This bright-eyed young woman was one of the fortunate ones, secure in the new global economy.
For all the world, the young woman sitting in the back of my cab looked like a Middlebury College undergrad. But why, I pondered as we drove south on Route 7, is she staying at the Middlebury Inn instead of going to her dorm?
I considered the possibility that she was not, in fact, a Middlebury student but visiting a friend who was. Even then, I deduced, she would surely stay in her friend's room and not at a hotel. Ever since I met her at the airport, she'd been actively texting, so I hadn't had the opportunity to grill her. (Not that I actually grill my customers. Well, maybe a little.)
The thing is, when I can't figure out a customer's story, it's like an itch I need to scratch. In the rearview mirror, I spied her momentarily looking up from her device, and I seized the chance.
"So, Emma," I asked, all nonchalantly, "what brings you to Middlebury?"
"Oh, I'm meeting a college friend for a weekend getaway. She's driving up from Boston. We both went to school here."
"How long ago didja graduate?"
"My gosh, I guess it's been five years."
"Really? I bet you get this all the time, but you don't look it."
Emma chuckled softly. "Yeah, I've always looked way younger than my age, so I do hear that a lot. I used to, like, hate it as a child — especially when I was a teenager — but frankly, I'm getting to the age where I'm starting to appreciate it."
"So, your plane was from New York. Is that where you're actually living?"
"Yes, right in Manhattan."
"What neighborhood? I know the city pretty well."
"Do you know the Gramercy Park section? It's pricey, and that's why I have three roommates."
"Oh, I bet. Let me guess — are you paying five grand a month?"
"Try six," she replied. "And it's not even a high-end apartment!"
"You know what? For six thousand a month, you could probably rent an entire estate in Vermont. Complete with your own cows, if you wanted 'em."
Despite the light flurries slowing down the traffic flow, I was enjoying this late-afternoon ride. It had taken a while, but this winter's snow had finally arrived with the new year, and the white-coated farm fields were a welcome sight. There's something soothing to me about the seasonal changes, one of the many ways Vermont keeps me grounded in an increasingly chaotic world.
"What are you doing for work down there?"
"I'm with an investment bank. It's funny; the neighborhood where I'm living is like a Middlebury College ghetto. There's so many of us living there and working in the city."
This bright-eyed young woman was one of the fortunate ones, secure in the new global economy. I didn't begrudge her this life. Whatever family advantages she might possess, I had no doubt she'd worked hard to achieve her potential. Earning a degree from Middlebury College, for one thing, is no walk in the park. Still I wondered, would she leverage her blessed life to help those who had less in some meaningful way? Middlebury grads tend to have admirable track records in this regard, so I had high hopes for Emma.
"How about romance?" I asked. "Has the Big Apple been good to you?"
The flow of our discussion allowed for this personal question. As my job puts me in a position of trust with my customers, frequently young women, I'm sensitive to the possibility of coming off as a "creepy old guy." It helps that I'm actually not a creepy old guy, but, beyond that, my social skills have grown through the years, and I think my intuition is dependable in the conversational moment.
"It's funny you ask about that," Emma replied. "Because I've been seeing a fellow Middlebury grad I recently ran into at a neighborhood gym. I read that, if you attend college, 50 percent of the time you marry someone from your school. I guess my window was closing, if that statistic is to be believed."
"Gee, I have only the vaguest idea how people meet mates these days. A lot happens online, I guess."
"Oh, that's for sure. Almost everyone I know looks for partners online. This is a huge change, and it's only happened in my adult lifetime. Everybody is using Match.com or OkCupid. Increasingly, Tinder, actually."
"Has anyone in your circle of friends gotten married yet?"
"Yes, just this past summer — the first one. It's so weird, but I guess I better get used to it."
"You think that's weird?" I said with a laugh. "Wait'll they start reproducing!"
"Well, my folks are ready to be grandparents, I'll tell you that."
As we began to ascend the winding hill that approaches Middlebury from the north, Emma visibly brightened. I could tell the town held fond memories of her college years.
"So, what will you and your friend do over the weekend?"
"We'll probably just wander around. I know we both want to see the new field house and track. Oh, and we'll definitely hit American Flatbread. We loved that place. I think there's one in Burlington, too."
"Well, stay out of mischief. Remember, you're not a college student anymore."
Emma laughed. "Tell me about it. I may look it, but I'm sure not."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.