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February 27, 2008

Thinking of Moonie

One would think that after 11 years I'd have the column writing down pat. But I don't. What follows is a recently composed would-be story. I realized, after the fact, that it didn't pass muster as a "Hackie" column. Not that it wasn't good enough, but it fell outside of the "Hackie" brand that I have established:  it's insufficiently tied to the taxi biz and it's too much my musing about life. (A little of my thoughts per story go a long way.) Read it and I bet you'll understand what I mean.

In any event, I hope it will make a dandy weblog post.

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“What's the good word, Jernigan?”

Thus spoke Mayor Clavelle. It was 1999. Bill was in the White House; “W” merely the 23rd letter of the alphabet. Sigh . . .

“I don't know, Mayor,” I replied. “But you must be doing something right. Everyone's walking around town in great spirits.”

“I don't think that's me,” he said, his wide round face lit up with a smile. “I think it's the beautiful weather.”

That's one for the books, I thought. How often does a politician decline credit for good news?

The city dedicates a parking space on Main Street for the mayor of Burlington, a modest job perk on what can sometimes be a thankless job. The mayor's spot is directly behind the taxi stand so I would often run into Peter and we’d chat some. Our Past Distinguished Mayor – for those who don't remember – was one of the all-time champion schmoozers. I'm no slouch in that department myself so – what's new?

At times a mayor perfectly reflects the temperament of the city he or she governs. Ed Koch – Da Mayor – was New York City: brash, cocky and perpetually slightly irritated. How'm I doin'? was his mantra, and New Yorkers let him know in no uncertain terms. (The denizens of the Big Apple exhibit a subway car of colorful traits, but “uncertainty” they don't know from.) Similarly, from 1996-2004 in San Francisco, Willie Brown was the embodiment of the City by the Bay: flashy, outrageous, cutting edge in his ideas, but down-to-earth just the same.

In Burlington, I think we definitely had that type of match in Mayor Clavelle. Bernie Sanders, as mayor, was a firebrand, a passionate ideologue who nonetheless delivered on an agenda of progressive modernization. But as much as there was to admire about Bernie’s municipal reign, he was not by any stretch your prototypical Burlingtonian.

Does anyone still remember Peter Brownell? For one lone term, 1993-95, this other Peter temporarily interrupted Clavelle’s long-time mayoralty. I recall Brownell as the “reluctant” mayor: if nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve. An eminently decent guy and competent administrator during his brief ascendancy, he clearly had some problem with the “vision thing,” as Bush the Elder once dubbed it. Also, let's just say, he was perhaps a tad charismatically challenged.

Peter Clavelle, on the other hand, was born to be Mayor of Burlington. He grew up in the Onion City, part of a large and close-knit family at the center of the larger tight community that was Winooski in the 1950’s and ’60’s. First, as one of Bernie’s right-hand people and, then, as his mayoral successor, Peter brought to public life all those qualities so endearing to Vermonters: self-effacement, practicality, a genuine affinity for the common man and a passionate desire to do the right thing. This appeal didn’t quite translate to his 2004 gubernatorial bid, but didn’t the man known with affection around town as “Moonie” embody the best of the Queen City spirit?

Huey Lewis once described the stark choice facing every rock star: you can either goad the kids to run with the devil or you can sing about the power of love. I always believed the same dialectic applies to political leaders. They can either call forth the best impulses in the electorate – the yearning for justice, compassion and decency – or they can evoke and stoke the public's fears, prejudice and selfishness.

In my lifetime, the national political figure that most inspired me was Bobby Kennedy. After his brother's death in Dallas, he drew into himself like a wounded animal for almost a year during which he read widely and soul-searched his destiny. He emerged with a commitment to serve, to do all within his power to bring forth the highest ideals for which our country stands.

After winning a senatorial race in New York State, Bobby ran for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. By all accounts he was a phenomenon on the stump. Among national politicians, only he and he alone could speak to the aspirations of the disaffected young, the increasingly angry black population – Dr. King had been assassinated earlier in February of that year – and the hopes of the broad middle-class. Plus, on the most pressing and divisive issue of the day, he had come out decisively for ending the Vietnam War.

On June 4th, he won the California and South Dakota primaries. The Democratic nomination was becoming a real possibility, and who doubts that he could have handily defeated a washed-up Republican nominee, Richard Nixon?

