Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chihuahua Alchemy

My radio crackled instructions, as I drifted near sleep on a quiet Friday evening.

"Pick up Bowling Alley, headed to Moffatt..."

"Copy Bowling Alley" I returned, feigning interest. And failing.

The pickup was about 30 seconds away, and I pulled to the curb moments later. A small group of bowling alley loiterers watched, amused, as a man stumbled towards me, a small dog clutched tight against his chest. On first glance, it wasn't clear whether he was intent on reaching the cab, or was just careening wildly in my direction in a valiant attempt to remain upright. It was 50/50 that he'd slam into my van or miss it entirely as he lurched towards it. When he finally leaned against the passenger door for support, and grappled with the handle, while still squeezing the tiny dog to himself, I assumed the worst and welcomed him aboard.

"Hi there. Where are you headed?"

"Holy hell...holy f---ing hell..."

"I know, I know...but where are you headed?" I can be a smart-ass, even when there's nobody around to appreciate it.

"Jeezuz f---ing christ..." He took a moment to gather his thoughts, struggling to articulate his next revelation. "I'm f---ing pinned..."

He was anywhere between 45 and 65, with sparse, grey hair, and a rail-thin physique, toned by years of alcohol abuse. I later learned that he was not a popular pickup amongst some of the other drivers, which explained why he now sat next to me.

"Where are you headed Mister?"

He finally gave me the address, a short drive, and told me I'd have to help him to his apartment. I took that in, thought about it, and considered his proposal unlikely. He introduced me to his dog, Doggio, a tiny, frightened-looking chihuahua, but I submit that serves to describe them all.

I drove the few short blocks, grimacing at the fumes he gave off, pulled into the lot of his apartment complex, and requested the $7 fare.

"No..." He managed to slur the one syllable.

I asked him if he had money. He slurred the same response. I asked him why he took a cab knowing he couldn't pay?

"Call the dispatcher...he knows me..."

Given my growing experience with the helplessly plastered, I understood every mangled word. I felt some dismay at the thought.

The dispatcher confirmed their acquaintance, and allowed that the fare could be delivered the next day. I had doubts this guy would remember, but let it go.

"Here...let me tip you..." He reached again into his pockets, and found he still had no money.

"It's alright..." I lied. "Just get out and get yourself to bed."

He couldn't open the door, so I reached across and pulled the handle. He stepped out of the van, stumbled, over-corrected, and slammed against the rear window. I looked back to see the dog's face mashed against said window, and for a moment the wee chihuahua appeared to be impersonating a pug. The window held him up, but caused him to fumble the dog. A mournful cacophony of shrieks confirmed the dog's distress. Another impromptu dance of erratic stumbling ensued, before he rescued the poor creature, and cradled it tightly against his chest. I got out, walked to his side, and directed him towards the entrance. A woman in an apartment above us began yelling something about "the cabdriver", directed, I divined, at me. My fare gathered himself and his dog, and tripped drunkenly towards the door. I watched him lurch inside, and decided leaving now was the best policy, before his pathetic state could rouse me to offer further assistance.

Back in the van, my radio crackled once again.

"So..." intoned an amused dispatcher. "How bizarre was old Howard tonight?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tuesday...I get told

Every once in a while a fare will come up that leaves me with a new perspective, or simply shaking my head. Today I had one that did both.

I picked up an elderly lady at the hospital, one clearly more spry than she initially appeared. As I pulled up to the front entrance, she popped up from her seat on a bench, and pointed with authority to indicate I was to stop in front of her. I did as directed, and was about to get out to assist her, when the door opened, and she landed on the seat beside me.

We exchanged greetings, and I asked where she'd like to go.

"Take me to Dr. Marion's office..."

"Ok." I paused. "Where is that?"

She looked at me, mildly aghast at my ignorance, and the ease with which I exposed it.

"You must be new in town..."

She had a way of clipping her words that made me feel she found me somehow lacking.

I explained that there were several doctors offices in town, and listed a few possibilities. She looked at me, unwilling to surrender the upper hand.

"Well..." she said. "I think it may be at the Medical Centre, or the mall behind Price Chopper, or..."

