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Bona Fide Strawberry Blonde 


“It is beautiful up here!” my customer gushed from the shotgun seat as we motored along the highway en route to Stowe. She was a young, stylishly dressed professional with Twizzler-red lips and a full, curvy figure — statuesque, in a word. “Is it always this bright and sunny?”

I laughed, explaining, “It sure hasn’t been this spring and summer so far. It’s been raining daily, I mean at a record-setting pace. So this big, sunny sky is a welcome relief. We could use a few weeks of it, particularly the farmers.”

Danielle Gilbert was originally scheduled to arrive in the morning on a flight from Chicago, but she was bumped to an afternoon departure, ultimately getting in just after four. Despite her air-travel woes, she was remarkably upbeat. It helped that she was still in her twenties with a good job that sent her to appealing locales like northern Vermont.

“So are you living in Chicago, or did you just fly through?” I asked her.

“No, I’m living there now. I love the city, and I got a great job. I work for a marketing firm that specializes in product placement in TV and movies.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s so cool. I guess the most famous story about product placement is when Steven Spielberg wanted to use M&M’s in his movie E.T., and the candy company turned him down because they thought it was a lame movie idea and didn’t want to be associated with it. So instead, Spielberg went with Reese’s Pieces, and their sales shot through the roof.”

She said, “I’ve heard that story. That’s what you get for turning down Steven Spielberg, right?”

“So what company are you working with in Vermont?”

“Green Mountain Coffee. We have some great ideas for getting them on some TV shows.”

“Oh, they are a real Vermont success story. The company’s grown by leaps and bounds. A good friend of mine is basically putting his younger kid through college on his investment in Green Mountain Coffee stock.”

The Bolton Flats were dry as a bone, which made for smooth sailing. I had almost forgotten what a pleasure highway driving can be when it’s not pouring rain. This young woman’s enthusiasm was energizing, as well.

The 21st-century employment outlook has been brutal for so many, but less so for young folks like Danielle with the skill set demanded by the so-called new economy. Among those skills, high-tech savvy is requirement No. 1. As a baby boomer still flummoxed by microwave ovens, let alone smartphones, I wouldn’t stand a chance if I were just now entering the workforce. Thank goodness for my trusty cab, I thought.

We got off at the Waterbury exit and headed north to Stowe. I had to fight the urge to turn into the parking lot as we passed the Ben & Jerry’s factory. I’ve heard a rumor that the company has resurrected the White Russian flavor. I mean, my God, are they trying to kill me?

Recovering from the momentary Ben & Jerry’s fever, I said, “So I gather Chicago isn’t your hometown. Where had you been living?”

“Mostly New York City. I graduated a couple years ago from St. John’s University.”

“That’s an excellent school, I understand. The campus is in Queens, right?”

“Yeah, the main campus is in Queens, but I lived in the school dorm located in Soho, in Manhattan, which, if you don’t know, is, like, one of the coolest neighborhoods in the whole city. We didn’t know how good we had it until we graduated and found out a decent apartment in Soho goes for, like, $3000 a month! My roommate and I quickly relocated to Brooklyn right after graduation.”

“Well, I hear Brooklyn is considered pretty cool itself right now, so I guess that wasn’t too bad.”

“Yes, I enjoyed my time in Brooklyn, but I really love Chicago. It fits my personality so well — the theater, the restaurants. I’m living just outside the Loop. Oh, I just love it all. Hey, does my visor have a mirror? OK if I use it?”

“Sure, be my guest.”

Danielle flipped down the visor, opened the mirror and began readjusting her hair, saying, “I might be walking directly into an important meeting with the client, and I’m a mess.”

I said, “Let me assure you that you’re most definitely not a mess. Your hair is amazing, actually. Is that what they call strawberry blonde?”

“Well, thank you so very much. I’m a 100 percent natural, for-real strawberry blonde. Beware the imposters out there. There are many variations on blonde that people call ‘strawberry blonde,’ but the genuine article is blonde hair with reddish undertones, and it’s actually a pretty rare thing.”

“I shall be on the lookout for false claimants. Hey, so what happened this morning with your plane? Why’d ya get bumped?”

Danielle chuckled. “Well, I was traveling with my boss, and the flight — you know how it is these days — it was overbooked. There was only room for one of us, and — well, she’s the boss.”

I chuckled in return and said, “I’ve no doubt that in a few years you’ll be the one bumping underlings off flights.”

Danielle smiled at the thought. “You know what?” she said. “I really didn’t mind. I believe everything that happens in life has a purpose. I was mad for, like, two minutes, but then I realized I could read, and relax a little in the terminal. I also met a couple of awesome people at some random restaurant. It was, like, a little four-hour mini-vacation.”

“Danielle,” I said, “we are on the same page about all that. It’s like random people pass through my taxi day after day. Yet somehow it never feels truly random to me. I have this strong sense that I keep meeting the people I’m supposed to meet, if you know what I mean.”

“I know just what you mean,” my random customer replied, smiling.

I glided to a stop in front of the venerable Green Mountain Inn. You don’t have to read the brochure or website to guess that this place has to have been around a long, long time to have dibs on the “Green Mountain” moniker.

“By the way,” I said after Danielle had paid the fare and was poised to step out of the cab, “your hair looks great.”

The young woman puckishly pursed her lips and nodded. “I know it,” she said.

Hackie is a twice-monthly column that can also be read on

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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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