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Tribal Fealty 

Hackie

“When you’re from Cleveland, it’s not about, like, jumping on the bandwagon. It starts when you’re a kid, and then you’re loyal for life.”

The tipsy woman expounding from the back seat had grown up in Cleveland, a point of great pride, apparently. Also in the cab were her husband and two friends — a couple visiting from Staten Island. She was bound and determined to make sure everyone in the cab, including me, understood definitively that Cleveland Indian fans were the greatest baseball fans in the world.

I got the impression that her husband, sitting beside her, had been on the receiving end of this lecture more than once: If he had rolled his eyes with a skosh more gusto, they might have dropped off the side of his head.

She continued, “You guys are Yankee fans or Red Sox fans — blah, blah, blah. Indian fans, that’s where it’s at. We’re not front runners — we are committed.”

Yeah, I’d like to see her committed, I thought.

Perhaps I could chalk it up to the time of year, but, whatever the cause, my tolerance for overly loquacious customers was at low ebb. The bleak and doleful period between the foliage season and the snows of winter always hits me hard. I mean, what becomes of the sun?

That factor alone brings me close to the edge. If I believed in mood-altering drugs — recreational or prescribed — I’d be tempted to pop a few just to carry me through November.

We hooked a right onto Spear Street bound for the Shelburne/Charlotte town line, the full moon tracking us like a prison spotlight. The trees were shivering with desiccated, brown leaves.

One more blustery day, I thought, and they’ll all be gone. Did I mention I hate this time of year?

“Hey, bud.” My seatmate from Staten Island suddenly engaged me, the Clevelander having, at least momentarily, talked herself out. “What do you Vermont people think about Obama?”

The way the guy asked the question telegraphed his feelings about our president. Let me put it this way: He didn’t ask it nicely. Nevertheless, I rarely balk at a direct question; one never knows where it will lead. So I jumped right in, my seasonal disorder notwithstanding.

“Well, I would say that the majority of Vermonters are supportive of the president and his policies. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t imagine a better person to hold the job in these volatile times. He’s sure got the right demeanor, if nothing else.”

“What about him taking over the health care?” he asked, delving into specifics. “How does that make sense?”

“I wish he’d take over health care. Medicare and the VA seem to work pretty well. Rather have the government coordinating things than the insurance companies. Anyway, nobody’s talking about telling doctors how to practice medicine; the proposals are about how the money is moved around the system.”

I couldn’t say if the guy was actually following my argument, because I was focused on the road. This past spring, I obliterated a cat that ran madly onto Battery Street from between two parked cars in front of the Hilton. I refuse to go through that again this year, and peeled eyes, I’ve determined, are the key.

Still, though I wasn’t observing my inquisitor’s facial reaction, I could sense the acridity.

“What are you — some kinda socialist?”

His words resonated as invective. No matter — I took the question at face value.

“Socialist? I don’t know. I sure wouldn’t want the government running everything, so I guess I’m no communist. But throughout all of Europe, at least every citizen has ready access to health care when they get sick. So, if that’s socialism, I say bring it on.”

I don’t think the man was happy with that answer. In truth, I doubt there was any response that would have satisfied him. So he pulled out the big gun — the bludgeon. He straightened up in his seat, turned to face me and said, “Do you believe in God?”

“I do,” I said. “Do you believe in God?”

“Uh, yeah,” he replied, slightly confounded, which was not my intent. I was just talking to the guy. He initiated this discussion, and I wasn’t going to fake it. Not in November.

“Of course,” I continued, “the question is, then — what kind of God are we talking about? Because the God I envision cares first and foremost about those with the least.”

“Whoa — turn right here, into the driveway,” interjected Cleveland’s husband.

“Yuh, it’s all about the Indians, baby,” said his wife.

My friend in the back was at it again — one last exhortation, for old time’s sake, before her party exited the cab. I had to admit, her beaming smile and untempered zeal were beginning to get to me. For a split second, I actually found myself questioning my allegiance to the Red Sox.

“We are the greatest fans in the world!” she kept at it. “Cleveland rocks!”

“You know something?” I spoke forthrightly into the windshield, my tone that of a civics teacher summing up the lesson for the day. “I got it. If there’s one thing I will take away from this taxi fare, it is the supremacy of the Cleveland Indians and their devoted fans.”

My seatmate let out a raucous laugh. “You know what?” he said, nodding his head. “You ain’t so bad for a Democrat.”

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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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