tune.

But, before we reach the reservoir on the north border of town, he arises Phoenix-like, startlingly refreshed, and says, "OK, turn here, buddy." A little ways up the road, he calls for a left and then we're in his driveway.

He begins to reach into his pocket and I say, "No, it's OK, man. You already paid me."

He lifts and shakes a forefinger, and manages to extract another twenty which he hands to me and says, "Thanks, you're a lifesaver."

It's amazing how cheaply I can be bought, because now I really, really like the guy.

December 8, 2007 at 02:53 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 04, 2007

Uppy's Ode

Looking through an old drawer, I found a business card given to me by a customer many years ago. It's for "Uppy's Taxi." The address is listed as 131 Main Street, but with no city or state. On the back of the card is a short poem entitled, "The Taxi Driver Knows!" Here it is:

He knows all our sorrows and all our joys.

He knows all the girls that chase the boys.

He knows all our trouble and all our strife,

He knows every man that steps out on his wife!

If the Taxi Driver told all he knows,

He would turn all our friends to bitter foes.

He would start forth a story, which gaining in force,

Would cause all our wives to sue for divorce.

He would get all our homes mixed up in a fight.

He would turn all our bright days to sorrowful nights.

In fact, he would keep the town in a stew,

If he told one-tenth of all that he knew.

So, when out on a party and from home you steal

Call Uppy's Taxi, the driver won't squeal.

Not exactly Yeats, but the point of the poet is well taken, and I would venture it holds true for small-town cabbies everywhere.

Yes, I tell taxi stories, but you won't catch me talking out of school. Like the guys from Uppy's Taxi, I won't squeal.

December 4, 2007 at 07:55 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack