This is a long one,” the man said to me as he stepped into the back of my taxi, hand in hand with his female companion. “Y’up for it?” The bars had just closed in downtown Burlington on a Thursday night. A steady drizzle gently washed the streets, cars and pedestrians.
“Could be,” I replied cagily. “There’s long and there’s long. Whadda we talkin’ about, brother?”
He said, “We are going back for a pit stop at my place out in Williston. It might take a few minutes, so if you can be kind enough to wait. Then we are heading over to the home of this beautiful woman here, who lives off Church Road in Colchester.”
“Williston, pit stop, Church Road,” I repeated. “I think I can handle that.”
“‘Beautiful woman,’” his seatmate quoted back to him, giggling. “Ryan, I like the sound of that.”
“And, cabbie, don’t get me wrong. Brenda is not, like, just a pretty face … She’s got a hot body, too.”
Brenda gave Ryan a shove as the two of them burst out laughing. “Get over here,” she demanded, immediately reversing course, wrapping her hands behind Ryan’s head and yanking him over for a lip-smacking kiss.
Checking the time on the dash, I settled into a sweet and easy driving groove. With the itinerary Ryan laid out, it would be at least an hour before I could make it back to Burlington. Barring any late calls by one of my regulars, this would be my last run of the night. Normally, I rush around town like a frustrated NASCAR driver, but now — after eight hard hours pushing the hack — I could relax into the home stretch.
A wet Williston Road mirrored the neon streetlights as we made our way out to Ryan’s place. Relieved of my obsessive focus on hustling up the next fare, I took some time observing my customers in the rearview mirror. Brenda was svelte, long legged and vivacious, while Ryan was, well, kind of short, and average on the hotness spectrum. One might even say she was out of his league, but there they sat together, smooching it up in the backseat, so what do I know?
“I hope I didn’t cramp your style at Rí Rá” Ryan said. “That guy was really into you.”
“Are you kidding?” Brenda replied. “Dude had ‘mama’s boy’ written all over him. Seriously.”
“All right, OK — I’m just checking. Because I really want you to have great sex. You know that.”
“Ryan, I’m going to have great sex tonight.” Brenda was smiling ear to ear. “You know that and I know that.”
“Yeah, but we’re in our thirties now, and if the opportunity for the real thing comes along, I don’t want our thing to get in the way.”
“Ryan, you’re so sweet. Don’t worry about it — we are, like, on the exact same page.”
There I was, driving down the road, ostensibly minding my own business, but not really. I was also minding their business, which was, of course, none of my business. Although I’ve been at this job practically forever, I’m still floored by the level of intimacy with which my customers carry on inside my cab. Are they consciously tuning out my presence behind the wheel, or are they playing pretend, subconsciously enjoying the naughty thrill of airing their laundry in front of a stranger?
I thought about the dynamic I was witnessing. I’m not entirely oblivious; I’ve heard about “friends with benefits” and I get the concept: Adults need and want sex, and committed relationships can be hard to come by. Why resort to hookups with strangers when an attractive friend — or at least a friend you like and trust — is on the “exact same page”?
This makes sense on paper, but, back in the day, I don’t recall this form of social coupling. I’m sure it went on, but I guess we just didn’t have a name for it. I’d rather have a job with benefits, but maybe that’s just me.
Ryan’s condo was located deep into Williston village. As we pulled into his driveway, Brenda said, “Hey, do you still have that bottle of Champagne? We really need to celebrate.”
“What are you guys celebrating?” I asked.
“Ryan’s a professor and he just made tenure,” Brenda replied.
“Well, congratulations, Ryan,” I said. “With tight budgets and everything these days, that’s quite an accomplishment. What’s your field?”
“Molecular biology,” Ryan replied.
But, of course, I thought. When it comes down to brass tacks, isn’t it all about biology?
The two of them entered the condo. Knowing they were apt to be a while, I killed the ignition but kept the radio going. I enjoy listening to the BBC news. The newscasters — or “newsreaders,” as the British call them — treat the listening public like adults, which is not typical of American radio. More than enlightening or even educational, I simply find the BBC relaxing.
After about 10 minutes, Brenda came back out, approached my window and signaled me to lower it. Bending down close to my face, she spoke in a sweet voice. “Ryan wanted me to ask you if we can take his dog with us. He’s not too big and he’s really well behaved.”
Regarding pooches in the cab I have but one question, which I put to Brenda. “Do ya know if the dog sheds?”
“Oh, no,” Brenda assured me. “Roscoe doesn’t shed. Anyway, Ryan said he’ll keep him on his lap.”
“Sure,” I acquiesced. “The more, the merrier.” I don’t even know why I asked, as I knew the dog would shed. They all do. Plus, given the weather, we’d probably be looking at wet-dog syndrome to boot. Ah, well — such is the hackie life.
Brenda dictated the directions to her place in Colchester: She wanted me to take I-89 north all the way to the Costco exit, and then go up Route 7 and across via Blakely Road. My experience told me this was not the quickest route, but the woman was insistent. (Have I mentioned she was pretty?) I actually asked Roscoe whether he agreed with her, and he woofed, so my hands were tied.
When all was said and done, Professor Ryan paid and tipped me well. It was not a bad end to a night’s work. I didn’t even mind vacuuming out the doggie hair the next morning. Well, hardly.