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Taxi Light 


“So what’s your story?” asked my customer from the shotgun seat. I was driving her home from a night out with the girls, two of whom were boisterously chatting in the back seat.

What’s my story? I considered. Could there possibly be a deeper, more intimate question? It used to throw me for a loop when a customer laid this one on me. I would flashback on my entire life, as in a near-death experience — the dashed hopes, triumphs, regrets, lost loves, heartache and blessed moments of grace. Finally, with experience, I realized that all people really wanted to elicit was my place of birth, work history and relationship status. In other words, random cab customers were not actually probing the secrets of my heart and soul. Whew!

I gave the woman the capsule version of “my story” and returned the question: “What about you?”

“Well, I grew up in Williston, but I’ve been working the last six years in Raleigh.”

I asked, “As in North Carolina?”

“Yup, that’s the place. But I just returned. I’m so glad to be back in Vermont, I can’t tell you.”

As we rolled down Williston Road, she suddenly pointed to the right, saying, “Ooh-ooh — you see that place?”

“You mean Al’s French Frys? A real local institution, right?”

“I used to go there all the time,” she said.That is too cool,” I said. “You really are a local girl.

One of the women in the back called out, “Look at us — leaving town and it’s not even midnight. We really are over the hill, girls.”

“You girls?” I said, incredulously as I could spin it. “All three of ya are young and vivacious. Probably majorly breaking hearts left and right. I’d bet the clubs look like a battlefield when you walk out.”

“Is that what you think?” my seatmate said, laughing. “Seriously, how old do you think we are?”

As it happened, this was a game in which I was well versed. I took a quick scan around the cab, put the group in their mid-thirties, subtracted seven years and replied, “Well, I’d say you girls couldn’t be much past your late twenties.”

“Oh, aren’t you sweet?” came a voice from the backseat. “We are all 36. Wait, Brenda — you actually turned 37, right?”

Brenda, my seatmate, pivoted to face the back. Dripping with mock umbrage, she said, “Let’s stick with 36, OK? That works for me.”

We made a stop in the Mayfair Park neighborhood, where Brenda and one of her two friends were getting out. As she left the cab, Brenda joked, “Mr. Cabbie, get our girl here, Darlene, home safe and sound or we will hunt you down and kill you.”

I assured her that wouldn’t be necessary, and continued on with Darlene — the last of the threesome, and the one who had yet to say a word to me beyond her address — to her home in the Lamplite Acres development off North Brownell Road. The first peep out of her was a pronounced sigh.

“How you doing back there?” I asked.

“Well, except for the fact that I’m divorced and really want to have a baby and that’s probably never going to happen — I mean, other than that, I’m just great.”

“Now, why on earth would you say that? Thirty-six isn’t that old, and you’re a good-looking woman, and you seem like a good person. What makes you think it’s too late to start your own family?”

“Well, first I have to, like, meet someone, right? It would have to be some guy in his twenties, because all the men in their thirties are already hooked up. At least, like, the decent ones.”

“Yeah, I can see what you mean,” I said. “But look at it this way: It’s not as if you need to find, like, 20 guys — you need to meet just the one. One guy who really gets you and appreciates you and wants to make a life together. I mean, that’s a miracle when it happens for, like, any couple, but it does happen. You just need to put yourself out there, keep your heart open and who knows?”

“Thanks for that pep talk. I definitely need it. But, honestly, I’m kind of resigned to the fact that it won’t happen. Anyway, I do love my dog.” She paused for a chuckle before adding, “Unfortunately, he’s 13 years old and basically senile at this point, but still.”

Lamplite Acres is one of Chittenden County’s older and nicer suburban subdivisions. Back in the day, the developers weren’t hell-bent on leveling every single tree before getting down to construction, and this cluster of single-family homes is replete with mature trees and all manner of attractive shrubbery. Throw in the well-conceived gimmick from which the place gets its name — a lamplite on every front lawn — and it feels like a true, cozy neighborhood.

We pulled into the driveway to Darlene’s home. Her two friends had earlier passed her their share of the fare; we sat with the vehicle in park while she rummaged through her purse to come up with the rest.

“Look,” I said while she put together the money, “I know it’s important to be self-contained, to be happy in your own skin and independent. I get that. But honestly, don’t give up on finding a partner. I heard this quote from a writer the other day. I think her name was Erin Henry. It was, like, ‘Love exists — you just have to turn your taxi light on and be available.’”

Darlene looked up at me with a knowing smile. It touches me when a younger woman indulges my proclivity toward oration, particularly when the subject is my area of special expertise: love and romance. She said, “So you’re telling me that’s the secret of love? I just need to turn on my taxi light?”

“You got it, honey,” I replied with a wink. “It really works, I guarantee.”

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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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