She stopped as she ran out of my earlier suggestions. I pulled the cab to the curb, and excused myself. Inside the hospital I cornered a volunteer, and extracted the necessary information. Sure enough, the Medical Centre, about 300 yards down the street, was our destination.

I jumped back in, and headed for the street.

"Dr. Marion is at the Medical Centre." I offered the information helpfully.

She was all over it.

"Just as I told you. Here...I recognize it now. There it is, pull in here, right here, that's it. I told you it was here." She was still clipping her words, each syllable bitten to the quick as she spit it out.

We pulled to a stop, and I summoned her fare.

"Just you wait." Her tone chided me for my impatience.

She looked towards the entrance, and I could see some uncertainty in her face.

"You go in and make sure this is the right place."

She managed to convey that I wasn't to be trusted to get it right. But I wasn't offended. I kinda liked her. Of course I'd known her only a minute, maybe two.

I confirmed the location, and returned to collect my prize. She suggested I could collect when I returned to drive her home. I explained that another driver might get that fare, and I needed to collect it now. The fare was $6.50, a senior discount. She considered this, and handed me a ten. I gave her back three, and was fishing for two quarters when she helpfully informed me I still owed her .50 cents. She had the mien of a schoolmarm, presiding over a challenging student. I handed over the quarters, and she paused, considering. She then pressed a quarter firmly into my palm, and was gone, briskly making her way inside. I called out my window to remind her to turn left when she got inside. She looked back at me as though I were beyond help, and turned right, I think just to show me she wasn't about to be dictated to by anyone, especially an insolent cab driver with suspect math skills.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dance like nobody's watching

I had a lady friend who used the following quote as her "sig", appended indiscriminately to all of her emails:

"Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire."

If this is true, and I think it has merit, then it is curious that the population of the world continues to increase at such a dangerous clip. Assuming we are attracted to those who move well, with rhythm, grace and natural ease, and supposing further that those same vertical skills predict the quality of horizontal ones, it is a blessing for a great majority of us that alcohol temporarily disables judgment. I know I would be childless had dancing played a part in the follow-up equation that ushered me into fatherhood.

It is generally accepted, I think, that women like to dance more than men. A cursory glance at online singles ads bears this out. Women invariably list dancing as an interest, whereas only men embracing an alternative lifestyle venture to include it. This is because dancing is an alternative lifestyle for the average guy. Only under the influence of excessive amounts of alcohol have I allowed myself to loosen up enough to think I was cutting a fancy figure on the floor. Being suitably trashed enables the dim light of reason to cast a favourable light on my otherwise grotesque gyrations. Think of Elaine on Seinfeld. It is frighteningly easy to convince ourselves that everyone watching is as amazed as we are at our sudden ability to feel the beat, and move to the groove.

And so it was last night, as I waited for a fare outside the local Army-Navy club. A Stag and Doe party was in full swing, and I watched, from the relative anonymity of my cab, the incomprehensibly silly movements of inebriated twentysomethings, fully engaged in what they no doubt considered alluring behaviour. Adding to the absurdity of the spectacle was my inability to hear the music to which they ground out their mating-ritual moves. Foreplay has never struck me as less appealing. Otherwise attractive women were rendered foolish and desultory by their obvious love of an activity they do very badly. But they looked positively brilliant compared to the men, who fell into two categories: those that knew they were bad, and danced either because they were being forced to, or as a stratagem to improve their odds in the genetic lottery; and those that moved more energetically and, as a result, more spasmodically, because they had convinced themselves that they were looking pretty darned good. And damned sexy. All of which leads me to confirm, once again, something I have secretly promised since the last time I took to the floor.

I will never dance again.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Mourning...

Genuine thanks to Freddie Beach of Fredericton and Adrian in Sydney for linking me...and thanks to NYC Sol for the promise thereof...;-)

Friday nights in Carleton Place are a hit and miss affair for cabbies. In a town with fewer people than most large cities have taxis, a busy Friday can mean as many as eight cabs competing for a scant number of fares. Given the laws of supply and demand, the competition is predictably fierce and unfailingly farcical. It's not uncommon for several cabs to stake out the Tim Hortons parking lot, a prime location across from Pizza Pizza, kitty corner to Sud's Bar, and a half block down from The Thirsty Moose, incidentally one of the most popular Bar/Restaurants in town. If you are blessed with the gift of anticipation, you can respond to prospective fares before they've brandished the "come hither" wave, and thus get the jump on your competition.

