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Hilton Garden Party 

It was my first pickup at Burlington's newest hotel — the Hilton Garden Inn. Though it's been in operation for months, I'm surprised how few locals know of its existence. I think that's because the bulk of the property is not on street level but tucked into the interior of the block behind existing buildings.

I remember watching the zoning department hearings when the project was in its planning stage. They were broadcast on cable access TV and seem to have gone on for years, though that sounds outlandish now that I say it.

Not that the lengthy deliberation was unjustified: City officials recognized that this hotel would represent a significant alteration of the downtown cityscape, and they were determined to get it just right before granting the requisite approvals. Their method of achieving this appeared to involve the endless torture of the builders and their architects. I couldn't say why this bureaucratic process so captured my attention, but I tuned in to countless hours of it.

And after all that hoopla, here was the hotel, finished and quietly taking business. It was just before noon on a sunny morning when I pulled into the wide driveway adjacent to the old city armory, and up to the hotel entrance. Two people, a man and a woman, stood out front with their bags. "Are you Joe Greene?" I asked the man as I stepped out of my taxi.

"Yes, sir," he replied. "We're going to the airport. It seems the hotel scheduled us for the shuttle, unbeknownst to me. But we're still taking you, and I believe the hotel will pay for it if you give them a receipt."

"Well, that would work," I said. "Let me go in and check with the front desk to confirm that."

I couldn't find the door, which left me feeling like a doofus. I just stood there facing a wall of large windows artfully streaked in white squiggles, and searching for a clue. Witnessing my confusion, the woman chuckled and said, "Yeah, it's tricky. The door is over here on the left. Just walk up to it, and it'll slide open."

I did just that, and it did. Once inside, I climbed the few steps into the lobby, and ran the situation past the front desk clerk. She said, "I really need to check with the manager, and he's away just now."

"No problem," I said. "I'll return after I drop your guests at the airport."

On the ride to the airport, I chatted with my customers. They were in town for an insurance conference. I asked, "Was it, perchance, concerning captive insurance?"

Joe said, "As a matter of fact, it was. I'm impressed you know about that. It's pretty obscure if you're not in the business."

"Oh, it was just an educated guess," I said. "Vermont invented captive insurance, or at least pioneered the legal structures that made it easy to set up such a business in our state. Through the years, I've driven many insurance people to conferences of this sort, and they told me about it."

I dropped my folks at the terminal and headed back to the hotel to claim my money. On the ride downtown, my intuition had something to say.

"Jernigan."

"Oh, great," I replied. "What now?"

"I don't like your attitude. Anyway, I just want to let you know that you're in for a hassle at the hotel. Be prepared."

"Well, thanks for sharing," I said. "However, you happen to be wrong. I know how you think you're infallible, and I should always follow you, blah, blah, blah. But just pay attention when we get to the Hilton. Live and learn, my friend."

It's not a good sign when you get passive-aggressive and argumentative with your own intuition. It doesn't bode well.

I reached the hotel, parked and successfully found the door, and strode in confidently. The same woman was at the front desk. I said to her, "Here's a receipt. Could you get the manager so I can get paid?"

She glanced at me, a slightly stricken look on her face. She signaled over the manager. "That cabbie's back," I overheard her whisper to him.

The manager — clean-cut, spiffy and professional — said to me, "This is not something we normally do, but let me check. Who was the guest you transported?"

The hackles on my back rose. Yes, hackles. My hackie hackles.

"Look, I don't really care what you 'normally' do, because I've been at this for more than 30 years. I just drove your guests to the airport, and they told me you would pick up the fare. End of story."

I wasn't exactly yelling at the guy, but my voice had just that edge you would imagine.

"Sir," he said calmly. "No need to get testy. I just need the name of the guests."

I told him Joe Greene and some other lady — I don't know her name — and he retreated to a back room to check God knows what. That left me and the front desk clerk.

A minute went by, with my ire actually rising. I said, "You know, this is ridiculous. We're talking about a lousy 15 bucks here! Every hotel I've ever dealt with would make good on this tab without delay."

"Sir, there's no need to get rude with me."

I said, "You're right. I'm sorry," but my tone was not entirely apologetic, and tone means everything in these situations. Anyone can spout the right words.

The manager returned, counted the money from the till, and handed it to me, a stiff smile on his face. He also had me sign a separate receipt. I thanked him and took off.

It took another hour before I came to my senses and thought, Oh, what a jerk I am. And, by the end of the day, I realized I should go back and apologize, maybe even armed with chocolates. Nothing says, "I'm sorry," like a bag of scrumptious Lake Champlain Chocolates. I speak from experience.

Weeks went by, and I kept forgetting to return to the hotel. Now too much time has elapsed; the apology window has closed. But I am still considering an apology to my intuition. Which, by the way, is always right.

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Bio:
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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