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January 29, 2008

Alison in My Mind

Sad to report, my TV addiction rolls on unabated. The writer's strike is killing me - killing me, I tell you. New episodes of my favorite shows (all 26 of them) are beginning to dry up, and I'm not big on the reality shows which carry on unaffected by the strike. (Which I don't quite understand; the so-called reality shows are scripted as well. I think the Writer's Guild may have granted an exemption.) If pressed, I will watch "American Idol" but only because I consider it my duty as an American.

Anyway . . .

We just went through a period of fund-raising for the public TV stations, yielding a cornucopia of fabulous musical concerts. I've seen concert footage of Eric Clapton, both solo and with his old buddies in Cream, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roy Orbison - the list goes on.

One of those fund-raising shows featured a tribute to James Taylor. Many of his admirers, major singer-songwriters in their own right, took the stage to play a James Taylor tune, and every performance was inspired.

My favorite brought on stage the inimitable Alison Krauss, an angel, I'm convinced, who has graciously descended from the higher planes to lift our hearts with her voice and music. Along with her slide guitar player, she performed an early tune, one of those James Taylor compositions that makes you want to weep with heartache and joy at the same time. This version by Alison is, to me, moving beyond belief. Enjoy:

January 29, 2008 at 12:41 PM in My TV Addiction | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 27, 2008

The Second Oldest Profession

Last night was a strange one. Early on things were super-slow. The "adults," it appeared, were not yet recovered from the holidays and were staying home. So, I ground it until the "kids" began showing up around 11'ish. Business picked up, but it was not one of my better nights. Such is January.

At some point, I picked up a nice-looking couple, perhaps in their early thirties. The man and woman were about the same height, which I find cool. They gave me their address, which was just past the police station on North Avenue.

"Sorry it's such a short ride," the woman apologized in a German accent.

""No problem whatsoever," I replied. "My belief is that people should take more cabs, whatever the distance. Why hoof it when you can ride?" Al Gore would hate me.

"Where you guys from?" I asked.

"We're both from Hamburg," the woman replied. "Do you know Hamburg?"

"Of course I know Hamburg," I replied. "For goodness sake, it's where the Beatles honed their act in the late fifties. It's a wild and raunchy town, baby!"

As we cruised past the Hilton, I asked, "Do you work in town?"

"Yes, both me and my husband" the woman answered. "I'm a jeweler at Grannis Gallery."

"Ooh, I love that place. The quality of their gold work is amazing. Isn't it something to perform a job that has been around for thousands of years?"

"Yes, the tools have changed somewhat, but it's still sitting at a desk, tapping and getting dirty."

"You know my job is one of the oldest, too," I said with a laugh.

"What do you mean?" the husband  joined in the conversation. "There have only been automobiles for maybe 100 years."

"Ah, but what of the coachman and the ferryman?"

"OK, I see what you mean," the man conceded.

"Of course," I added as we stopped in front of their apartment, "we all know about the oldest profession."

"Oh, yes," the woman said with a laugh. "We are from Hamburg. We know all about that!"

January 27, 2008 at 06:30 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2008

Evoking Mississippi

Though I've been penning the "Hackie" column for 11 years (Egad), the creative process has never grown rote. If ever it should become automatic, that's the day I pack it in. It's actually the precise opposite of rote:  every time I sit down to write a story, I feel as if I'm figuring it out for the first time. This is exciting, albeit daunting. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Some stories turn out better than others. How could it be otherwise? You can't hit a home run at every at bat. But I try.

Last week I was feeling good because, by my own standards, the story - Elegy For Frenchy - accomplished everything I shoot for in my storytelling. Most importantly, I feel as if I successfully evoked a live human being. This is always a challenge in a thousand words or less.

So for the next couple of weeks, at least until the next story appears, I am happy hackie.

January 26, 2008 at 06:15 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2008


Though it sometimes seems that way, not all the downtown weekend revelers are young and unattached. Saturday night I drove a married working man home from a night out with the boys. I could tell this was not a regular occurrence for this man with a wife and a couple of young kids at home. For almost the entire ride to his home near the Harley-Davidson dealer next to the Essex fairgrounds, he plied me with questions about the taxi industry.

