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Remembering the Garlic 

For us cabdrivers, inclement weather both giveth and taketh away. On the one hand, fewer people venture out when it rains; on the other, those who do brave the weather take more cabs. Yes, I’m talking about another soggy weekend plying my trade in Burlington, and the punster in me would call it a wash.

I was driving a young couple to their home in the Land of Condos, otherwise known as South Burlington’s Kennedy Drive. They seemed well matched: he, gregarious with a shaved head and tall, muscled build; she, easy to laugh, also tall, and with the high cheekbones and chiseled good looks of a runway model— very European.

“Oh, no, James,” the woman said, “you know what we forgot? The freaking garlic! How did we do that, the most important ingredient of all?”

“Don’t worry about it, honey,” he said. “You know what we can do? Cabbie, could you stop at the Price Chopper on Gracie’s corner? It’s 24 hours.”

“Sure thing,” I replied. “But if you don’t mind me asking, what’s up with garlic at midnight? It sounds a little mysterious.”

The woman laughed. “My parents are coming to visit tomorrow, and we’re planning a big Bosnian meal. Earlier today we cut up all the ingredients and put them in containers, but we forgot the garlic, which is only the most important thing in Bosnian cooking. We’re making cevapi, a very traditional, classic dish made with grilled, minced meat — sometimes lamb, sometimes beef — and vegetables and tons of garlic.”

“Oh, man, that sounds delicious,” I said. “About an hour ago, coincidentally, I drove a couple of Bosnian girls down North Avenue. They were speaking Bosnian to each other, which I didn’t know, and I asked them if they were speaking Portuguese. They thought that was hilarious.”

“I know some Bosnian people who live in that neighborhood. Did you get their names? What did they look like?”

“No, I couldn’t tell you their names, but they were both young and lively. I remember one had on yellow pants and the other was wearing, like, bright red pants.”

I paused for a moment, realizing how dumb I sounded identifying people by the color of their pants, and added, “This is not helpful, right?”

Chuckling, she said, “No, not really. You know, a lot of Bosnian people came to Burlington in the ’90s, after the genocide, but many have since moved to other, mostly bigger, cities once they established themselves.”

Her casual allusion to the tragic events in the Balkans just 20 years ago — events that were simply part of her life — struck me in its poignancy. Nestled in the tranquil Green Mountains, it’s easy to forget that darkness can descend any time, anywhere, and in the blink of an eye. This disheartening thought made me remember how fortunate I feel to live in a community that has welcomed refugees fleeing oppression and brutality from all over the world. I think the presence of these newcomers has made us a stronger and richer community. Challenging though it may be, I’m convinced that diversity is a beautiful thing.

“How about you?” I asked. “Do you think about moving?”

“No, not me,” she said, and in the rearview mirror I saw her smile sweetly at her partner. “I’ve made a life for myself in Vermont.”

When I pulled up to the supermarket, James said, “Jovana, you want me to come in with you?”

“No, it’s fine. I can take care of it.”

Jovana entered the Price Chopper, and I cut the engine. James kicked back in the rear seat, a happy man. Nothing makes life better than a good partner. I turned sideways in my seat to face my customer and said, “I gotta say, she’s a beautiful girl. You’re one lucky man.”

“Oh, I know how great she is, believe me. Her folks coming up to visit is, like, a big deal. Her parents and mine each came up with half the money for the down payment on our condo, so I know her folks don’t hate me. But when we’ve visited them, her dad is constantly stuffing me with Bosnian food. ‘Eat this, try this thing.’ Now I’m getting the chance to turn the tables on the guy. Jeez, I hope the meal turns out right. Jovana is a great cook, thank goodness.”

James’ nervousness was completely understandable; pleasing the in-laws is a big deal. Young couples often don’t realize this: When you settle down, your mate’s family is part of the package. It’s said that no man is an island — and, for better or worse, neither is a couple. Even if a duo escapes to the other side of the country, family is an inevitable stowaway in the moving truck of each partner’s mind. So my advice — not that anyone’s asking — is that, one way or the other, it’s best to make peace with the whole crazy lot of them.

Jovana stepped back into the taxi with an entire braid of garlic hanging around her neck. Giggling, she said, “What do you say, James? Do we got enough?”

“I’m glad I’m not a vampire,” I said — not a great joke, but they can’t all be.

As we pulled up to their condo, Jovana said to James, “I know it’s late, but I’d like to prepare the garlic before we go to sleep. What do you think?”

James smiled and took Jovana’s hand. “Sure, baby,” he said. “Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day, so I’m with you — let’s get crazy with that garlic

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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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