Halloween fell on a Wednesday this year. The bulk of the celebration — and I’m speaking here of the adult division — took place over the preceding weekend. On both Friday and Saturday night, downtown Burlington was awash in slutty nurses and purple-suited pimps. The relatively mild weather allowed the women to indulge their more risqué fantasies, it appeared.
I worked late on Halloween night itself. Though it wasn’t quite as busy as the weekend, folks just can’t seem to get enough of this most pagan of holidays, and downtown rocked once again.
Sometime after midnight, a couple hailed me from the corner of Church and Main. For the evening festivities, the guy had transformed himself into a convincing algae-skinned ghoul — sickly green being de rigueur for the undead complexion — and his partner was the sexiest Little Bo Peep you could imagine, long-legged and complete with bonnet and hooked shaft. I thought, If I was one of her sheep, I’d never get lost. Hey, now!
Wobbling, they leaned against each other as they eased over to my waiting cab and plopped into the back seat. The man gave me the location — one of the newer, upscale condo developments that have sprung up on the paved-over fields of Williston.
“Those are some gorgeous homes in that cluster,” I mentioned as we U-turned at the next corner and headed east. “I have a semi-regular customer who lives there. I can’t remember his name, but he owns one of the most popular bars in town.”
“Would his name be Trent?” the man asked matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, actually, I think that is his name. D’ya know him?”
“Yup, I do,” he said, and he and his girlfriend began laughing their asses off. “It’s me.”
“Oh, jeez,” I said. “I feel like a total numbskull. Sorry, man — I just didn’t recognize you under all the makeup.”
Trent didn’t respond, as he had begun to make out with Little Bo Peep — and how naughty is that? For the remainder of the ride up Williston Road, the passionate smooching alternated with an equally intense argument. I can’t remember the specifics, but the gist was as follows:
Little Bo Peep: You’re not hearing me. This is what I feel.
Green Guy: Honey, I do, but you don’t understand that you’re not making sense.
We crossed Taft Corners, sped by the driving range, and, after a couple lefts and rights, arrived at Trent’s condo. I pulled into his driveway and said, “Sixteen bucks, folks.”
Trent said, “Hang on a sec, I got it here somewhere. Lemme get out so I can get into my pockets easier.”
He stepped out on the left side as his girlfriend got out on the right. She stood there looking bored, and then impatient, as Trent laboriously investigated his many pants and jacket compartments. Finally, she leaned her staff against the front fender, reached into her bra and extracted a folded twenty.
“Take this,” she said, opening the front door and handing me the bill. “We’re good,” she added, grabbing her staff and turning to walk up to the house entrance.
Just as I called out thanks, Trent yelled, “Here we go.” I spun back around to see him posing proudly, a wad of bills clutched in his right hand and held above his head in the manner of the Statue of Liberty. He said, “Here you go, buddy,” and peeled off a twenty, then placed it into my hand through the open window.
“Trent,” I said, “your girlfriend already paid me.”
“See ya,” he non-replied, and began walking away.
That was when I faced an ethical quandary. In his inebriated state, I doubted Trent grasped what I had just told him, so it might not have been his intention to tip me an additional $20. But the situation was ambiguous; he might have known exactly what he was doing. After all, the guy was raking it in every night in a mostly cash business, and he’d been generous on past rides — though not to the tune of 100 percent gratuities.
By the time I had completed this convoluted mental analysis, he was already walking through his front door, which means I would have had to get out, ring his bell, and explain the situation: “Now, Trent, knowing all the facts, do you still want me to keep the other twenty?”
Nope, that isn’t gonna happen, I decided, and backed out of the driveway.
The working environment I negotiate daily as a cabdriver is decidedly modest — not exactly high-stakes. Year after year, I ply the streets of Chittenden County, checking my alignment against my moral compass. But the roads twist and turn. Often a choice I face is not black and white; it’s gray, or some other color I can’t even make out.
Perhaps, I considered on the ride back to town, my compass needs recalibration.