As one of the lucky few, on this crazy, pretty, blue orb, to call Carleton Place home, I sometimes need reminding of the greater world beyond the "Welcome to Carleton Place" sign. Cabbies here have no need for meters to determine fares. Everything within the city limits is a flat rate: $7 will get you from one end of town to the other. Breach the town limits, and you immediately incur an extra dollar charge. For the more adventurous, setting out for Almonte, the next town up-the-line, requires reaching deeper to cover the $18 fare. For the truly cosmopolitan, or those ready for the rite-of-passage journey to downtown Ottawa, where strip clubs welcome fresh-faced youths not yet jaded by big-city bustle, expect to part with $85 for the trip. For the well-heeled, or those simply desperate to get as far away as possible, a trip to the Ottawa International Airport, about 40 minutes distant, will set you back $130.

I sit idle now, alternately reading and watching the light fade, as people stroll the downtown street. The bustle of earlier has settled to a steady crawl. Downtown was crammed this morning. Two hundred firefighters gathered to pay tribute to a local man. He was a twenty year veteran of the Ottawa Fire Dept, and died tragically in a car fire last Saturday morn. He was the close friend of a close friend, and as such I had occasion to meet him a few times. Stories of his character and ready wit are making the rounds now, as bewildered friends remember why they loved him.

An anecdote I particularly liked: He and a friend were in a small store in a neighbouring town. A pretty young lady wearing tight, tight shorts, cameltoe snug, cheerfully rang up their purchases. Their business completed, they returned to the pickup truck, still much affected by the spectacle of the young lady inside.

"Did she catch you staring" asked the friend, quite sure that he had been caught himself.

"I don't know..." responded the fireman, his sudden grin full of mischief. "I never looked up..."

He leaves two youngsters, a wife, and a town in mourning.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fare Maiden's Final Voyage...

Another day off.

I'd decided to dispense with Fare Maiden posts, as she's become an aggravating constant in my weekly schedule. And yet I feel compelled to know more. I'm getting to know her more intimately than I had hoped, but I can't help passing the dear time I spend with her asking questions I don't want answered. I don't ask about her favourite soap, or anything that I'm truly curious about, for fear that I may reveal too much of my own selfish concerns. So instead I comment on gathering clouds, rural living, her origins...the sort of thing no-one is truly concerned about, unless it has something of immediate import to their own existence. I've discovered that she's from "the big city", aka Ottawa, and moved to the country to escape the blight that is city-living, only to find herself paying a mortgage on a home that an existing tenant refused to vacate. It's a sad tale, one that involves lengthy court battles, damaged property, missing doorknobs, and a host of injustices built right into the Landlord Tenant Act. Happily I am free of such concerns, and could only nod my head in agreement with her frustrations, and shake it disapprovingly at the temerity of tenants in general, and the laws that shield them from justice. She is married, I think, though I didn't press her on that point, given my credulity was strained at the thought. I wanted more, as the ride is long, and yet I was content to remain uninformed. She is a woman who is having a tough go, and her life will not be the subject of any further amusement in these posts.

So adieu Fare Maiden.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Of Limo's and Lush-ous Ladies...

I headed in early last night for a limo run. Disguised in shirt and tie, I pulled the old, white, stretch-Lincoln out of its lair and hit the highway in 21-feet of faux-luxury. Soon I was skirting the wilds of Carleton Place, steering the leaky, old boat along miles of narrow dirt roads, feeling like I was piloting the Titanic in a tributary. At a fork in the road I chose the wrong branch, thanks to some sign-spinning jackass, but recovered with some delicate maneuvering and a handily-situated laneway. I arrived at the pick-up with five minutes to spare, pulling up to an imposing log home situated a quarter mile off an already beaten track. Thankfully there was just enough room to get the beast turned about. My passengers, two well-appointed ladies, appeared on the large porch, already mildly greased in anticipation of the evening's festivities. I introduced myself, and showered them with my undivided attention, which consisted entirely of opening and closing the limo's doors to load them in. I then pointed the nose of my good ship towards the road, and took directions for my next stop through the divider.

