Here at the edge of another new year, I'm reminded of one from about a dozen years back. I had one of my rare brushes with fame (all the rarer still that I was aware of it before the moment passed- more on that another day).
First Night, New Years', is celebrated in Boston with a variety of events both public and private. Among the public in particular are ice sculpting and live music at various city squares. Each requires the closure of streets and re-routing of traffic amid unusually large swarms of pedestrians marching along from place to place in an effort to miss not one thing.
These are the kind of nights when cabbies need to plan ahead to select the lesser used roads and alleys that allow us to navigate in spite of the scene.
Near Copley Square, with both bands and sculptures, I would approach from Ring Road. Often I'd snag a fare from Shaws Supermarket, or, if not, I would continue to approach Boylston Street, stopping always with enough space to retreat with a u-turn.
On one such approach, Boylston teamed with cars nearly each at an angle across its lane, vainly attempting to get around the mess. From one of these vehicles, a stretch limo at that, rushed four men clad in torn jeans, jerseys, and knitted caps. They'd have looked more at home rushing from a VW camper, but as it was they raced to my cab, pleading, "Can you get us to the Orpheum?" They seemed sober, good natured, and serious.
"About ten minutes," I replied, and they hustled in.
A u-turn and drive up Huntington behind me, I began to realize things were moving more slowly than I'd expected.
"We better plan on fifteen," I said to the fellow seated beside me.
Very softly spoken, he replied, "Okay."
I paused when I looked at his unshaven gaunt face. The visage was somehow familiar. A moment later I looked over again, asking, "Are you Michael Snipes?"
He was kind enough not to correct me, pausing barely perceptably before the R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe replied, "Yes."
I sensed a spot of unease from the back seat, and it took me a moment to mentally connect with his music, though when I did, I turned to him again: "You've done some really nice stuff."
He softly replied, "Thank-you."
(I'm sure he really needed me to tell him his work was nice- and, fortunately, for my own sake of embarassment, my slaughtering of his name didn't register with me for several more hours.)
He told me they were in a bit of a rush as Bob Dylan was performing at the Orpheum and they were to join him unannounced for a couple of songs.
"Wow. I havn't seen Dylan since he toured in promotion of 'Blood on the Tracks'. He was fantastic, not to mention his gypsy violinist. The concert exceeded his recordings. Has he still got it together live?" I asked.
"He's actually even better live now than he was then," Stipe told me. Another member from the band in the back seat agreed.
As we rounded the Common to make our way up Beacon Hill, Stipe remarked that the manner in which our trees were strung with lights seemed strange. To be sure. To me they have all the charm you could expect from any DPW rush job.
Stipe remarked, "It looks like a forest of glowing amoebases."
He turned to each face in the cab for response. One mate from the back met his glance with the assurance his observation was pure poetic genius. Stipe seemed happy and smiled without laughing. Oh-- to be a star.
He continued for a bit with his descriptions of the amoebases becoming more psychedelic as we went.
As we passed the State House, the throngs and traffic seemed unusually bad for this still relatively early hour.
"You know guys," I mentioned, "If you jump at the corner of Park and Tremont, as opposed to circling around, we'll save a lot of time. You only have to cross the street, head two doors left, and you're there."
"Is it safe?" Stipe asked.
One from the back seemed uncertain. "Is it REALLY safe?" he questioned.
I smiled and replied, "Disgustingly so. You'll be running through baloons and baby carriages as you go."
He was still demurring, when another one shouted, "Let's go!" And, as if they were a single unit, they bolted from the cab, with one stopping briefly at the window to cover the fare.
Within not much more than the blink of an eye, I lost them in the crowd of similarly dressed revellers.