Milton, By the Skin of My Teeth | Hackie | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Milton, By the Skin of My Teeth 

During a lull in last evening's festivities, a wobbly, well-dressed man approaches my taxi. Before he arrives at the door, I have a 10-second window to make my decision.

Let's face it, intoxicated customers are my bread and butter. The ingestion of alcohol is the primary reason the lounge lizards and lizardettes leave their cars at home and take cabs. This means that any night-shift cabbie learns to cope with the tipsy ones or eventually packs it in. But, there's tipsy and there's drunk. In my experience - and I've been at this for over 25 years, thank you very much - the truly besotted always spell trouble.

Let me count the ways:

1. Can't find the money.

2. Has no money.

3. Throws up in the cab; on themselves; on you; on everything.

4. Can't remember where they live.

5. Aggressive, obnoxious, just plain nasty.

6. Falls asleep, dead to the world, as soon as they hit the seat.

7. Shall I go on?

Because of this laundry list of unpleasantries, I've learned to turn down fares from the obviously and totally hammered. However, the "decline" is a decision that must be made before the person gets into the cab. This can be a tough judgment call.

Last night, I take the guy. Once he hits the seat, I realize that he is drunker than he looked on the street. Maybe the fancy duds fooled me, I don't know. And, he needs to go to Milton. He gets this out before slumping over in the shotgun, sleepytime-time.

I shake him, he comes to and I say, "Thirty bucks - could you pay me now?"

"Suuuure," he says and fishes out a couple twenties. This only takes him about four minutes. "Keep it," he manages to get out as he passes me the bills. Then it's nap-time again.

On the highway between Winooski and Milton, his left arm suddenly swings across my body. I figure he must be dreaming and just lift it back to his side of the seat. Then he says, "OK, we gotta pull over."

"You gonna blow?" I ask, nonchalantly - I've been through this routine before.

"Yep," he says, and I quickly pull to the shoulder and click on the four-ways. Unfortunately, we were at a section that steeply sloped at the sides and the guardrails allowed for merely a car-width of shoulder. It's midnight, and, jeez, it's hairy to feel the cars swooshing by at high speed while my customer hangs out his door barfing in waves. Finally, he's done and we get back underway.

As we pull into the village part of Milton, I need to know where to turn and my guy is now into some heavy REM slumber. I shake him hard, his head pops up like some prairie dog, and he says, "Further," and it's back to dreamland. My confidence in his direction-giving is deteriorating by the mile. We might get to Georgia before he changes his tune.

But, before we reach the reservoir on the north border of town, he arises Phoenix-like, startlingly refreshed, and says, "OK, turn here, buddy." A little ways up the road, he calls for a left and then we're in his driveway.

He begins to reach into his pocket and I say, "No, it's OK, man. You already paid me."

He lifts and shakes a forefinger, and manages to extract another twenty which he hands to me and says, "Thanks, you're a lifesaver."

It's amazing how cheaply I can be bought, because now I really, really like the guy.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

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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