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The String Cheese Bandit 

November is the doldrums for us local cabbies. It's the sluggish interregnum between the bustle of October's foliage tourism and the holiday party season that defines December. Which is why I love a big November "event" — any stage show that'll lure a couple thousand people to downtown Burlington.

A Saturday night concert — the String Cheese Incident at Memorial Auditorium — fit the bill nicely. This weirdly named band has an active following among the hippie throng, the kind of fans who will follow their favorite group from town to town, à la the Deadheads "touring" with the Grateful Dead. This, in turn, generates a slew of hotel fares. Plus, I dig hippies because they respect the workingman and tip well.

As expected, business was brisk. I even drove one young man celebrating his 100th Cheese show — an accomplishment, I guess. At the tail end of the evening, as I took one last circle through the club district, I noticed a couple, a man and woman, talking with a police officer through the driver's window of his parked cruiser. The woman was obviously enraged over something, animated to the point where I could imagine the cop fingering his Taser. As I drove up on the scene, the man hailed my cab. He had to strenuously coax his partner into the backseat with him; she, it appeared, hadn't yet had her fill with the policeman.

"Could you take us out to Grande Isle?" the man asked. "My friggin' coat was stolen at Metronome, and my car keys and phone were in the pocket."

"Sure thing," I replied, and steered the cab up the Main Street hill. "What a major bummer, man."

"Jason, that cop made me so angry!" the woman said, nearly screaming. "He just kept nodding his head, nodding his head. We don't need a fucking therapist, we need a cop! And he wasn't going to actually do diddly-squat. You know that, right?"

"Jane, he did take some notes," Jason said. His tone had "placate" written all over it, which had, if anything, the opposite effect.

"Oh, yeah — 'notes.' I guess that'll come in handy when they assemble the fucking task force."

Jane was being facetious, obviously, but what was her point? When your coat is stolen at a club, what do you expect the police to do? The crime is not exactly a triple homicide.

"What's your name?" Jane asked, turning her attention to lucky me.

"My name's Jernigan," I replied.

"OK. So, Jernigan — what do you think? What are we supposed to do now? My husband's missing his coat, his phone and the keys to our fucking car."

"Well," I said, "it could have been an accident. There's at least a chance you'll hear from the guy."

Reasonable, right? Jane thought not.

"Accident? Yeah, right. Are you kidding me? Nobody takes the wrong coat. Some scumbag stole it, and the cops ain't doing shit about it!"

OK, then, I thought. This woman is a little drunk and not thinking all too rationally. Engaging with her will not be helpful.

As we exited the interstate and headed toward the sandbar, Jane said, "Wait a second — I got it," and pulled out her own phone. "Your phone was on, right? I'll call the fucking thief!"

That was actually a great idea, and I wondered why Jason or I hadn't thought of it. Jane may have been raging, but at least she was thinking.

"OK, yeah, is that so?" Jane had gotten through to the coat guy and was grilling him. "So tell me — exactly how the fuck did this happen? Could you explain it to me?"

Jason interjected in a loud whisper, "Jane, who cares? Just tell the guy to meet us downtown. Have him pick a spot."

Jane, miraculously, took that suggestion, got the info and clicked off. "He wants us to meet him at the Courtyard Marriott, wherever the fuck that is."

Already taking the U-turn, I said, "I know exactly where it is, right on the corner of Battery and Cherry. This is great news! I had a feeling you'd get it back."

"I don't buy it," Jane said. "I still think he stole it."

"Janey, honey — why on Earth would the guy agree to meet us if he was a thief? That doesn't make sense."

"Well, we'll see about that," Jane countered. I had the feeling that she was being obstinate for the sake of being obstinate. As angry as she was, she was plainly enjoying it. And to be truthful, I was finding the whole thing kind of comical. Or maybe I was just punchy from working a long shift.

The entire trip back to town, Jane continued to grouse about the "thief," the cop, the whole situation. But her vehemence had changed tone, as if she was now in on the joke of it. Her partner was being very sweet with her; perhaps there had been times when the roles were reversed and he was the unreasonable one.

We made it to the Courtyard and pulled in front of the main entrance, which is hidden from the street up a short, hooked driveway. Jane called the man back, and he emerged from the hotel in short order. One look at him and it was clear: Jane's great coat thief, it turned out, was a laid-back String Cheese guy.

Jason lowered the back window and the guy passed him the coat, along with the phone and keys. "Jeez, I'm so sorry about all this," the man said. "Mine looks just the same, and God knows where that's gone to. Maybe it's still at Metronome, now that I think about it."

"No problem, man," Jason said. "I hope you find yours." Turning to me, he said, "And thank you, too. Could you take us to our car? It's parked in the lot on the corner of King and St. Paul. And, Jane, what do you think now?"

His partner broke into a big smile and replied, "What a friggin' thief," which left all three of us in stitches.

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

INFO

Hackie is a twice-monthly column that can also be read on sevendaysvt.com. To reach Jernigan, email hackie@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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