On the night he was shot – just after midnight on June 5 – I was all of 14 years old. When I woke up to the news, I took off on my bicycle riding aimlessly through the streets of Brooklyn, tears streaming down my face, repeating over and over in my thoughts, C'mon Bobby, hang in there. I didn't know at the time, but I was praying, me and millions of others. But his time was up; the following day he died.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it keeps coming back to me: I don't know if Barack Obama has what it takes to effectuate the hopes and dreams he so magnificently inspires. But – my God – isn’t it worth the chance?

February 27, 2008 at 06:14 AM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 24, 2008

B-Town's Little Big Easy


Mardi Gras was crazy and crazy busy. I began my shift when the parade ended around five and, for the next 10 hours, I was flat-out. Img_0305 What a boon to the local economy, including we cabbies! I'm blogging this the day after, so it's all still a blur. But I do have some bead pics I managed to shoot.

I asked this one woman if I could take a photo of her beads. Img_0303_3 She said, "Sure, do you also want to see my breasts?" I didn't miss a beat. Img_0301 "You bet," says I, "but let's talk about that the next time I drive you without your husband."

Oh, yeah - Jernigan still got game!Img_0300

February 24, 2008 at 04:56 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 21, 2008

Political Hackie

About five years ago, Damon Brink and a couple of partners bought out the venerable Nectar Rorris and became the new owners of Nectar's Lounge and Restaurant. The town held its collective breath.Img_0296

Nectars, with its inimitable rotating orange neon sign, is the heart and soul of downtown Burlington. True, it had grown a little shabby over the last few year's of Rorris' stewardship, but I don't think anyone desired a radical change; the place was just too perfect, from the memories of early Phish to the velvet brown gravy - vats and vats over the years.

Well, Damon and his mates did great. The place has been sensitively refurbished and refreshed; the character kept intact in all the important ways. Best of all, Nectars has reestablished its place at the heart of the downtown music scene.

A couple of weeks ago, a huge political campaign sign appeared in the front window. It read, "Ron Paul 2008." Img_0295

I don't support Ron Paul, although I do appreciate his convictions and forthrightness. I find his libertarian viewpoint - trim government, leave us alone - to be unsuited for the modern, global world. For better or worse, I believe, we (all the people of the world) are on this boat together, and it is only through collective action can the pressing problems of the age be effectively addressed.

But never mind that. My problem with the Ron Paul sign is not my feelings about Ron Paul. I just don't think it's appropriate for a retail store, particularly a public gathering space like Nectars. I think that the owners are forcing, in a way, their personal politics on their customers, making them feel like, by patronizing the establishment, they are endorsing the views of the owners.

Well, I emailed to Damon and he wrote back. He made some really good points, particularly about his not wanting to separate his public and private selves, and about the Ron Paul sign being a spur to further conversation and debate. Though I still disagree with him about the propriety of the sign, I came away impressed with his thoughtfulness and honesty.

What do you think about political signage in store windows? Maybe my thinking needs to evolve on this one . . .

February 21, 2008 at 06:48 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

Hope is a Muscle

Coming into downtown last Friday night, the air began to feel electric. Something was happening out in the streets and it was palpable - the whole taxi-load of people could feel it.Img_0289

As the corner of Church and Main came into view, we could see at least 50 people jamming the intersection. They were waving home-made signs and calling out joyously to passing cars. It was an Obama rally.

We've all seen candidate supporters engaged in this campaign ritual. But doesn't it always seem a little forced - the rigid smiles, the over-enthusiasm? These Barrackites broke that mold. These folks were for real. Whether you supported their man or not, there was no mistaking the genuine fervor.Img_0291

Most passersby responded positively to the rally, but one grim guy paused his car and yelled out, "You people are morons! Don't you know that Obama is a fraud?"

One of the campaign people, a diminutive middle-aged woman, looked right at the guy and said, "We love you."

So, you gotta love that.

Once in a generation, if we're lucky, a politician arrives with the potential to do great things. In my lifetime, it was John Kennedy - and, well . . .Img_0292

I don't know if Obama has what it takes to effectuate the hopes and dreams he so magnificently inspires. But, my goodness - isn't it worth a shot?

