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A Normal Life 


It was a Saturday night, Mother’s Day eve — not an occasion noted for raving at the bars and clubs. But business had been brisk enough owing to all the activity surrounding the local college graduations — or, as we cabbies like to call it, seniors gone wild.

Toward the end of my shift, at 2:45 in the morning, a couple approached me as I idled at a downtown taxi stand. They were quite a bit older than the other people still lingering on the streets so long past last call. The man was stocky with a shaved head, and had to be north of 40. The woman had a mop of gray hair and a dowdy dress, and could have been 65, or even older. They made an odd couple, particularly for the time and place.

After helping the woman into the back seat — she was clearly wobbly — the man sat down next to me. “Could you take us up to Georgia?” he asked. “We’re just beyond the Milton line.”

“Sure, why not?” I replied. “The interstate to Chimney Corners and north on 7?”

“Yup, that’d be the quickest.”

As we cleared the downtown neon, he said, “Yeah, I took Mom out to celebrate Mother’s Day. Kind of unconventional, but it worked for us. You had a good time, am I right about that, Mommy?”

His mother, who had been lolling off in some dozy, boozy nebula, instantly perked up. For my part, it was a relief to hear that the woman was his mother and not his girlfriend or wife. (Though “mommy” coming from the mouth of a middle-aged man was, let’s say, unusual.)

She replied, “Oh, yes, Phil — I had a grand old time. I can’t remember the last time I had a night out like this.”

Phil said, “That’s great to hear. You deserved it.”

On the interstate, Phil was voluble, talking mostly about his relocation to Vermont 15 years earlier. “Yeah, I had a good job in Ottawa, but got recruited to work at IBM. It was one of those opportunities you just can’t refuse. We do like it down here, though I still miss Canada.” He paused to rub his hairless scalp and chuckle for a moment before adding, “I guess I feel it most during the hockey playoffs.”

About a mile before the Milton exit, his mother stirred in the backseat. “Philly, we need to pull over,” she said. “Could you ask the cabdriver?”

For a cabbie, those are the magic words, and I immediately veered onto the shoulder, popping on the hazard lights. I know just how to handle these dicey situations; unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice.

As Phil got out to help his mom, I requested as calmly as I could muster, “Please try to get her totally out of the cab, or at least if she could get her head out completely.”

Phil was tender with his mother, gently holding her hand and elbow while she leaned her head out the back door. Thankfully, it didn’t take long, as far as these things go; I did want to make it home tonight while the moon was still in the sky. When she was finished being sick, I fished out a few paper napkins from the glove compartment and passed them back to her.

“If we need to stop again, just ask,” I made clear. “I promise you, it’s not a problem.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m so sorry. You’re very kind.”

“Hey, could we stop at the Mobil at the exit here?” Phil asked. “I want to buy some beer and maybe some cigars.”

“I’ll be glad to stop, but it’s way too late to purchase beer.”

“Well, I’m gonna get some beer. And cigars.”

We pulled into the Mobil. Phil went into the store on his futile beer run. I cut the engine. A big sigh — a mother’s sigh — came from the backseat.

“We’re both so crazy,” Phil’s mother shared with me. “Carol, my daughter-in-law, was in a serious motorcycle accident. It’s turned my son’s life upside down. She’s had four surgeries so far. That’s why I came down from Ottawa — to live with them and take care of my two grandkids. Those little darlings are just 8 and 11.”

Suddenly this fare made sense. Something about it had felt awry, and now it didn’t. The poor guy’s life was awry — two young kids, and I didn’t even want to contemplate the extent of his wife’s injuries and prognosis. He and his mom were just trying to cope any way they could.

Phil came back to the cab, sans beer. “I should have listened to you,” he acknowledged. “But at least I was able to score a couple of good cigars.”

We passed Arrowhead Lake and, after a few turns, entered a nice development. As I eased up to the man’s driveway, his mother said, “Oh, God — if I could just have a normal life. That’s all I ask.”

I pondered that sentiment, and decided what she really meant was, I wish I could have a life absent pain and heartache. My heart went out to this mother and grandmother, but in my experience, each of us has a cross to bear — often more than one over the course of a lifetime. To me, this defines the human condition. A “normal life” was exactly what she was experiencing. To find joy, love and meaning in life, well, isn’t that what it’s all about?

The woman said, “Philly, make sure to give the man a good tip for all his troubles.”

Phil assured his mom he would, and he did. They got out of the cab and walked gingerly, arm in arm, up the walkway toward the front door. From my perspective, behind the wheel of my taxicab, they appeared to be supporting each other every step of the way.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac is a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column has been appearing in Seven Days since 2000. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.


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