“Will you please step on it, Mr. Cabbie? This guy is, like, staying up late waiting for me.”
If the woman sitting beside me was so hot to get to Drew Street, I wondered, why were we first dropping off her two friends in the Mayfair Park district, all the way out by the airport?
“Don’t listen to her,” instructed one of the two women in the back. “Rachel is moving to San Diego tomorrow, flying out in the morning, and we got dibs on her, at least for this cab ride.”
“Rachel,” I said, smiling as I glanced over at her, “there’s two of them and one of you, and democracy rules in this cab. Besides, let the Drew Street guy cool his heels a little bit. Guys love it when you keep ’em waiting.”
“You got that right,” came from the backseat, the two seatmates laughing together.
Rachel, though, sat quietly contemplating the situation. She had long, soft brown hair framing her heart-shaped face, and a peaceful, almost subdued look about her eyes and mouth. Something was at stake for her tonight; that much was evident.
We took the righthand turn before the Ethan Allen Motel. I have a penchant for telling tourists about the standard naming protocol for new Vermont businesses. “It works like this,” I say. “The first one is, say, Vermont Hot Tubs; the next is dubbed Green Mountain Hot Tubs; the third to set up shop will be Ethan Allen Hot Tubs.” The tourists chuckle and say, “How very charming and folksy,” which only encourages me to continue making up vaguely authentic-sounding Vermont folklore.
We stopped at a single-family home typical of this relaxed South Burlington neighborhood, one of the first “suburban” developments — though by now it feels more urban than the true suburbs that have encircled Burlington over the past few decades. All three girls got out and commenced a heartfelt round of hugging and well wishing. Normally, this would engender great antsiness on my part; if I’m not rolling, I’m not making money, is the way I see it. But goodbyes take time, and even a harried hackie like me was moved to honor the sacredness of the moment.
Taking in the world outside my cab, I noticed the street was lush with full, leafy trees, befitting the early-’50s vintage of the Mayfair Park neighborhood. Though we had only just passed Labor Day, some of the lower branches revealed early red and yellow streaks. A Steely Dan lyric drifted through my brain: Your everlasting summer, I can see it fading fast.
Why taxi customers are wont to share intimate information with their drivers remains one of life’s great mysteries. But, sure enough, once we were en route to Drew Street, Rachel opened up — unprompted by me — about the boy she was going to meet.
“This guy, Steve,” she began, “we lived next door on Drew Street for a couple years. It was kind of a funky neighborhood, but, oh, boy, we had, like, the greatest time.”
“So you were boyfriend and girlfriend?” I asked.
“No — and that’s the thing. We did have a brief fling when we first met, but realized that we were better suited as good buddies. Then, this past spring, he started seeing this much younger girl and she got him into, like, this hard partying — drugs, alcohol, you get the idea. It was not good.
“Was I jealous?” she went on, raising the obvious question. “Maybe. I don’t know.” She paused, brushing a stray strand of hair behind an ear. It seemed this was an issue she had seriously pondered. “But,” she continued, “Steve is, like, this awesome guy, and I couldn’t stand watching his life go down the tubes. So I confronted him, and probably not in, like, the best way, and we had this awful, awful parting.”
“Gee, that’s tough,” I commiserated. “And now you’re moving — what did your friends say? — to San Diego?”
“Yup, that’s why I’m, like, so happy we’re getting together tonight. I really love this person. I just couldn’t bear to fly out of town tomorrow with things the way they were.”
“So, you called him?” I asked.
“Nope,” she replied with a wistful sigh, “he called me.”
We cruised along North Street through the heart of the Old North End, and took the right onto Drew just before the intersection with North Avenue. Halfway up the street, we pulled to a stop at a double-decker home with a porch light burning. Illuminated at the far end of the driveway stood a young man — 6 feet tall in a dark T-shirt and baggy shorts, with sunglasses perched atop his close-cropped black hair. His flip-flops were neon green.
Seeing him, Rachel exhaled audibly. “Thanks,” she said to me, paying the fare as her eyes began to mist up. “That’s my guy.”
She got out of the cab, and, for a moment, the two of them faced each other in silence.
“Hey, you,” Steve said, extending his two inviting arms as Rachel broke into a trot up the driveway.