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Harper Visits Vermont 


Published November 13, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.

The late-afternoon call came in from Majestic Car Rental on the Shelburne Road rotary. Majestic is one of the local businesses — a small group mostly composed of restaurants and bars — that contact me first when they have a customer in need of a cab, and I love them for it.

“Jernigan, I have a couple going to the airport,” said Holly, the manager. “Are you available?”

“I’m on my way,” I replied. “Thanks for the call, Holly.”

Approaching rush hour, the rotary was a tangled mess, big surprise. Five distinct roads feed into the darn thing. There is a plan to convert it into a roundabout — which, if traffic studies are to be believed, should help immensely. Two things to consider, however: First, this project has been on the drawing board for the better part of a decade, so I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of the groundbreaking. Second, when construction finally does get under way, get ready for a gridlock nightmare of “The Walking Dead” proportions.

I pulled into Majestic’s small parking lot, and a young woman immediately approached me. She said, “Last-minute emergency, I’m afraid. Sorry to hold you up.”

I glanced over at one of the parked rental cars to see an equally young man leaning into the open rear door. I quickly surmised that he was changing the diaper of their baby.

“Better now than on the plane, right?” I said, chuckling. “Of course, it’ll probably happen in the air, as well.”

“Ohh, yeah,” she said, with the proud resignation of a young mother.

As her partner finished up, I stepped over to check out the baby, a chubby-cheeked cutie. “She’s a little doll,” I said. “What’d you name her?”

“Harper,” the man replied, lifting his daughter and carrying her over to the car seat, which Mom had just finished installing in the rear of my taxi. These two operated together like a well-oiled machine.

“Oh, that’s very cool,” I said. “Anything to do with the Paul Newman movie of that name?”

“No, I’ve never even heard of it,” the dad answered. “Have you, honey?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s actually an old family name.”

“Well, in the ’60s, Paul Newman made a series of movies all beginning with the letter H. There was The Hustler, Hud, Harper and I think a fourth one whose name escapes me.”

I forget sometimes: The 1960s were a very long time ago. I am fast approaching codger status, hence my antiquated frame of reference. My twentysomething customers just smiled at me graciously.

“So, you folks finishing up a Vermont vacation?” I asked as we crept up Ledge Road, the steep cut-over to Prospect Street.

“Yeah, we had a great time,” the man replied. He was sitting next to me, while in the back his wife tended to little Harper, who was cooing away like nobody’s business. “We live in Baltimore now, but we’re from western Pennsylvania. And we both attended York College.”

“York College — yeah, I heard of it. Is that where you guys met?”

“No, we went to high school together.”

“I love it — high school sweethearts.”

“Not quite,” said the woman, jumping in. “We only got together at college. Todd wanted to hook up back in high school, but I was having none of it.”

Todd laughed, saying, “I wore you down, honey. Persistence pays off.”

“So what are you doing for work, Todd?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“What kind of law do you practice?”

“I’m working for a large Baltimore firm specializing in corporate securities.”

“Sounds boring and lucrative,” I joked.

“You’re exactly right — it is both boring and lucrative. And the hours are totally crazy. I graduated law school with a mountain of debt, so I am grateful to have a good job. It’s been tough for law school graduates for a number of years now. But I hope to get out of the firm after I pay down a chunk of these loans.”

“So what are your career aspirations? Some kind of public service law? Please don’t tell me you’re one of those do-gooders.”

“That’s what I hope to be,” Todd replied, chuckling. “In fact, we both love it up here and wouldn’t mind moving to the area. What do you think?”

I paused before replying. I play second fiddle to no one in my appreciation of Vermont, and, perhaps because of that, I’m hesitant to fill the place up with unworthy candidates. Maybe it sounds selfish, not to mention snobbish, but I want to maintain the quality of our immigrant stock. On reflection, these people seemed great, so I let it rip.

“Well, I’ll tell you this. I don’t think there’s a better place to raise a family. And, at least in the Burlington area, the economy is percolating nicely. I’m sure there’s opportunity for lawyers. I don’t think the salaries approach what you can make in the big cities, but quality of life, baby — it can’t be beat.”

“Thanks for that assessment,” Todd said. “I think we’re really going to explore the options up here when I’m ready to leave the law firm.”

We passed Al’s French Frys. Right here, a few months ago, I got a ticket for “unsafe driving” when, apparently, I cut it too close taking the diagonal left onto White Street. This was my first moving violation in more than a dozen years, and I requested a hearing. I have no legitimate excuse; I’m just going to throw myself — prostrate if necessary — on the mercy of the court.

“Did you get up into the mountains during your stay?” I asked. “Did you visit Stowe?”

“No, we didn’t get the chance,” the woman replied. “Maybe next time. We did tour Shelburne Farms. That property was, like, amazing.”

“Wow, that’s great. I love that place. It’s like a window back in time. You know — to simpler, happier days, when we all had dozens of servants attending to our every need and desire.”

The couple laughed. Harper did, too, though I got the feeling she didn’t fully appreciate the wry subtlety of my humor.

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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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