“What a town, man. It feels like I never left.”
“Didja grow up here?”
“No, I graduated last year from St. Mike’s. This is my first time back.”
It was a late night on Mardi Gras weekend that found me driving this young man to his Colchester alma mater. That would be Burlington’s Mardi Gras celebration, the one taking place a few weeks after the original, Big Easy version.
My customer was squat and muscular, with a tough-guy shaved head and goatee. His demeanor was free and open, though, suggesting a person who enjoys connecting with others, even strangers like me. Given the circumstances, I’m sure he was at least a little drunk, but not so you could readily tell. Put it this way: All day long, I’d been driving customers way drunker than this guy.
Scooting up the Main Street hill, I asked, “So where did you grow up? Given the school, I’d say Boston is the easy guess.”
I watched my customer chuckle in the rear-view mirror. “Yup, I guess there are more than a few of us Massholes at St. Mike’s. I’m from Southie, my whole life. I’m back living with the folks, but I’m actually moving out in a few weeks. Staying in the neighborhood, though.”
“Southie — that’s as Boston as you can get. Real Affleck country, right? Have you been working since graduation?”
“Yeah, I caught a job in Quincy, a 20-mile commute, but that’s not so bad for Boston. It’s an entry-level position at an accounting firm. Wicked boring, but ya got to start somewhere, right? It’s the field I studied for, so that part’s good.”
I couldn’t tell you how I was still standing that night — or rather, still sitting behind the wheel. I’m not exactly a spring chicken — autumn chicken is more like it — and I’d been driving nonstop since early afternoon. The orange numbers on the dashboard read 3:11, putting the tally at more than 12 straight hours and counting. That’s Mardi Gras weekend, and that’s the life of a cabdriver: When it’s busy, you need to be out for the duration. No leaving any money on the table, not for this hackie.
“I’ve been driving a lot of St. Mike’s alums this weekend. This is not an alumni weekend, is it?”
“Nope, but there’s a bunch of us up here, kind of like an informal alumni reunion, I guess. We scheduled it to coincide with Mardi Gras. I’ve been hanging with a whole bunch of my classmates. Man, I miss college. We had no idea, I mean no clue how good we had it. It sucks being out in the real world, working every day.”
“Sounds like you and your buds had a great college career — some crazy times, I bet.”
“Dude, you don’t know the half of it. When we were, like, sophomores, four of us got busted up in Montréal. We were at some St. Catherine Street strip club, and none of us remembers what the hell happened. Total blackout of the whole night.
“We woke up in jail the next day charged with ‘assaulting a vehicle.’ How the hell does that work? Man, we were scared. We were stuck there for three days until they decided to deport our asses. Thank goodness they resolved it that way, ’cause none of our parents ever found out.”
He stopped to laugh for a moment. “Actually, one of the guys was roped into a Montréal vacation with his folks a year later. Let me tell you, he was sweating bullets as they passed through the border. Somehow they didn’t catch it because, technically, in Canada all of us are — what do they call it? — persona non grata.”
Ah, yes, I remember it well, I thought, reflecting on his story. Those wild nights of mayhem fueled by testosterone and tequila, bravado and brio. For me, such escapades are decades in the past, but the memories (or the inflated memories) remain vivid. These ill-advised and chaotic youthful adventures are male rites of passage and bonding, perhaps echoes of the longed-for primeval mastodon hunt. Or maybe, less romantically, men are just dopey yahoos.
“Crashing tonight on campus?” I asked.
“Most definitely,” he replied. “We still have tons of friends at school.”
“Didja play sports at St. Mike’s?”
“No, but I did play high school baseball. Have you heard of Catholic Memorial?”
“I think so. Isn’t that the Roxbury high school that produces all those sport stars?”
“Yeah, that’s the school. Yup, I was a pretty good outfielder. I was able to get to anything hit out there.”
“So, crazy Sox fan, right?” I asked.
“The craziest. When we were teenagers, we used to sneak into Fenway. Can you imagine that? We found this tucked-away eight-foot fence beneath the Green Monster. It was dangerous, but what did we care? We did get booted out once in a while, but mostly we got to see the games. The 2007 World Series year? We made it into all four home games of the League Championship against the Indians. I’ll never forget that.”
We pulled onto the St. Mike’s campus. “The three hundreds?” I asked, naming the cluster of upperclassmen dorms notorious for some of the heavier partying.
“How’d you guess?” he replied with a laugh. “Am I that obvious?”
As he paid me the fare, my customer emitted an audible sigh, saying, “As awesome as this weekend has been, it’s also been a little depressing, because I got to work again on Monday. Is life ever going to be as good as it was at St. Mike’s? I’m really, like, starting to worry.”
I said, “I hear you, brother. I’ll say this: If you let it, if you embrace it, there’s all kinds of new and better awesome in store for you in the years to come. Maybe even better than Montréal benders.” I stopped to chuckle, adding, “Well, maybe not that awesome, but close.”