“Hey, this is Stu. I’m over at Franny O’s. Jack and Lorna here gave me your number. Are you working tonight, brother?”
I don’t advertise in the Yellow Pages — or anywhere else, for that matter — so all of my business is word of mouth. Most of my regular customers started out as random taxi hailers on the streets of Burlington, whom I picked up and gave one of my business cards. I make no bones about my practice of thoroughly and fully discriminating: I only give out my card to folks I like. This means that all my regular customers are cool people, and I have them trained to pass along my number only to other cool people. So if Stu’s all right with Jack and Lorna, then Stu’s OK by me. That’s how I roll.
“If you’re talking to me, I’m working,” I replied. “What do you need?”
“I need a ride to the On Tap Bar & Grill.”
“Hmm … I’m sorry, that doesn’t quite ring a bell.”
“Oh, OK. Yeah, I’ll tell him … Jack here says the bar at the Lincoln Inn.”
“Right, of course,” I said. “Tell Jack thanks.”
Jack and his wife, Lorna, are longtime customers and therefore good eggs, per my aforementioned card policy. They’ve recently moved from Porters Point in Colchester to Burlington’s South End. I’ve gotten the impression that Franny O’s — the one bar within easy walking distance of their new home — has become their new spot, if only by default.
When I pulled up to the bar, Stu was waiting for me outside. He was short, muscular — beefy, even — and his cranium was shaved clean as the Vermont Statehouse dome. Despite the chilly, early-evening air, he was wearing just a skintight, dove-gray T-shirt tucked into blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Dude looked badass, no doubt about it, but his demeanor couldn’t have been friendlier.
“This is a great town you got yourself here,” he said, climbing into the backseat. “It really is.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, brother,” I agreed with a chuckle. “B-town is all that and then some. Where do you hail from?”
“That’s a tough question, ’cause I grew up just about everywhere. Kind of like in the Allman Brothers tune: I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus, rolling down Highway 41. And I’ve kept it up my whole life. I’m a truck driver for a company that provides services to the entertainment industry.”
“You mean, like tour buses for rock bands?”
“Not just rock bands — any kind of shows. And not just the buses, but the rigs for the equipment.”
“Well, I guess you’re great at what you do, because I’ve got to believe these touring acts require the best.”
In the rearview mirror, I watched Stu let out a gruff laugh. “I don’t know about that. I guess I can drive trucks, put it that way.”
“I bet you can,” I said. Humility may be the character trait I most admire, probably because it’s so rare in these days of rampant braggadocio. “So tell me, man — who have you worked for?”
“Oh, lawdy — just about everyone. Let’s see … you’re a Vermonter. I’ve done tours for Trey Anastasio. He’s a good man.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve interacted with him.”
“Recently finished up a tour with LMFAO. You heard of them?”
“It’s not exactly in my musical wheelhouse, but I guess they’re, like, a modern hip-hop group?”
“That’s about right,” he said. “They’re really blowing up lately, too. I can always judge by the number of trucks a band goes out with. They’re up to eight.”
“Eight big semis? Holy crap. Must be a huge stage production.”
“Eight’s really not that many, believe it or not. Biggest I’ve ever been a part of was the last U2 tour. Wanna guess the size of that convoy?”
“Jeez, lemme think,” I said. “U2 does those mega-arena shows. Could they use, like, 15, 20 trucks?”
“Try 51,” Stu replied. “Something like six complete different stages are set up for each show. It’s crazy.”
We got off the Interstate at exit 12 and went straight into the mild delirium of Taft Corners during the holiday season. As a shopper, the “big-box experience” inevitably leaves me agitated and depleted. Give me the smaller, local store any time; if it costs a few extra bucks, I consider it money well spent. And don’t get me started on the chain restaurants out there; I simply don’t get the allure. Then again, all this resistance to a changing world just might be further evidence — as if it were needed — that I’ve entered the “old fart” demographic.
As we motored up 2A toward Five Corners, Stu let out a low whistle and picked up the discussion. “Man, 2011 has been a great year, but do you want to hear the highlight?”
Normally, this conversational ploy puts me off. What am I supposed to say? No, Stu, I would not like to hear the highlight of your great year. But, as I said, the guy was inherently likable, so I had no problem playing along.
“Sure, Stu,” I said. “What was your highlight of 2011?”
“Well, I was backstage at the New York City tour stop on the LMFAO tour I was telling you about, and I was talking with this guy, Neil, before the concert. So, I ask him what he does, and he tells me he’s the stage manager for Paul McCartney when he goes on the road. Now, I’ve met a lot of famous acts and whatnot, but Paul fucking McCartney? The guy could see how excited I was. And, sure enough, he goes, ‘Do you want to meet Paul?’ And I’m, like, as cool as I can be, ‘Sure, thanks. That might be nice.’
“So the guy leads me around to the other side of the stage, and there’s Paul sitting there, just minding his own business. He looks up and says, ‘Hey, Neil — who’s your mate?’ So Neil introduces me, and Paul and I proceed to chat for about 10 minutes. You could have knocked me over with a fucking feather.”
“That’s unbelievable!” I exclaimed, with typical baby-boomer fervor for anything touching on the Beatles. “What didja talk about?”
“Brother, I can hardly remember. We talked about the weather, I do recall that. Oh, yeah, when he got up to leave, he said, ‘I fancy your hairdo, mate.’”
I laughed and said, “I can see why, Stu. It’s really working for ya.”