I was driving two regulars, Ted and Cindy, to a Christmas party being thrown by one of Cindy’s coworkers. Everyone invited to Melanie’s party — I overheard as they spoke with each other in the back of the cab — either worked together at this large nursing home where Cindy was employed as a speech therapist, or was a partner of someone who did. This type of party can be slightly awkward; the guests all know each other, but are they really friends? Mix with alcohol and see what happens. The holidays are a hoot.
In December, the various permutations of holiday fêtes are my bread and butter. This year in particular, with the economy shrinking daily, I’ve been counting on these parties to keep me in the black. The downtown scene is hurting, not just for us cabbies but for the restaurants and retail shops as well. In a way, the taxis are the canaries in the coal mine — a bellwether for the local economy as a whole.
So, I dropped Ted and Cindy at the party and, much later that evening, I was hailed by two couples in front of Metronome. When the man who took the shotgun seat gave me the address, I said, “Well, that’s a coincidence. I drove another couple to that exact address earlier this evening. It was Ted and Cindy, and I think a party was being thrown by — let me think . . . was it Melanie?”
One of the two women sitting with the other man in the back said, “Yeah, that’s me. It was my party. The four of us decided to go out dancing when it broke up.”
Before we had driven a block, Melanie said, “Hey, you don’t take plastic, do you? Does anyone have cash on them?” When the wallet and purse searches turned up negative, the man in the back said to Melanie, “Let’s stop at an ATM, honey, and I’ll get some cash.”
Melanie said, “Yeah, you do that, Adam. Get some cash.” Something was going on between Melanie and Adam, that was evident.
I stopped in front of the Merchants Bank and Adam climbed out. He walked five feet, stopped, smacked his forehead and returned to the cab. “Guess what?” he informed the group. “I left my debit card at Metronome. Let’s go back.”
Melanie disagreed. “You dumb fuck,” she said. “That is so like you. We’re not going back to the bar. I’ll get out some money.”
Melanie did her thing at the ATM booth and, when she returned, I brought up Adam’s card, suggesting it’s not the kind of thing you want to leave hanging overnight. Everyone agreed. Everyone, that is, except Melanie. As I spun the cab around to go back to the club, I caught her glaring at me in the rear-view mirror. A cold shiver ran down my spine. The instant Adam left the cab to retrieve his card, Melanie launched into a diatribe, ostensibly speaking with the other woman in the back seat, but loud enough for folks milling on the sidewalk to hear.
“What a stupid fuck I have for a husband,” she declared. “And now we have the baby, and this is what I have to deal with.”
“Oh, c’mon, Melanie,” the other woman tried to placate her. “Yeah, men are dumb, but we love them, right? You guys just made the cutest baby in the world. You love each other.”
“OK, Jen — Sammy is, like, the cutest, but Adam is still a fucking retard! I can’t take it! I swear to God!”
My seatmate and I caught each other’s eye, and I whispered, “Could we, like, put Melanie in the trunk?” He grinned and gave a small nod.
“What the fuck did you just say?”
Melanie didn’t scream this question; rather, her voice was low and flat, which made it twice as scary. Obviously, I had fatally miscalculated the modulation on my whisper. I looked to my seatmate for support, but he was staring straight ahead with a blank expression.
“You want to put me in the fucking trunk? Is that what you said? Who the fuck do you think you are, cabbie?”
“Melanie,” I began my apology, “I was just, like, kidding around.” I, too, remained facing forward; I didn’t have the guts to turn around. “I didn’t mean anything.”
“Is that right?” she said. “I see. You were just kidding around. You didn’t mean anything. Sticking me in the trunk? That is fucking hilarious. I want to call your manager. Give me a card.”
I passed back one of my business cards. If she were to call, I would assure her that the offending driver would be immediately terminated. It would not be the first time I fired myself to pacify an irate customer.
Adam, the lucky husband, returned and we commenced the long ride to Twin Oaks in South Burlington. Melanie continued to berate her partner, taking breaks only to rail at me. When we reached her place, she said, “If you think I’m going to pay you for this ride after you insulted me, you are fucking crazy.” With that, she calmly left the cab and walked towards her condo. Adam shrugged and followed. Jen said, “We are so sorry about this. Just drive us to an ATM, and we’ll cover the fare.”
On the ride to the bank, Jen explained how this was Adam and Melanie’s first night out since they had their baby and that Melanie had drunk way too much. “Believe it or not, she’s, like, really a great person. It’s tough working and taking care of an infant. I think she just went a little off the deep end tonight.”
“I hear you,” I said. “I respect motherhood, the postpartum experience — the whole enchilada. But, honestly, I really did want to put her in the trunk.”
I glanced over at the man in the shotgun seat, and I’m pretty sure I detected a nod.