"Is it easy to get a cab license in Burlington?" he got it started.

"It's too easy, in my opinion," I replied. "There's no limit on the number of cabs the city will allow. In most big cities, they regulate the number of taxis. Without a limit, it can become a race to the bottom 'cause nobody's making money. Burlington, unfortunately, is getting to this point."

"How do they limit the cab numbers?"

"Well, I can speak from experience about the New York City system. The number of cab licenses was fixed at about twelve thousand. I think this was in, like, 1952. So, in order to operate a yellow cab - which are the only ones that are permitted to pick-up random fares on the streets - you have to buy a license from someone who already has one. Because of this, it costs a small fortune to get into the taxi business in that town."

"Really? Like how much?"

"Believe it or not, I believe a single medallion recently changed hands for over a half-million dollars."

"Medallion? What do you mean by 'medallion'?"

"Sorry, man," I said. I felt like I was in a 60 Minutes interview. "The medallion is this octagon-shaped metal tag that gives you the right to pick-up on the streets of the city."

"I understand. So you carry this around in the cab or something?"

"Nope, it's affixed - welded, I guess - to the hood of the taxi. Looks kind of cool, actually."

We turned at the Harley dealer and wended our way to the guy's house.

"Well, that's what I do for a living," he said just before we parted.

"I don't follow," I said. "Do what?"

"I'm a welder at Velan Valve."

"How's the job?"

"It's a good company - plenty of well-paid, steady work."

Here's a replica of a NYC taxi medallion (fashioned as a clock) that my buddy, Don, picked up for me on a Big Apple vacation:  Img_0262

January 22, 2008 at 08:11 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 20, 2008

Jersey Girl

Last night northern Vermont descended into the deep freeze, which is just how I like it when I'm driving cab in the winter. Cold people, you see, hate to walk outside. Plus, there is the added bonus of various car problems, such as my favorite - the failed battery. (In my own vehicle, I've installed a battery with the firepower of a small nuclear reactor, so I'm set.) With the students back in town and flush with cash, I saw a brisk business through the night.

One of my late fares was four vivacious young women, perhaps in their mid-twenties, and obviously old friends. Sitting shotgun was their de facto leader for the evening, an energetic and talky brunette. It seemed the group was staying over at her place on Shunpike Road in Williston for the overnight - a classic "girl's night out."

She pivoted in her seat and announced over the chat and laughter, "You all remember to get up early for the fabulous breakfast I'm preparing, all right?"

"Jen," one of her friends responded, "are you gonna tell us the nature of  this awesome breakfast?"

"Nope," Jen replied. "It's a surprise. You better like cheese, though."

"Oh, God - not the cheese!" her friend said.

"Hey - don't dis the cheese. When I was a girl, we would have blocks of cheese delivered to our farm in Brookfield."

"Cheese delivery? You really are a woodchuck, Jen. You  know that?"

"Well, the cheese was from Cabot, and we were a Cabot farm."

As we sped past the Williston Road hotels, the girls in the back went back to their conversation while Jen sat there texting at hyper-speed. "You texting the Holsteins back at the farm?" I asked. I get funnier as the night goes on. By midnight, there's no stopping me.

"Holsteins?" Jen replied, spitting out the term as if I had said "mutant orangutans." "Do you think that all Vermont dairy cows are Holstein? There's six major breeds - Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire . . ." She sat with her eyes puckered and glancing up and to the left as she tried to recall her cow families. "In 4H, we had to memorize these things. Anyway, our farm has pure Jerseys. The "Queen of Cows" my dad calls them. They're smaller then the Holsteins, but they produce a higher quality milk."

"I got it," I replied, duly chastened. How could I have even imagined she'd be texting Holsteins? "What size herd do you run?"

"About 40, give or take."

"Do you have names for the individual cows?"

"Well, I know a few of 'em personally. But I've been living in Willston now for a while, and you kind of lose track. My dad, though, he names each and every one, and can identify them as they approach the barn. He really talks to them like they're pets or something."

"Well, " I said, "I guess Jerseys need love, too."

