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Published June 26, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

A snarling 14-year-old walked by my cab. He paused just long enough to glare at me and shoot me some bad vibes. His T-shirt said, “Don’t Make Me Get Out My Flying Monkeys,” which I thought was actually pretty funny.

It was a recent weekday night, and I was idling at the Main Street taxi stand on the corner of St. Paul. I suppose I wasn’t technically “idling,” because since the cold weather is over, the engine was off. And I was on the job, so in that sense as well I wasn’t idling. But other than the occasional disgruntled teen, there was little human activity on the street, and my mind was free to roam and wander.

Man, I thought, Burlington is so tame. Nothing startling or outrageous ever seems to happen. Then, in a flash, I vividly recalled sitting on this very corner a year or so ago when something utterly extreme occurred before my incredulous eyes.

It was past midnight when I noticed the small SUV barreling south on St. Paul Street from College. Jeez, I thought, he shouldn’t be driving so fast through the downtown streets. It happens, though. Some-times young men use their cars to send out signals, stamping and charging as if they were young bucks in rut. Dangerous behavior, but it was human nature, I figured.

The young man continued zooming toward Main. Just before the corner, on the street level of the renovated Huntington Apartments, there was a recently opened wine bar next door to its companion wine shop, offering patrons an opportunity, I supposed, to sample the wares in a genteel, refined atmosphere.

As the vehicle came parallel with the wine bar, it abruptly took a sharp right and jumped the curb, crashing into and coming to rest in the front window of the bar. Luckily the table on the other side of the window was unoccupied. I sat in the cab with my mouth agape. This was the most inexplicable driving maneuver I had ever witnessed.

After about 30 seconds of eerie silence broken only by the tinkling of falling shards of glass, two things happened simultaneously: The SUV backed out of the wine bar window and a police car — with siren blaring and blue lights flashing — pulled up alongside.

The offending driver shook his head a few times. The police officer, meanwhile, had hopped from his cruiser and was approaching the SUV.

Holy moly, I thought — this guy was in deep doo-doo. I wondered if he was on crack or something. Either way, he was looking at jail time for this stunt.

Just as the cop reached his window, the driver gunned the engine and U-turned around the police car. He didn’t, however, have a tight enough turning radius, and proceeded to smash about five cars parked on the other side of the street. Undeterred, he shot up to the corner and took a screaming right up College Street.

The officer, who seemed both shocked and bursting with adrenaline, jumped back in his cruiser and took off in hot pursuit, yelling into his two-way radio. I heard the next day that the cops surrounded and arrested the perpetrator up near the university. There was nothing in the news about the guy’s motivation. Perhaps he’d had a bad experience with Sangria when he was a teen-ager?

Anyway, back at my corner it was deadly calm, which was surreal given the carnage the SUV had left in its wake. The storefront of the wine bar had caved in and, across the street, it looked like the parking lot of a collision shop. I stepped out of the cab and wandered, as if in a dream, over to the scene of the crime. Here and there a few other people began emerging from the surrounding bars and restaurants, no doubt drawn by the sound of the demolition derby.

It’s not every day you see five cars so freshly creamed. One sad-looking black Jetta, its front end a jagged mess, was pushed onto the sidewalk, almost onto the grass of City Hall Park. The other four victim-cars were smashed together into a sort of heavy metal group hug. When the unsuspecting owners of these crunched vehicles came back, I thought, they would be freaked.

“Do you know what happened? …Whaddaya think? … Didja see anything?”

I faced the small crowd that had spontaneously gathered and suddenly felt a small burst of energy. “Did I see anything?” I began, pulling up my sleeves. “Lemme tell you. I was sitting at the taxi stand, just minding my own business… yeah, right back over there… Anyways, this SUV comes flying down St. Paul Street…”

Funny how being an eyewitness to mayhem fills you with a strange sense of pride.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac was a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column appeared in Seven Days 2000-20. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.


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