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Sound Unlimited 

Hackie

This has got to be the cookingest holiday of them all, I thought as I stood, packed like a sardine, on a City Market checkout line. It was pre-Thanksgiving, and the food-buying frenzy had kicked in. Burlington’s sole downtown supermarket is jammed with people year-round; throw in a holiday, and it’s a mosh pit at Bonnaroo.

In front of me on line was a middle-agedblack woman, somewhat on the dowdy side but with a pretty face and expressive eyes. She was wheeling an old-fashioned, folding shopping cart. When I was a kid, shopping carts were ubiquitous; nowadays, much less common. I began to ponder the potential explanations for their decline in use but stopped myself. Even for me, that was just too random a subject to devote 60 seconds of my life to.

Ten minutes later, as I got into my cab and began to ease out of my parking spot, that same lady approached me, pulling her cart with one hand and flagging me down with the other.

“Could you give me a ride down North Avenue just past Northgate?” she asked with a smile.

“Sure thing,” I replied, shifting back into park and stepping out. The line between my work hours and off hours is fluid. If someone hails me, I’ll generally take the fare unless I’m seriously engaged. “Let me help you get your stuff into the backseat, and you can sit up front with me.”

“Why, thank you, honey,” she said in, yes, a honeyed tone. “My name’s Connie, by the way.”

Making our way out of the gridlocked parking lot was a vehicular version of the shopping experience. My customer said, “It seems everybody had the same idea today.”

“Yup, Burlington ain’t the small town it once was, that’s for sure. Have you been living here for a while?”

“No, just a few months. I’m staying with my daughter and granddaughter. I was living with my brother and his family in Boston. You know Brockton?”

“Yeah, I do. I believe it’s the hometown of that famous heavyweight, Rocky Marciano.”

“You could be right about that. Before Muhammad Ali I didn’t much follow boxing,” Connie said, then resumed her story. “Yeah, my brother and his wife fixed up a room for me in the attic, but they were gone all day working, and my two teenage nephews were partying constantly in the house. It was all too chaotic and noisy at my age. That’s when I moved up here to be with my daughter. How about you?”

“Jeez, I moved up here more than 30 years ago from Brooklyn. I love it in Vermont. You know, the quiet and relaxed lifestyle.”

“Oh, honey — I know just what you mean! I grew up in Orange, New Jersey. I liked the hustle and bustle when I was a kid, but now? Lordy, give me some peace!”

I swung a right onto the Northern Connector and fixed the speed control at a mellow 45, the better to keep up our chat. I was enjoying this lady’s company; her very presence was relaxing to me. Every person, in my experience, walks through life surrounded by his or her own energy field — an “aura,” if you like. The feeling around Connie was one of warmth and acceptance.

Though life at this point appeared to be moving her from house to house, she seemed to carry a sense of home in her heart, and one with a welcome sign on the front porch. Step inside, and there was coffee and cake on the table, and the promise of restorative conversation.

“So Connie,” I said, “we’re probably born around the same time, coming of age maybe in the late ’60s to ’70s. So, music-wise, did you love the Philly sound? I couldn’t get enough of that when I was a kid.”

“Oh, my, my — you’re taking me back now, aren’t you? Teddy Pendergrass, the O’Jays?”

“How about the Spinners?” I suggested. “They were like, my absolute favorites.”

“Back then, in the ’70s, when I was married and still living in Jersey, I used to DJ with my husband.” Connie paused for a moment, nodding as the memory rebooted. “We would play at weddings and dances. I would spin the records — this is before tapes or whatever it is they have now — and my husband would … well, now they would call it ‘rapping,’ I suppose.”

“That is awesome,” I said. “Did the act have a name?”

“Let me see … Oh, yes — we called ourselves Sound Unlimited.”

“How cool is that?” I said, laughing. “That is so 1970s. I bet you looked real fine, too. I mean, that was the era of great clothes. I’m thinking about Earth, Wind & Fire and, like, Chic.”

Connie laughed along, saying, “Oh, you are speaking the truth, honey. I don’t know what was better, the fashion or the music.”

We got off the connector at Plattsburgh Avenue and turned onto North Avenue. With Connie pointing the way, we quickly reached her daughter’s place.

“Is your daughter doing good?” I asked as I helped unload her cart and groceries.

“She is doing just terrific,” Connie replied. “Got a great job working for the CCTA — you know, the busses? Mostly she works in that booth on Cherry Street, helping out anyone with questions about the schedule or which bus to take. It’s perfect for her personality. She’s a real people person. Real different from me, you see — I like my peace and quiet, not crowds.”

“I don’t know about that, Connie,” I said with a chuckle. “You seem like a real people person to me. At least to this person.”

Connie’s whole face smiled. “Well, you made my day, honey. That was a great conversation. Really took me back.”

“It sure was,” I said. “You made my day, too.”

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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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