"Don't we all?" said Jen, flashing the sweetest country-girl smile. "Don't we all?"

For the rest of the night, I rode with visions of a hearty Vermont breakfast, replete with Cabot Cheese.

January 20, 2008 at 02:30 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 16, 2008

Rude Boys

The last "Hackie" column, "A Happy Hoosier Tale," found me transporting three young men, Norwich College students, to Boston's Logan Airport. In the story, I mentioned in passing the decorum of these students, which I attributed - at least in part - to their school's code of conduct.Their respectful behavior I contrasted with the sometimes belligerent groups of young men I regularly drive around town.

A fare this past weekend illustrated the point, unfortunately.

Three raucous and tipsy twenty-somethings, pizza in hand, sat in my taxi en route to one of their homes in Colchester. "Sat" is more accurately what I wished because they were bouncing off the walls of the cab, involved in a three-way argument.

"You're always judging people without the facts!" my seatmate in the shotgun seat yelled at the friend behind him. "He was in the fuckin' army, dude! He had come from fuckin' Falluja, for Christ's sake. You know how much respect I have for guys in the service."

"I told ya," the guy retorted, "I had no idea. He was dressed like a douche bag - I mean a Stetson hat and studded jeans in Vermont. What the fuck is up with that?"

"Well, that's exactly my point," my seatmate shot back. "You don't know, so why not keep your trap shut?"

The argument went back and forth thusly, with the third guy jumping in, though I couldn't quite ascertain whose side he was taking, not that his ambiguity stopped him from screaming his opinions as well. All of this is well and good if not for the roof-banging and flying pizza.

And that's the thing about testosterone-fueled males: they often lose touch with their surroundings. I kept attempting to calm them down, but they were having none of it. By the time I dropped them off - good riddance - pizza cheese and sauce was all over the floor and seats.

Although fares like this are thankfully infrequent, guys acting this way truly piss me off. It's not the cleaning job after the fact as much as the indifference - lack of honor, really. And that's why I truly appreciate the Norwich cadets.

January 16, 2008 at 03:03 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

Appreciate Your Woman

Last night, on my way to the Treetop Condos, two female friends in the back seat of the taxi:

So, Ken walks through the door, you know he was on that Boston trip, and I'm, like, Oh, honey, I'm so glad to see you, and he's, like, Yeah, me too, and he gives me this little kiss.

Oooh, really? That's rough.

It hurt. I just wanted a nice, long hot kiss. That's all. I mean, we'd been apart for, like, four days! And then, today, I curled my hair which I hadn't done for a while and he didn't say anything. Just even, Hon, you look real good. Nothing! I'm sure he didn't even notice.

Yeah, Dawn, but, like, Ken's really a good guy. You know that.

But he can be impossible! Remember at Ri Ra's last weekend, with the guy with the two diamond earrings?

I sure do. He was definitely one of those guys.

But kind of cute, in a way.

I didn't say he wasn't cute.

Anyway, Ken was getting, like, so jealous, like this guy was trying to get into my pants or something, which he so wasn't. Well, maybe he was, 'cause I am kinda pretty.

Dawn, I love you, girl. I wish we had a recorder. You're, like, I am kinda pretty.


So - I'm here to report that Dawn was kinda pretty, and Ken better get with the program before another guy, diamond earringed or not, swoops in and does things right . . .

January 13, 2008 at 08:17 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 11, 2008

"Janet" & Jean

In the "Hackie" column of 12/26 entitled, "A Poetess Blossoms," I wrote about my friendship with a customer I called "Janet." I described her as an elderly resident of a Shelburne senior living community, and a sublime poet. All of that stuff about Janet is true. (As I've said elsewhere when asked if the "Hackie" stories are factual or invented:  My imagination isn't that good.) But - the woman's name isn't really Janet.

While my stories are indeed non-fiction, I regularly alter biographical information concerning the taxi customers I portray. For instance, I almost always change the name and often home locations and the like. I do this because it is not my intention to invade the privacy of others, though - when I'm honest with myself - this is exactly what I've been doing from the onset with these stories. But, I figure, at least I can minimize this problem by disguising various non-essential elements of these encounters.

