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Hackie: A Member of the Tribe 

Published June 14, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

"In 300 feet, your destination is on your left."

I can never get used to the strangely inert voice of my GPS narrator. I find it off-putting, even creepy. Plus, I feel guilty using the darn device, as if I'm somehow cheating. I take pride in my well-earned knowledge of Vermont's highways and byways, a knowledge that modern technology has rendered largely superfluous, like the ability to spell and do math. I wouldn't say that I'm a technophobe, but the digital world seems to keep me in a constant state of mild agitation.

My "destination" was the home of Edward Clemmons, a first-time customer who lived off Maple Corner in Calais. I pulled up his long, curved driveway and stopped in front of the house. Edward was Johnny-on-the-spot, bounding out of his front door and up to my cab, suitcase in hand.

"Good to meet you, Jernigan," he said as we came face-to-face at the hatchback to load in his bag. He was a compact and friendly fellow, round-faced with softened features and a flat nose. At first flash, he reminded me of Mickey Rooney or, going back even further, James Cagney.

"I'm Ed," he said, and we shook on it.

"Great property," I said as we pulled back onto the County Road en route to Burlington airport. "Have you lived here a while?"

"We've been here four years," said Ed. "My wife and I were looking to move from northern California, and we both loved Vermont. Luckily, both our jobs allowed us to telecommute. We were actually set to make an offer on a property outside of St. Johnsbury until we found out there was no Wi-Fi. I figured, no problem — that it would cost maybe five thousand to bring it in. But when we asked around, we found out the cost would be closer to 40 thousand, if you could believe it. So we ended up here, which ultimately worked out great 'cause we love the place."

The County Road was lush and green as spring, now fully realized, approached summer. I enjoy so much of what Burlington has to offer, but the rural countryside remains the Vermont of my dreams. It's what drew me here nearly 40 years ago.

"So, are you a California boy by birth?" I asked.

"No, I grew up in a few different western states, mostly New Mexico and Utah. My father was an administrator for the BIA — the Bureau of Indian Affairs — and we moved quite a bit to different reservations."

"What an interesting upbringing," I said. "Did you interact much with the Native American tribal people?"

"Oh, yeah — completely. That was my childhood. I went to tribal schools, and all my friends were Indians. My father was very much respected and beloved, I would say, by the folks he served, so that really helped."

I glanced over again at my customer. "Do you have Native American blood in your ancestry?" I asked.

"Well, that's kind of a funny question, because I'm not quite sure. On the reservation, everyone accepted me as an Indian person because of my looks, though both my parents were clearly white. Then, sometime after my dad passed — I think I was 42 — my mother told me that my dad was not my biological father. She explained that my dad was sterile; he couldn't have kids. So, while he was away on a long overseas trip ... She was a little sketchy about the details at this point, but, apparently, my father knew all about it. She had a similar talk with my kid sister around the same time."

"Wow, what a revelation," I said. "It's like, I imagine, you need to reassess your whole life."

"Well, at first I wasn't too sure. My mother was showing early signs of what would eventually be an Alzheimer's diagnosis, so we didn't know what to think. But I talked with her younger sister, my aunt, who confirmed the truth of what Mom had told me. I was shocked, to be sure, but I honestly felt fine about the whole thing. If anything, it gave me a newfound respect and love for my dad, who never treated my sister and I like anything other than his full-fledged children."

"That's an amazing story, Ed. Everyone's life is complicated, isn't it?"

Ed laughed. "I'll say," he agreed.

"So, where is this trip taking you?" I asked.

"I'm going to my niece's wedding. She's a great girl, and we've been close through the years. She lost her dad when she was quite young, and I told her that I'll always be there for her. Not as a replacement for her father, but as someone she could call upon for advice and support. She found a great guy, so this is a happy occasion for everybody."

"Ed, you are a good dude," I said with a chuckle.

"Well, we all do our best, don't we?"

"Honestly, some do and some don't."

At that moment, an obscure song, "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," came onto my satellite radio. I was tuned to the "'60s on 6" station because, well, I am that old, and I still like the music of my early years.

I said, "Guess the band and amaze me, Ed."

He responded instantly: "The Electric Prunes."

"Oh. My. God," I said. "You know your early rock, man. I am truly impressed."

We spent the remainder of the ride talking Velvet Underground, Moby Grape and the like. I told him about two vintage record shops in Burlington, and he told me about one in Barre. For two nerdy guys, this qualifies as bonding.

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

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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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