I picked up three more passengers on the way to a benefit for breast cancer. The quintet of ladies ranged in age from late-thirties to mid-sixties. They were a gregarious gaggle of gals, clearly intent on getting gassed and having fun. I dropped them off at the arena in Pakenham, in a hall above which the festivities were taking place. A couple of hundred similarly attired and battle-ready ladies of all ages were already milling about in groups, filling the early evening air with bursts of laughter and loud chatter. I left them there, returned to Carleton Place, shed my disguise, and drove a few fares about town, before settling down to read, as the calls predictably dried up.

At midnight I returned to Pakenham. I read the paper as I waited for my charges to appear, and smiled with Oscar-caliber panache each time a drunken reveler, inhibitions worn to the nub by drink, approached to ask if I was there for her? I casually deflected more than a dozen such approaches before the first of my ladies appeared, walking unsteadily, remaining upright only with the help of a concerned friend. I hopped out, performed the role of gallant gent/bootlick chauffeur, and when all were aboard, headed for the open road, the boisterous cackling of hell-bent matrons muted only by the window separating our compartments.

Earlier, during my repeated exchanges with passersby inquiring as to my availability, the passenger window of my compartment became stuck in the fully retracted position, making for a cold ride home. I blasted the heater and fan to the max, and succeeded in keeping the chill from rendering me cryogenically preserved.

As I sped along the dark and desolate flattop, a boulder-sized impediment appeared over a rise, dead in front of me, immobile. I slowed, quickly, momentum resisting my earnest pedal-work, until I was nearly on top of a porcupine that stood with its back raised and quills extended in defiance of my approach. The ladies reacted, some with hilarity, others with alarm, all by being thrown forwards with the sudden stop. When the relief that they were all going to survive had passed, a chorus of cursing was followed quickly by alcohol-fueled recrimination. The porcupine, having escaped harm, (as I literally nudged it when I stopped), waddled casually the rest of the way across the road and into the woods.

I opened the divider, feeling compelled to offer an explanation. Since porkies are not well regarded in these parts, I explained, with admirable daft, that a "large animal" had crossed our path and that everything was now all right. I prayed nobody was sober enough to peek out the window and see the great beast waddle into the bush.

I dropped my charges off, two at the first stop, one at the next, and finally pulled up the long lane in the woods to the impressive log home. The lights were on inside and out. I opened the rear door of the limo, and began gathering up the various parcels of booze and party favors, while the more sober of my two remaining passengers attempted to deal with the one slipping into a cocktail-induced coma. She got her friend to the rear door after much fumbling, and thrust her towards me. I grabbed her to keep her from falling, my hands very much in contact with more of her than she might otherwise consider proper. As she was somewhat my senior, I wholeheartedly endorsed the notion of impropriety. We escorted her to the door, one on each arm, where she waved her key threateningly at the lock before her friend finally took over. As they entered, the home alarm system began beeping. She failed repeatedly to disarm it, and the alarms kicked in, blaring loud, staccato, electronic bursts into the night. The phone rang, and she ran for it. I was on the porch, looking through the window as she passed by, leaning too far forward it seemed to me, before she disappeared from view. A loud crash announced her difficult landing. But as is so often the case with drunken mishaps, she was unhurt, and not the least embarrassed, having only a dim awareness of her plight.

A neighbor showed up and disabled the alarm. I was offered a drink, which I declined, as they indulged themselves before a now blaring, and beautifully ancient, Wurlitzer jukebox. After much encouragement, my client agreed to settle our account, and allow me to leave. She finally decided on cash, tipped me handsomely ($68) for my efforts, and hugged me enthusiastically before releasing me back into the wild.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Back to the streets tonight after a day off. I golfed yesterday with an old friend, then had a few beers afterwards and watched the Sens-Sabres game. Pakenham was in good shape, and surprisingly empty. We played 23 holes in about four hours, and I managed an indifferent 81 over the first 18. My knees were pretty sore towards the end of the round. They're arthritic, each having undergone re-constructive surgery due to ancient hockey injuries, and more recently arthroscopic surgery to clean out calcified cartilage and bone chips.

