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The Streets of Johnson 

"Can you take me to the Essex Resort or Spa, I think it's called?" The woman at the curb asking the question was maybe 30, and nerdy-girl cute in a print dress and flats.

"Are you talking about the Inn at Essex?" I replied through the passenger window to this would-be customer. "Or maybe it changed names?"

"You got me. It's kind of a fancy place, quite a bit out of town, maybe 15 or 20 minutes? Oh, it's next to a big factory outlet mall — does that help?"

"Yup, we're talking about the same place. Jump in."

It was Saturday night, and the town was hopping due to, well, Saturday night, but also it was the weekend of Grace Potter's annual waterfront festival. I remember seeing Grace and her band, the Nocturnals, in 2003 at Nectar's with maybe a hundred people in the audience. A decade later, she's a veritable rock goddess, appearing on national TV. Her music is all over the radio and internet, and she's playing major venues throughout the country. There's no better story than "local girl makes good."

Meeting my customer's eyes in the rearview mirror, I asked, "Are you in town this weekend for the Grand Point North concert?"

"No, but I heard about it, and I love Grace Potter. I'm here for a wedding tomorrow — my old roommate from our college days in Ontario."

"Well, how lovely is that? Do you approve of the groom?"

"Oh, I sure do. He's a great guy. He's a lawyer, and the bride, Donna, is a lawyer. And, for that matter, I'm a lawyer. How about that?"

I chuckled and said, "I'd hate to get in an argument with the three of you. It'd be a massacre!"

"Especially Donna, let me tell you. She went to Harvard Law School. The girl is crazy bright. Although, back at school, at McMaster University in Hamilton, I had to, like, save her life a couple of times when she wandered into traffic. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with the girl, until one summer when I visited her at her home in Johnson, here in Vermont, where she grew up. Both her parents teach at the college in that town. Anyway, right on the main street running through Johnson, you could just step off the curb and all the cars would stop for you. That's when I realized she wasn't spaced out — she was just a country bumpkin."

My customer paused for a moment, and a wistful look came over her face as she added, "This is my third wedding this year. I guess I'm at that age. And some of my friends are even starting to have babies."

"How about you?" I asked. "You see anything like that in the near future?"

"Oh, I don't know about me. I have been in a serious relationship for a couple of years, but both of us come from families that went through acrimonious divorces. So, as you could imagine, we're both gun-shy."

"Well," I said, steering the taxi off the highway and onto Route 15, "we do get to learn from our parents' mistakes. I mean, as a child of divorce, it doesn't mean that you're destined to repeat it. You get to do things differently."

"But how do you know when you've found the right partner?"

I couldn't help myself from letting out an exaggerated "ha!" before adding, "Ain't that the big question? My feeling is, it has to do with shared values and ethics more than anything else. Do you believe in the same things? Do you share the same hopes and dreams? Do you really, truly respect the other person? Because, over a lifetime, everything else will change and evolve."

I thought that was a pretty thoughtful answer, coming on the fly and all, but this woman — as she quickly made clear — was more focused on the nitty-gritty.

"So, I just had this big fight with my boyfriend tonight before I went out. He reluctantly agreed to come to this wedding, but he didn't want to go to the rehearsal dinner and party. He was like, 'I'm tired, but I'll do it for you, if you really want me to.' But I was like, 'I don't want you to do it for me. If it was your friend's wedding, I would want to meet all your old friends.' So he goes, 'All right — then I'll go with you.' But I was like, 'Don't do me any favors,' and just stormed out. And that's the thing that worried me — he's always concerned with his own personal happiness. That seems to be his guiding principle."

"Well, for what it's worth, my intuition is that it's not about being 'tired' or whatnot. He's probably uncomfortable meeting new people, unsure how he's gonna fit in, that kind of thing. You, on the other hand, strike me as gregarious, like you thrive on people and socializing."

"You're absolutely right about that," she said. "So what do I do about it? Could he change, or is this just the kind of person he is?"

I laughed again. My customer was posing those unknowable questions. I've lived a long time — far more than half my likely life span — but I've learned that the mere passage of time is, at best, tangentially related to actual wisdom. More often, it seems I know less with each passing year.

I replied, "Look, I have no idea. People do change, but I don't think you can build a relationship with the idea of changing your partner. In fact, they'll generally push back against it. But I think if you really do love somebody, and they love you, you can both change by the example of the other. I think couples naturally influence each other that way."

My customer chuckled and said, "So what you're saying is you're not going to advise me whether or not I should stay with this guy."

"Nope, sorry, I am not," I replied, smiling as I pulled up to the front of the hotel. "You'll have to try your next cab driver."

INFO

Hackie is a twice-monthly column that can also be read on sevendaysvt.com.
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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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