February 19, 2008 at 02:29 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 15, 2008

Still a Flower Child

On V-day I discovered a winter sanctuary: the Four Seasons greenhouse at Taft's Corner. For some reason, I hadn't been there in years. Img_0275

My wife and I were shopping for a Valentine's Day plant which led us into their greenhouse which they call - I love this - "the conservatory." I find that baroque.Img_0278

The two large connected rooms are kept warm, perhaps mid-seventies, and slightly humid. This alone makes it a delightful place to be in Vermont in February.Img_0271

The array of plant life is thrilling to the eye and nose, including a selection of orchids, for goodness sake, arranged on tiered shelves.

The far end of the room features a pool of water with a bright orange goldfish big enough for a dinner for two. Img_0282 (I guess I was a tad hungry during the visit.)

What a calming setting to loll away an hour or so on a winter day. We might make this a yearly ritual.





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February 15, 2008 at 05:40 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

February 13, 2008

The Same Day (For Valentine's Day)

I was driving a regular customer, an older woman, to visit with her husband who lives at the Starr Farm Nursing Home. Josephine is thin and never without her over-sized dark sunglasses. She still dresses stylishly, strictly from Talbot's on Shelburne Road. She's a private person but for some reason she opened up to me on this day.

"Did you know that Frank and I met on blind date when he was at Harvard?"

"I didn't know that, Josephine. So, was it love at first sight?"

"Oh, goodness," she replied with girlish giggle. "Far from it. The date went horribly. You see, I was so very shy when I was young girl. Not anymore, mind you - life has taught me better. But he called me back, all right."

"That's a great story, Josephine."

"Wait - it gets better. We soon found out that we were birthday twins."

"Birthday twins? You were both born on the same day?"

"More than that. We were born on the same exact day. The same day and same year."

"Wow, that's quite amazing, actually. What a connection."

We arrived at the nursing home. This location is poignant for me - my father died here a few years ago. I asked, "How's Frank doing?"

"Not so well, Jernigan," she replied, not matter-of-factly exactly, but without evident emotion. It is how we humans survive this stuff. "He's had another stroke. But he's always glad to see me, so I think these visits help somehow."

Josephine paid me the fare and added, "There's no place I'd rather be than by his side. This never changes."

February 13, 2008 at 11:30 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 11, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

Something's always going on in this town. It's easy to get jaded, but let's not. We are fortunate to live in such a lively place. By contrast, my chum in Rutland said to me:   What's the difference between yogurt and Rutland? Yogurt's got an active culture. Rim Shot!Img_0266

This past weekend was the Winter Festival. It seems this event is mostly for the kiddies, but one year I'd like to get up early enough to witness the Penguin Plunge. I'm shivering just thinking about it.

On the Church Street Marketplace, ice sculptors had created some terrific pieces. I found a bittersweet quality to these works of art of such fleeting shelf life. Apparently, each work was sponsored by, and in tribute to, the restaurant in front of which it sat. Fair enough.


I took these shots at night. As you can see, each sculpture was lit up by a colored light. The mini-Eiffel-Tower in front of Leunig's was slowly dripping in the slightly-below-freezing temperature. It was trippy, baby!


February 11, 2008 at 02:40 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 10, 2008


"My mom's favorite was Bonnie Raitt."

"She's cool, your mom."

The three young women in the back of my cab were chatting about the musical preferences of their respective parents. Sitting shotgun next to me was a tall good-looking guy, with short, curly black hair and a rangy, athletic build. The two of us were listening to the conversation among the women, smiling at each other at the funny parts.

"I remember once - I must have been, like, ten - a Phil Collins song came on the radio. I turned to my mom and said, 'What's this?' She says, 'That's Phil Collins.' I'm, like, 'No, mom - I mean, like, what kind of music is it?' 'OK, I see,' she says. 'Sweetie, it's soft-rock.' And, I'm, like, Ooh - I like soft-rock.'"

Everyone laughed at the sweet story. This is a nice group of people, I thought as we headed to the Riverwatch Apartments. So many people, young and old, are so bitter and angry these days about, well, everything. This group of friends had a relaxed camaraderie which was a pleasure to experience, even just as a cabdriver for a short hop down the road.

The woman sitting by the passenger side window reached forward and gave my seatmate a rub on this shoulder. She was Asian and wearing one of those puffy white coats so popular among the girls this winter. (I'm sure there's a better name for the garment than "puffy white coat," but there you go.) The hood was lined with soft gray-and-white-streaked fur that circled her face and she looked utterly adorable. She said, "Blake, are you ready for the party with my folks tomorrow?"

"You bet, honey," Blake replied. "I love hanging out with your parents. They're a trip."

"Well, they love you. It's so funny, though, my mom keeps calling you 'Brake.'"