Of course, the people I write about frequently recognize themselves in the column. Thank God, with just one or two horrendous exceptions, they are generally quite pleased with how they've been portrayed. This is extremely important to me; even when describing, let's call them, "difficult" people, I make every effort to write with respect and compassion.

So I was quite happy this week to receive a sweet note from "Janet" which began:  A discovery! "Janet" bears a remarkable resemblance . . .  so - Thanks for the poetess story, a generous description . . ."

I'm certain that "Janet" won't mind in the least if I revealed her true name, along with the title of her book of poetry. Go out and buy it, and support the true poets of the world!

                                      A Cartography of Peace

                                              by Jean L. Connor

January 11, 2008 at 01:23 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2008

The Doldrums

It's slow out there. The first two weeks of the new year are quiet for cabdrivers. It's the same every year so I don't fight it. Why work twice as hard for half the pay? I'm all about striking while the iron is hot, along with its converse:  Lolling around while the iron is cool.

So, I've been doing a lot of hanging out. Today, taking advantage of the freakishly warm weather, I went wandering the streets of Burlington, smiling at little kids, petting dogs and saying hello to the folks in the street. Jeez, I sound like a political candidate.

Speaking of which, are you totally wrapped up in the political season? As a lifelong political junkie, I can't seem to stay off the Web and the tube. Seven years of a President Bush administration has left me bereft. I am yearning, aching for change. I find myself obsessing about the daily ups and downs of the campaign. This is not always the best thing for my mental and emotional well-being. I could probably use, what my buddy calls, a media fast, but that's not going to happen.

Anyway, here come the college students. This is the weekend of their return. Plus, the locals are beginning to recover from their financial and emotional excesses of the holidays. So, it's back to work in earnest for hackie . . .

January 8, 2008 at 11:45 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 05, 2008


The first week of January marks the return of the Middlebury College students. Middlebury's academic calendar is odd, perhaps unique. (Go a'googling if you really need to know.) Every January, the students attend a one-month "J-Term," which is sandwiched between the two conventional 4-month semesters. For J-Term, a single morning class is required, allowing for afternoon frolic-time and nighttime studying. Ain't it great to be an undergrad?

The returning students, mostly from out-of-state, create torrents of taxi fares out of Burlington Airport. Speaking for the local cabbies, we likey.

I was scheduled to pick-up Cecilia Sinclair-Ford on Wednesday night.Things being as they are, the arrival was delayed, and delayed again until it finally landed just after 1am. I could grumble, but really - this is the name of the game in the transportation business. Delays happen.

Cecilia was glad to see me waiting for her at the arrival gate, sign in hand. She was hardly bushed and not at all disgruntled. I attribute this to the wonder of being a 20 year-old. She was short and pretty with bright red hair. While we stood around the baggage belt, I mentioned that only 3% of the population has naturally red hair. She said, "Really? I thought it was more than that."

We had a delightful conversation the whole way down Route 7. In my experience, Middlebury students often come from privileged backgrounds and, well, Cecilia Sinclair-Ford was no exception. If her blood was any bluer, she'd probably be recruited into the Blue Man Group. But like so many of these wealthy Middlebury kids, Cecilia and her family - her mother a corporate lawyer, her father an historical architect (you got me) - were progressively active, concerned about improving our society, empathetic to the plight of the less affluent.

As Shelburne turned into Charlotte, it began to snow. I was surprised as it was about 5 degrees, and it usually doesn't snow when it's so cold. But snow it did, heavier and heavier as we headed south. By Ferrisburgh, the road was coated, and difficult to follow. I slowed down to about 30 mph, and concentrated on driving. I must have been doing a great job with the conditions, because Cecilia's gleeful demeanor never wavered - apparently, she had full confidence in my driving chops.

Between Vergennes and Middlebury, we passed no fewer than three vehicles off the road, stuck in ditches. At least two of them were other taxis, who should know better. I paused each time to see if they needed assistance, but, each time, the young driver, as it turned out, told me that tow trucks were on the way.

Got a pencil? I'm about to lay down the oh-so secret method of bad weather driving. Here it is:  Slow Down.

January 5, 2008 at 12:38 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack