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Le King 

Published December 13, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated December 16, 2017 at 11:57 a.m.

What the heck do Los Angelenos talk about all day? I was contemplating this question as I sat idling at the Church Street taxi stand. I'm told that the weather in southern California is remarkably consistent year-round: sunny, warm, clear skies.

Yes, I know, it's disgusting. Here in Vermont we have at least four distinct seasons, and, within them, the modulations are legendary.

Perhaps because of that variety, Vermonters embrace weather talk like nobody's business. With nary an exception, every local who enters my cab is going to talk to me about the weather. I used to find such conversation trite, but now I thrive on it.

The big topic through late November was the abrupt and startling arrival of winter. Most falls feature a warm-up — or, should I say, cool-down — period: a gradual decline in average daily temperatures during which our bodies acclimate to the seasonal change. This fall, the temperatures hovered in the sixties, even seventies, for the longest time, until — whap! — the Big Freeze arrived unannounced, like an unwelcome relative.

So, this has been great fun to talk about — that is, complain about.

Duty called, ending my reverie. The older man and woman who climbed into the back of my taxi were tourists, which was a minor surprise. Except for the few days surrounding Thanksgiving, the stretch between the end of the foliage season and Christmas — when the ski season really kicks in — is notable for its paucity of out-of-town visitors.

It's a dark, windy and altogether gloomy time of year. Myself, I find a desolate charm in the bleakness, but I recognize that's an acquired taste and not a tourist-tempting feature of the Vermont experience.

As the woman gave me the name of their hotel, her English was perfect, though I detected a lovely French accent. Not the accent of our friends to the north, however.

"You folks aren't Montréalers, I gather?" I asked as we pulled into traffic.

"Oh, no, we're visiting from Paris," the man responded.

"So, I guess that makes you French Frenchies," I suggested.

"Yes, it does," the man said, and all three of us laughed together.

"Have you visited Montréal?" I asked.

"Yes, my husband and I were just there for the past week," the woman replied. "They certainly have, well, let us say a distinct way of speaking."

I chuckled at her discretion. Historically, the French have been unusually protective of their native tongue — some might even say haughty. In this regard, I've always seen the colorful Québécois as the Brooklyn version of French people. And I don't mean the millennial, hip Brooklyn of today, but the old-school, Guys and Dolls version of my hometown, the setting of my youth. As such, the earthy patois of the Québécois must grate on the ears of a cultured Parisian.

Ella Fitzgerald, the great swing songstress, began singing on the car radio. I had on the Beatles satellite channel, and Ella was covering "Can't Buy Me Love."

"How do you folks like this music?" I asked. To be honest, I was kind of testing their level of cultural snobbery.

"Oh, we love the Beatles," the man replied, surprising me. "That's Ella Fitzgerald, isn't it? An unusual choice of song for her, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah, I never knew she attempted any rock-and-roll tunes. But it's kind of nice in an odd way, I think. Who's your favorite band or singer, if I may ask?"

"Monsieur, that's an easy question," the man replied. "We love Elvis."

"Elvis Presley?" I said. "I had no idea the King was even popular in France."

"Oh, yes," the woman said. "We even got to see him a few times in Las Vegas before he passed."

"So, I'm wondering: the young, svelte Elvis or the older, chunky Elvis — whom do you prefer?"

Chuckling, the man said, "We love every Elvis equally. We choose no favorites among the Elvi."

"Great answer," I said, chuckling along. "Do you know that, worldwide, there are reportedly over 5,000 people who earn a full-time living as an Elvis impersonator? One just performed about a month ago at the Flynn, our largest local theater."

"Well, that number seems plausible to me," the man replied. "Elvis is still so beloved all around the world, some 40 years after his passing."

"Wasn't there a French performer known as the French Elvis? I remember hearing that."

"Yes, I think you're speaking of Johnny Hallyday. We love him, too. We must have seen him at least 20 times. Wouldn't you say, Gabrielle?"

"Oh, at least, Jacques," Gabrielle confirmed.

As we approached their hotel, I had one more question. It was a long shot, but I just had to ask.

"Hey, when you saw Elvis in Las Vegas, you didn't get married at one of those Elvis chapels, did you? Because that would be too perfect."

In my rearview mirror, I watched Gabrielle and Jacques laugh and take one another's hands.

"How did you guess?" Gabrielle replied. "Yes, August 23, 1975, at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. It's been 42 years, and we're still — as you Americans say — going strong."

P.S. On December 6, Johnny Hallyday passed away. RIP, the French Elvis.

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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