Two Encounters

April 2000

I had a quintessentially Skaneateles encounter at the post office a few Saturdays ago. A man was wrapping two packages while waiting in line, and he was wearing a cap bearing the Sleeman’s Brewing and Malting logo. “Nice hat,” I said. “I have a friend who is a big Sleeman’s fan.” And he replied, “We make all their bottles.”

The “we” told me that he either owned or ran the bottling plant, and the “all” told me that he was a competitive sort who thought about business even on Saturday morning. I said, “They made the first cream ale in Canada,” and he said, “I wouldn’t know about that,” and turned around to face the counter, not wanting to discuss brewing history with a bearded, pony-tailed stranger, and probably cursing his choice of hats that morning.

In contrast, my cab driver in Richmond, Virginia, was more than happy to chat. His first words to me were, “If you smell something back there, it’s a fish sandwich. I called my wife and told her not to cook, I was bringing home a fish sandwich. You can do that after 29 years.”

And from there we moved quickly to his three daughters, starting with the youngest, Zenobia Bey, who plays forward for Virginia State. “She needs to work on her jump shot,” he told me. She was named after a queen, I later found out, and all these girls were queens to “Taxi” Bey. He had a fifth grade education, and was one year away from putting all three of them through college driving a taxi. “It’s a long and lonely road,” he said. One daughter was getting married soon, and he didn’t like the idea at all. “She told me that I wasn’t losing her, I was gaining a son, but I said, ‘I don’t want one. I didn’t order one. Send it back!’ ”

We arrived at the airport entirely too soon.

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