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Show Me the Money 


Published October 1, 2008 at 5:31 a.m.

On a recent Saturday night I had a shift I would classify as great, and by “great” I refer to the money in my pocket when I switched off the taxi light. If this job isn’t all about the money for me, it’s darn close. Yes, I enjoy it, and yes, I do my best to provide high-quality service to my customers. But at the end of the day, this is how I earn my livelihood.

I judge the quality of the haul not by an arbitrary number but by a specific ratio: the amount I’ve reaped in relation to what was possible given the conditions on the street that day. After all, you can only play the cards you’re dealt. On an exceedingly busy night, X number of dollars might represent a paltry take, while that same number on a quiet night might be stupendous.

I’m judging this recent shift by that standard — it was quite slow, yet I pulled in far more than I could have expected. And, as in cards (which I played incessantly as a teenager), success resulted from a combination of skill and luck of the draw. A lot of good stuff happened, but a couple of fares especially exemplified the night’s copious flow.

Post-midnight, two men were wobbling out onto the curb in front of Nectar’s. By 11 p.m., older adults have usually retreated to their homes, leaving the under-30 crowd to rule the streets. These two fun-loving guys, however, were staring at 50, which means they were drunk. It’s a simple equation: If they’d been sober, there wouldn’t have been a good reason for men that old to be out so late in downtown Burlington.

Grinning like it was Christmas morning, the short, stubby one flagged me down and slapped my roof twice, as if knocking on a door. I lowered the passenger window, and he said, twice as loud as was necessary, “How much to take my good buddy here out to Shelburne?”

I was about to ask where in Shelburne when the man opened the front door, leaned in and pulled out a money clip, revealing a bulging wad of twenties. As I watched with interest, he peeled off three and said, “Will this do it? Will you take him home?”

I said, “My friend, for 60 bucks I will not merely drive him home; I’ll have sex with him, tuck him into bed and sing him a lullaby.”

The shock on the guy’s face was alarming. “Kidding,” I assured him. “I’m just kidding, man. Don’t worry — I’ll take good care of your buddy.”

I dropped the ultra-lucrative Shelburne fare on Longmeadow Drive and was back in Burlington in less than 25 minutes. A young couple hailed me who needed to go to “Ethan Allen.” I asked, “Do you mean the hotel?”

“No, no — it’s a street,” the woman said. “It’s a friend’s house. We’re visiting from New Hampshire.”

“OK, then — are you talking about Ethan Allen Parkway?”

“Yeah, I think that’s it.”

On the spin down North Avenue, I asked them if they had come up for the big concert at Memorial Auditorium with the band Oar. The guy said, “No, we didn’t know about that. And, dude, I think the band is, like, O.A.R.”

“Oh, crap,” I said, chuckling at my own cluelessness. “Another downside to middle age — out of the loop yet again. That’s like when older folks would say Rem instead of R.E.M.”

“Hey, don’t feel bad,” the woman consoled me. “O.A.R. is still a relatively obscure band, and anyway, now you know.”

As we turned down Ethan Allen Parkway, the guy said, “Dude, I’m sorry, but this doesn’t look right. The place we’re staying was, like, out where the planes were flying into the airport.”

“All right, then,” I said calmly, trying to override my irritation. “Does Ethan Allen Avenue sound better? That would be out in Fort Ethan Allen, which is near the airport.”

“Sorry, dude. Yeah, that sounds right.”

Reversing course, I cut through the Old North End, went over the bridge into Winooski and up Route 15, and finally turned into Fort Ethan Allen. “I hate to tell you,” the young man spoke up, “but these old brick buildings don’t look anything like what I remember. Our friends live in, like, this more industrial area, really near the airport.”

I was running out of Ethan Allens, but then it hit me. “I know just where it is,” I said, spinning the vehicle around. “You want Ethan Allen Drive. I hadn’t thought of that to begin with because it’s mostly industrial, with very few private residences. It’s adjacent to the Country Club Estate neighborhood, which is right next to the airport. The third time will be the charm, folks. I guarantee.”

Ethan Allen Drive did ring the gong. We pulled up to their friend’s place, and the girl said, “So, how much? We, like, took you on a tour of Burlington.”

“Well, it wasn’t your fault. I should have known better. So the fare’s just 12 dollars.”

“I don’t think so,” she said, and handed me $40. She wished me peace, and the two of them got out of the cab.

Tonight is just one of those nights, I thought as I sped back downtown. I take them when they come, with gratitude.

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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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