Wednesday was a slow day in the cab. I made a few deliveries, and spent most of the day in a neighbouring town. I was reunited with the Fare Maiden for a 15 minute trip to drive her and her boy home. She was relatively fresh, having had time to bathe this week I suppose. Still, there was a faint, lingering hint of last week's episode. Even though it was 81 degrees (27C) outside, she kept her window rolled up, but I was confident we'd get her home without incident. I was wrong.

About 5 minutes from her turn-off, something evil made my nostrils twitch. My olfactory glands were already on alert, as the psychological scars from last week's epic journey are a long way from healed. My heartbeat quickened, and I held my breath. But my curiousity got the better of me, in the same way that horror movie characters insist on seeking out the source of terror, instead of running from it. In this case, the suspense was shortlived. The terror was evident, and growing moreso. I glanced quickly towards her, my face, no doubt, a mask of fear and confusion, as I tried to determine whether she had detected the same foul vapor that was currently wrapping its invisible, deadly tendrils around me. She appeared stoic, unmoved, completely unaware. If she knew anything, she wasn't coming clean. Not even a glance my way. A masterful poker-face. But she'd played her hand, and no poker face in the world could cover it. I was beginning to feel trapped, a claustrophobic sensation that rolling my window down did little to ease. The vapors rushed past me, slapping me in the face as they were sucked out my window, but thankfully dissipating as we neared the end of the ride. We pulled into her lane, and she smiled, and thanked me for getting her home so quickly. A dazed good-bye was all I could manage. I returned to work, to the highway, with all four windows down, and the radio up, and by the time I was back in town, I was nearly able to breathe again, without fear...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Footnote to Sunday's Post

I drove again today after a two day break, an otherwise normal shift, until cashing out. News had made its way to the stand that one of our regular customers had passed away, overnight Saturday. He was found on a couch where he'd lain down for the night, as it was described to me, discovered in the early hours of Sunday, cold to the touch. I last saw him face down, insensate in his final hours, wrestled to the floor by an afternoon of drinking. I admit to having wondered how a man could drink until senseless and prostrate, and not just how, but how often. Admittedly I do know the how of it, just not the why.

His wake is this evening at 7.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Another Saturday Night

I drove the mean and comedic streets of this small town again last night, and an early incident underscored the reason for the existence of this modest blog. So patience while I cue the music...

As the hockey game was getting underway in New Jersey, and the radio station I rely upon was failing to deliver anything but static, I found myself climbing the rear porch steps of a modest residence, looking for one of my regular customers. This particular gent I've never met when he's sober, and tonight he wasn't going to let me down. I arrived just as an East coast fiddle-tune was hitting it's stride, blaring from a 70's vintage, boxed-in, turntable-stereo unit. The needle was fairly hopping in the vinyl's grooves, thanks to the bouncing feet of a deeply appreciative, two-man audience. Sadly, but comically, the audience was well past coherence, let alone sensibility. I could've sat down, had a drink, and joined in, and they wouldn't have noticed, so intent were they on enjoying the tune. Then one of them, deep in his cups and well into his 60's, noticed me standing there. He let out a roar, to make himself heard above the music, or so I guessed at the time. As it turned out, yelling was as natural to him as barking is to a small dog, when it intends to threaten but succeeds only in annoying.

I made it clear I was merely the cab driver, here to pick up his pal, who had yet to notice me. He never would. He was seated, head down, swaying side to side, hands failing to clap like repeatedly missed high-fives. My efforts to gain his attention went unheard. I called his name, yelling to be heard above the music. This went on for five futile minutes. His cohort finally got his attention, briefly, and that led to an exchange of the sort of painful-to-watch confessionals that come only from the truly plastered..."You're my best friend in the're my only friend..."

It was more pathetic than touching, more plea than pledge, and it was the last marginally coherent thing he said before falling from his chair to his knees, and finally to his face, as the floor rushed up to greet his brow, and rest upon his cheek.

I retreated then, under a growing, misdirected volley of drunken threats and imprecations. The last man standing was convinced that I was somehow the cause of his partner's collapse, and he nipped at my heels like an angry chihuahua, as I called in the cancellation, and tuned back in to the static on my radio.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fare Maiden

As an underemployed writer moonlighting as a cab-driver in a small Ontario town, I have way more time to experience and reflect upon issues that, to my frequent consternation and unfailing amusement, continue to crop up in the daily course of business. Today was no exception: a red-letter day of the kind that my life all too frequently holds in these days of declining employment.