"Yeah, that's great. And your dad, what does he call me - 'Flake?'"

"I gotta talk to that guy. I mean - he's not even trying! Don't take it personally. I know he likes you."

"Hey, you," Blake said and pivoted in his seat to exchange a moment of love through the eyes with his girlfriend. "They can call me anything they like." The two lovers smiled at each other in a way that lit up the whole vehicle. "Anything," he repeated.

February 10, 2008 at 03:15 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 08, 2008

Like A Rolling Stone

In the last "Hackie" column, "Plan A," I told about my ride with a man who had, like the protagonist in the tune "Proud Mary," left a good job in the city. In this man's case, he quit Wall Street to move to the Burlington area, Winooski in particular, the Winooski Block to be more precise.

The guy had had only a couple of months experience in Vermont having volunteered for Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2003. He spent that time living with a bunch of other "Deaniacs" in a house rented by the campaign on Intervale Avenue.

As of the moment I dropped him off at his new digs, he had essentially no friends or relatives in the area, nor did he have a job. I did have a feeling he would eventually do fine up here; he seemed like a nice enough guy and he had a strong affinity for our state.

This man had executed a huge life shift. When I moved to the Green Mountains, at least I knew some people up here. I've been thinking about the courage or desperation it must take to upend your like so fundamentally. It must be thrilling and terrifying at the same time to find yourself alone in a brand new city.

Have you, or someone you know, ever made such a drastic move? What was it like? How did you make out?

February 8, 2008 at 05:40 PM in Hackie Unplugged | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 05, 2008

Hockey For Limeys

The two young men in the back of my taxi were jabbering away in English - that is, the Queen's English or some variant thereof. There's so many English accents and I can't distinguish one from the other unless the blokes are from Liverpool. That's courtesy of the Beatles, natch.

It was late afternoon and we were on the way back to the Holiday Inn. The guys were in town to look at Champlain College. One of them was slight, nattily-dressed and black. The other guy was chunky and white with a nonstop smile, just happy to be alive and visiting the colonies. It's amazing, it occurred to me, how far Champlain - this once junior college - has come over the past decade to the point now of attracting international students.

"Can you recommend a good restaurant?" the skinny guy asked me.

"You're in luck," I replied. "Burlington has a slew of great places. If you're in town for just the one night, you can't go wrong with A Single Pebble. It's Chinese cuisine but not the Chow Mein and whatnot that you usually see. The chef actually studied cooking in China, so the dishes are all authentic. Anyway, you'll love it - I guarantee. Money back from me if you're disappointed."

"Sounds brilliant," the guy said. "OK with you, Nick?"

Nick nodded and said to me, "Could you pick us back up at seven?"

Back at the hotel a couple hours later, the two of them reentered my taxi and Nick, the heavier set guy, said, "We've changed our plans a bit, if you don't mind. Somebody at the hotel told us about a hockey match tonight and we'd like to go there first. We've never seen a hockey match. Do you think we'd like it?'

"Oh, yeah! For a live sporting event, nothing beats hockey. The players are flying up and down the ice, smashing into each other. It's awesome, man. Trouble is, the UVM games are always sold out, so I doubt you could get seats."

"Can we go to the arena and give it a try? Maybe there will be touts selling tickets."

Touts? I delved into my mental English-American dictionary. "Do you mean scalpers?" I asked.

"Yes, that's it. We call them touts."

Sure enough the guys found a tout with a couple tickets and they told me they'll call back in about an hour for their late reservation at A Single Pebble. I went about my night listening to the game on the radio. No call from the Brits after the first period. No call after the second. Only after the game was over, well past 10 o'clock, did they finally contact me.

I spotted them in front of the Gutterson Fieldhouse and they looked as excited as a couple of kids after a day at Disneyland.

"That was brilliant!" the thin guy said as the two of them settled into the back seat. "We need this in England!"

"Yup, hockey's great, all right. Not real compelling on TV, but live - there's nothing like it. Hey, you guys still planning on eating out? I don't know if A Single Pebble is open this late, so maybe some other joint?"

The two of them laughed. "No, we both ate at the match," Nick replied. "So just back to the hotel, if you would."

"You ate dinner at the Gut?" I said. "That's perfect. What did you have?"

"I ate nine hot dogs," the big guy said. "And," he added with a sly smile, "I'm proud of it."

February 5, 2008 at 07:53 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack