Sometimes cab drivers must respond to a barrage of questions about their tastes and personal histories from customers who, in turn, reveal very little or nothing of their own.
Age, marital status, length of service as a driver, possible use of hair dye or curling instrument, previous job or occupation, sexual preferences, other family members, your relationship to them, your political affiliation, religious beliefs and much more seem fair conversational territory to fare-paying riders who, come to think of it, are usually from out-of-town or intoxicated or both. If they respond to similar questioning, it's often tersely, with an abrupt, no-trespassing tone.
I recently asked one, "And where are you from?"
"Buffalo," followed by heavy silence.
"Are you from there originally?"
More silence. She sat primly, knees together, and her angular shape gave her a kind of puritanical severity.
I managed to change this dynamic entirely, to stop this woman mid-interrogation, by mentioning goats.
"Did you say 'goats'?"
"Yes, ma'am. I go hiking not far from here, and see a herd of about 30 wild goats almost every time. I take pictures and send them all over the country to friends and family. All they want to hear about is the goats."
"Really? Tell me."
And I do. In spite of my best intentions I'm a somewhat renegade, off-trail hiker, and sometimes visit an area of Waldo Canyon spared by the fire, where wild grass and broom straw cover the higher ground. Some people, even experts, may identify the animals up there as "sheep" rather than goats, and they very well may be correct. Regardless, that Colorado allows people who call themselves "hunters" to stalk and kill these beautiful creatures is much more of an outrage to me than misnaming them.
"You don't see them at first," I tell her, "they blend in so well with the stones and small boulders, completely motionless until you see that lower jaw rotating around and around, chewing. Then you realize they're looking right at you."
Everyone seems to like goats. There's a bronze statue on a marble pedestal of General William Jackson Palmer, Colorado railroad baron, mounted heroically on a horse at the intersection of Platte and Nevada. But visitors would much rather hear about the goats laying in the stones and broom straw than General Palmer.
"What's exciting," I continue, "is that they're 100 percent goat."
"What do you mean?" (I know I've sounded silly.)
"I mean that they're not behind a fence or inside an aquarium with a label stuck to it saying, Crotalus scutulatus like a rattlesnake."
"Rattlesnake" is a magic word. Say it anywhere, anytime, and everyone starts talking or listening with intense interest. I launched into my limited understanding of snakes, and the lady from Buffalo leaned forward to hear, comment, and ask questions. She didn't relax until I returned to the goats.
"Step once too fast and they're on their feet, all at once, surrounding the baby goats. Sometimes the bigger males will lower their horns at you and claw at the ground to keep you away. But that's only happened to me one time."
She was transfixed.
I closed on the topic by bringing up, of all things, paintings in the lobby of the Broadmoor Hotel. There are eight dating from as early as 1840, all high-quality reproductions, on the theme of westward migration. One painting of a pair of scouts on horseback looking intently at the ground, with a hand raised to shade out the sun, is especially good. What are they looking at, you wonder, and why is it so important?
Anyway, the point is the wild goats here are that much more exciting because, in their natural condition, this is what settlers like those in the paintings actually saw themselves, and not so long ago, and in much greater abundance than the small herd hiding under bushes.
The rigid lady asked: "Just where is this Waldo Canyon place?"