Hackie: Watercolors | Hackie | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Hackie: Watercolors 

One of my taxi's satellite radio channels is MSNBC, which broadcasts, in real time, an audio-only version of the TV channel. It was 9 p.m., and I was listening to "The Rachel Maddow Show" en route to a pickup. I love Rachel Maddow. No, I mean it — if she'd have me, I would marry Rachel Maddow.

Rachel, you see, is single-handedly getting me through the Trump presidency. Knowing she will be there every evening to review and make sense of the daily chaos and mayhem gives me the fortitude to get out of bed in the morning and face the day.

That being said, I never mix politics and business. If I'm listening to MSNBC when a customer enters the cab, I switch to a music station. As much as is feasible, I strive to cultivate an oasis of tranquility within the four-wheeled submarine that is my mobile office. Filling the space with political talk is antithetical to an atmosphere that calls for less Rachel and more Enya.

That being said, the evening when I picked up Ross Evans came at the end of a particularly brutal day of presidential shenanigans, and I really needed my daily hit of Rachel to reorient my frazzled brain. So, as Ross climbed in, I asked (against my better judgment), "Do you mind political radio? I'm listening to Rachel Maddow."

"Sure, no problem," Ross replied as he settled into the seat beside me. I was driving him, a middle-aged guy with graying hair, from downtown Burlington to Colchester Village. "She's on MSNBC, right?"

"Yup, she has a nightly show."

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I've listened to her. That entire station is a big mouthpiece for the deep state. What's your view about that?"

Oh, crap! I thought. This is exactly what I deserve for contravening my own policy. Bye-bye, oasis.

I'd heard of the "deep state." Along with the "fake news," it's one of the core conspiratorial tropes favored by our president and echoed by his true believers.

"I'm interested in actual journalism done by people who have studied and practice the profession," I replied. "You know, dedication to uncovering the facts and the truth."

"Sure, but that's the rub. How do you know what the truth is? Everybody's biased."

Rabbit holes are for rabbits, I thought, coming to my senses. Perhaps a better person than I might possess the capacity to productively and respectfully engage with this man on these matters. But I knew myself, and I was about to get real negative real fast. Best for all concerned to nip it in the bud.

Changing the radio to a light-jazzy channel called Watercolors, I said, "You know what, man? Let's not do this. I'd much rather hear your story. Like, are you a local or didja migrate up here?"

"All right," he said. "I'm with ya. And it just so happens that I have a pretty cool story. In the mid-'80s, when I was about 25, I inherited an apartment house on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was six stories and had 20 units. So, I moved into the building and that became my life. I was the building manager, superintendent, maintenance man — I did it all."

"That must have been an amazing time to live in that neighborhood. That was the Rent era, right? All the artists and squatters — the whole scene."

"It sure was, and I loved it. I'd go to CBGB's all the time and saw some awesome bands. But, anyway, by the late '90s, I felt it was the right time to sell the place as condominiums, and I put a ton of cash into fixing it up. The existing tenants had the right to buy their units at one-third the market value, but even so, I netted a shitload of money. Unfortunately, I was financially reckless, and I got into day trading. Then, when the crash of 2008 hit, I essentially lost everything."

"Oh, man — what a blow," I commiserated.

"Yeah, that it was. So, I pulled up stakes and relocated to Nova Scotia. I had every intention of settling there but soon realized I am, like, an American and headed back. I drove the long way, which took me through Stowe. I stayed in a small hotel on the Mountain Road and found that I really took to the community. So I never left."

"Ross, that is a cool story. But what are you doing for income up there?"

"That's the best part. I picked up a lot of skills when I managed the property I owned in the city, so I reinvented myself as an all-purpose handyman. I get all kinds of work from the wealthy property owners in Stowe. I really do it all for them. I've never advertised, and I've never lacked for work."

"That's so great," I said. "The old cliché really worked for you: Life threw you lemons, and you made lemonade. I bet you're leading a better life now than if you'd stuck it out in the Big Apple."

"You're right about that, man," Ross agreed. "I think about it a lot."

I'm so glad I switched channels, I thought after dropping Ross off at his friend's house in Colchester. Sometimes I need to view life in all its stark relief courtesy of my girl Rachel, but other times call for the anodyne comfort of Watercolors.

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

The original print version of this article was headlined "Watercolors"

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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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