“Where’s the strip clubs? Oh, fuck — don’t tell me this town doesn’t have strip clubs.”
Thank God these guys were only going to the Courtyard Marriott on Battery Street, because I really didn’t want to spend more than eight minutes in their company. Well, at least not with the man in the backseat; his compatriot sitting next to me in the shotgun seat seemed suitably mellow and self-contained.
“You’re outta luck, buddy,” I replied over my shoulder and the din of the radio. (I had considered just ignoring the guy, but he had asked me a specific question, and I’m nothing if not polite.) “You want to see a naked woman tonight, you’re gonna have to use your charm.”
My seatmate couldn’t resist. “If that’s the case,” he joked, “my boy back there doesn’t stand a chance.”
I thought that was pretty funny and let out a laugh; his friend, not so much so. “Oh, you’re fuckin’ hilarious,” he said. “You know what? I hate this fucking town. And more to the point, where is the nearest strip club?”
“Montréal,” I replied, but then remembered a closer location. “Check that,” I corrected myself. “I guess there might be a club or two just over the border, maybe in Philipsburg.”
Even if they wanted to take that ride, and even if they were prepared to pay me big bucks to make it happen, there was no way I would do it. This reflected an evolution in my work philosophy. In my earlier years of hacking, if the mission was legal and the money right, I’d drive anywhere, anytime. But these days, I draw the line at certain jobs, such as the transport of loud, lust-crazed knuckleheads.
“Great,” he said, “let’s go there; let’s do it — Philipsburg.”
“Toby, that’s a nonstarter,” his friend said, to my relief. “It’s nearly three, and the wedding is in the morning — in just a few hours, actually.”
“You guys are up here for a wedding?” I asked.
Before my seatmate could answer, Toby blurted out, “How about hookers? Any Asian prostitutes in town?”
“Hmm… could you be a little more specific? I mean, are we talking about Vietnamese? Chinese? Korea? Perhaps Nepal?”
Toby didn’t think that was funny, big surprise. In fact, he seemed to take my question seriously.
“I don’t give a fuck, as long as they’re Asian.”
“Well, that’s lovely,” I said, “but I don’t think I can help you there, either. As far as I know, B-town doesn’t have strip clubs or Asian hookers. We really are a backwater, I guess.”
Not for the first time, I thought about the random, if not chaotic, aspect of my occupation. Before these guys, my last fare was a couple of young, bright-eyed visual artists who spoke lucidly with me about the challenges and joys of creating art in the 21st century. Before those two was a recent Eastern European immigrant, a hardworking woman who had just gotten off work bussing tables at a tony Church Street restaurant. And before that, before that… To steal a line from Forrest Gump, cab driving is like a box of chocolates, which means sometimes you get the nuts.
As we turned onto Cherry Street, Toby reiterated his central point of the evening: “Man, I hate this fucking town.”
The truth is, I am way too identified with the Queen City, my adopted hometown. I take remarks like Toby’s personally, and how nuts is that? I was seriously poised to defend Burlington’s honor, but something gave me pause, and it wasn’t my general reluctance to tussle with drunken louts.
Rather, it dawned on me that this city is simply not for everyone. Burlington’s charms, as it were, are lost on a large percentage of the population. Most tourists are in town because they want to be here, were drawn to be here, and they enjoy their stay immensely. But if you’ve just been dragged here for a wedding, you may not get the vibe, or you may get it and not like it, particularly in the absence of paid Asian companionship.
Burlington is not quaint; it’s not trendy; it’s not really hip, and I don’t think it ever will be. But I love this town, and here’s hoping it never loses what makes it — for some folks, including me — the greatest place to call home: its steady heart of gold.
Of course, when we pulled up to the hotel, Toby immediately passed me a twenty over the seat. “Keep it,” he said, with a big, dopy grin. “Sorry I busted your chops.”
I hate when this happens. Just when I’m really starting to detest a dude, he goes and redeems himself. I wish the bad guys would stay bad guys, and the good guys would stay good guys. I would truly appreciate the consistency, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask of the universe. But no, people are constantly revealing themselves as complicated, multidimensional actors. It’s enough to make me drop my censorious and reproachful attitude. Someday I just might.
Toby got out, and my seatmate said, “Hey, would you mind dropping me at the Hilton around the corner? I’ll throw you a couple extra bucks.”
“No problem, man. And you don’t have to give me any more money. Your friend laid a twenty on me.”
As we scooted over to the Hilton, my customer said, “You know, Toby is really a good guy. He just gets so freaking obnoxious.”
“Well, you know what?” I said, chuckling. “I, too, think of myself as a good guy, and I also get freaking obnoxious sometimes. How about yourself?”