Just one week until Christmas, and its really in the air everywhere. Each time I turn on the radio, I hear Christmas songs galore, and I can't help but getting into the spirit of things. I don't know yet where a driving fool will celebrate the happy day this year, but I am anxious to find out.
I was given an order to pick up a Dodge Grand Caravan up in Vermont. It was a difficult place to get to, and I had to take several buses, a taxi, and then a long walk in some mighty cold weather. I was almost to the address, and stopped in at a small country store. And elderly man smiled when I walked in the door. "Hello there, stranger." He had a thick New England accent.
"Hello sir, happy holidays," I said.
"Well same to you, same to you. What brings you round here?"
"I have to pick up a car from a Mr. Pickering."
"Oh yeah, Quentin Pickering, lives just up the road a bit. Its a dirt road, not too good for driving."
"Well, I'm walking there. But its pretty darn chilly outside, and I thought I'd stop for a cup of coffee to warm up."
"Got something better than coffee. Good hot apple cider." Without missing a beat, he grabbed a mug and filled it with cider from a dispenser. I took it gratefully and sipped on it. "Good stuff, eh?"
I nodded. "Sure is."
"Got a lot more good stuff here, too. Ever had real Vermont maple syrup?"
"Sure, I've had maple syrup."
"Yeah, but not Vermont maple syrup. This is the real thing, genuine original, sweet and sticky."
"Way beyond delicious. Goes great on everything. Waffles. French toast."
"Pancakes. Say, you ever had pancakes made Jamaican style?"
I smiled. "No, but I've heard of them."
"You can marinate steaks in it. Glaze a ham with it."
"Sounds like you can use it for a lot of things."
"Oh, I'm just getting started. Mix it with greens. Pour it on potatoes."
"Some folks like to pour it on their mac and cheese."
I could see this would go on indefinitely, so I drank down my cider and said, "I appreciate the hospitality, but I better get on down the road. I have a long drive ahead."
"Thought you was walking?"
"For now. I'm going to pick up a car. I'm a driving fool. Thanks for everything."
"You betcha. Want some Vermont syrup for the road?"
"Not right now. What do I owe for the cider?"
"No charge. Merry Christmas."
I left and hiked on another mile or so up to Mr. Pickering's house. He was waiting out front, unloading some things from the minivan. I smiled and waved. "Hello, Mr. Pickering. Happy Tuesday to you."
He glared at me with hatred in his eyes. "What's so damn happy about it? You are taking my company car away from me. Now how am I supposed to get around?" I looked down at my feet. "You don't have an answer for that one, now do you?"
"My company told me to come and pick up the vehicle."
"Yes, and my company said I was out of a job, and by the way, we are taking your van back. Leaving me stranded with no wheels. How does that make you feel?"
He spoke with thick sarcasm. "Oh yes, its a very Merry Christmas for me. Ho-ho-ho, bull crap! They don't care about what happens to me. They don't care that my wife and kids left me six months ago, they don't care that I have a drinking problem. They just want their van back. And they send you, you little Nazi, to take it from me. Well go ahead, take it! I hope you choke on it."
I stumbled for something to say. "I will think a good thought for you."
He came at me like he was going to smack me down. "Oh no, don't you dare! I didn't ask for your pity or charity. Just take the van and go. You'll find I left the tank on empty. And you're welcome." He stormed into the house. I did a quick condition report on the vehicle, then climbed in. It was a real pig sty, filthy and nasty. There was trash everywhere, leaves and grass on the carpet, dried clay on the dashboard, and there was the strong odor of cigars.
I started the engine and pulled out of the driveway. As I glanced at the dash, I saw that this older model had both a CD player and cassette player. I mostly listen to CD's, and after a while I'd like a change of music. I remembered I had a couple of older cassette tapes in my backpack, and grabbed one to slide it in. When I did, nothing happened. So I waited a little, then pushed the eject button. After some hesitation, the tape came sliding slowly out, surrounded by a brown liquid that cascaded down the dash. I touched it and held my fingertip under my nose. The sticky substance smelled sweet. It was maple syrup. Most likely Vermont maple syrup. The guy had trashed his van and poured syrup into the stereo as an angry response to losing his job. Just when I think I've seen it all, something new surprises me.