I received a call to pick up a lady and her son, some 20 minutes further into the country than the burgeoning rural town I call home. As I parked in her driveway, mildly warmed by the redneck charm that growing heaps of discarded appliances and furniture impart, I radioed the dispatcher to give him my twenty, which is cab-gab for whereabouts. I was half an hour early. A hint of recrimination in the dispatcher's voice inclined me to understand that he felt I had more than just flirted with the speed limit in getting there. He was partially right. I had in fact had my way with the recommended speed, but modestly, enough only to color its cheeks, as I steadfastly believe speed limits are simply helpful suggestions tempered by the ability of the driver and the capabilities of the vehicle.

My upcoming passenger poked her head out the door of her home, called out to let me know how early I was, and promised that she'd make an effort to be ready in five minutes. I smiled and waved, and picked up the biography of Ben Hogan I'd been wading through, thankful for a moment for the opportunity to get lost in someone else's world. Before I could lose myself, there was a bustling at the cab's back door, and a pre-school lad landed on the rear seat, while his mother fussed about strapping him into place.

"Locked and loaded?" I offered, in what I thought was good humor, as she poured herself into the front passenger seat. She appeared confused by my question, looking at me quizzically, so I moved ahead to the business at hand.

"Where are you go..."

And that's when she hit me. As the door slammed closed, I was enveloped by her aura, albeit nothing remotely new-agey. It was rather more like a pestilent cloud: a gut-kicking, stomach-turning, gagging stench of body odor that she seemed not the least to notice she was clobbering me with. As my eyes teared, I started again...

"Where would you like to go?" My voice had changed, as the level of available oxygen in the car was diluted by her all-encompassing presence, and it occurred to me as at once profound and funny, in my desperation to breathe, that this woman's odor was so powerful it flirted with the boundaries of time, by both preceding her arrival, and remaining long after she'd passed by.

She smiled, and gave me instructions as my olfactory glands red-lined. I headed down the road, cognizant that I had at least 15 minutes to share this confined space, and thankful that I'd partially rolled down her window earlier to let the air circulate on an otherwise pleasant Spring morning. I cranked my window down further, just as she found the handle to roll hers up. This was clearly not going to get any easier. I thrust my hand against my nose, seeking desperately to smell anything else, and found momentary relief. But it was short-lived. I drove faster, determined to get this fare done with as quickly as possible.

My guileless passenger was in a cheerful mood. She tapped my arm to get my attention, and commented on the lovely weather. She tapped again to ask about my job. Did I like it? Had I been doing it long? I refrained from commenting on how some fares seemed eternal, whilst others seemed too short. She tapped me again, and I began to wonder if my ongoing struggle for fresh air made me appear insensate, in need of her constant prodding to get my attention. I was beginning to feel thankful she didn't have a stick when she said something about a skunk. I glanced across, curious to see if she was lifting her tail, when a small voice in the back piped up about the now obvious skunk-odor invading the cab. I breathed it in, relieved at the fresh new scent, and almost laughed at my preference.

As the drive took us into town, I found myself getting used to her. I wondered at my ability to adapt, to become quickly desensitized to unpleasant sensations. Not quickly enough, however. I was seeing the home stretch, and breathing shallowly, hoping to limit my absorption of her, when a train whistle jolted me from my focus on the finish. Sure enough, the gates at the train crossing dropped in our path, and I sat dumbly, disbelief settling in, as the train approached the intersection, then rumbled loudly through. I can't fairly say if it was the longest train I have ever seen, or if I was simply experiencing relativity. But the train just kept rolling by, slowing as it passed through the town, and creaking almost to a stop before mercifully clearing the intersection. The gates remained in place until the train had cleared an unspecified, interminable distance, maybe 20 yards, before rising, and allowing us to proceed. I began to smile as she described in detail exactly where we were headed, and I wondered if my stupid grin was evidence of oxygen deprivation, or simple relief at the impending end to our journey.

We pulled into the school where the young lad was to attend playgroup. The fare was $22, charged to a social program that I wasn't aware existed. Nonetheless I smiled as she opened her door, then reached across to tap my arm one more time.

"See ya at 11:30, Taximan..."

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