Story By Barry Smith - Visit Barry's Web Site "Irrelativity" - The Humor Column
"Hi. Do you mind if I look at some of your cabs?" I asked the guy on the phone. After a good night's sleep, I had the brilliant idea about looking up "Taxi" in the phone book, and I was now on the line with the dispatcher.
"You wanna look at 'em?"
"Well, yeah. Look at 'em. Ride in 'em. Ask your drivers to tell me some interesting anecdotes so I can hand my story in on time and not get fired and have to get some miserable night job like washing dishes or driving a tax...uh, I mean...so, what do you say?"
"Our guys don't like to talk much."
"How can that be?"
"Well, they're just a little shy."
Shy taxi drivers? This guy was hiding something.
"Look," I said. "Don't make me use my press pass!"
"You have a nice day, sir. And please don't call me 'Mac' again."
Damn! I hadn't even had a chance to call him 'Mac' yet!!
Deadline was just one week away, and I was getting nowhere.
Luckily, it was early in the day--still plenty of time for a nap.
That afternoon I dreamed of that phosphorescent taxi cab. It pulled up in front of me and the door opened by itself. Smoke poured out from inside, then more smoke. The thick, billowing smoke engulfed me. I began to choke. I woke with a start, realizing quickly that I had dozed off with my Pop Tarts still in the toaster, and my deadline was now half an hour closer. It was already after 4 p.m., no point in killing myself, I figured, so I called it quits for the day.
I awoke the next morning renewed and invigorated, ready to set the world on fire. So out of the door I went, business cards and tape recorder in hand, with a fresh attitude and that ancient Sioux saying, "Today is a good day to talk to taxi drivers" repeating itself in my head.
There was a line of taxis parked in front of the airport. Most of the drivers were lounging in their vehicles, smoking cigarettes, reading books, doing crossword puzzles and just generally killing time until the next flight came in. I smiled for the first time in days. Before me loomed the mother lode of interesting anecdotes.
"Hi," I said to the driver as he rolled his window down. "I'm doing a little story on how interesting it must be to..."
"Not interested," he said, and began rolling the window crank the other way.
No problem. After all, a bountiful harvest of taxis stretched before me. I slowly made my way down the line, trying a different approach with each driver.
"Hi there, my name is..."
"Hey, nice hat. Would it be OK if I asked you a few..."
"I have access to the magazine debit card."
"Take a hike!"
"Good morning, and isn't it a lovely day today, such...
"You write one word about me and I'll bust your lip!"
One woman just pressed the business card of her attorney against the window, another simply locked his door as I approached. One man explained, via pantomime, that he had a gun, and that I would be smart to just keep walking with my hands where he could see them.
As I approached the end of the line, it was clear that word had spread about my approach, so at the last couple of cabs I merely looked forlornly at them, shaking my head as if to say, "There's no way in hell that you're gonna talk to me, is there?" And they would, in return, nod their heads as if to say, "Nope."
That night I walked the streets of Aspen, miserable, dejected, cold and hungry. What was behind this silent treatment? Were the taxi drivers all involved in some grand cover up? That must be it. There was something big going down in the taxi world, and they knew that I was on the verge of cracking it wide open. I was this close to laying waste to their months of scheming and planning, to bringing their mysterious plot crashing down around their ears. They were scared...it was in their eyes. They had recognized my Sherlock Holmes-like observational powers, and they were cowering like frightened bunnies. They were, it was becoming clear, deeply involved in my recently discovered Abraham Lincoln/John F. Kennedy/OJ Simpson conspiracy, and the last thing they needed was for a crack reporter like me nosing around.
This realization would require a doubling of my efforts. I would not be able to rest until got to the bottom of this Earth-shattering plot. I thrust my hands into my pockets to hide them from the cold night air, and I realized...hey, I really DO have the magazine debit card, right there in my pocket. I ducked into the nearest bar.
An hour later I was still there, nursing a drink that I'd convinced the bartender to put in a Sherlock Holmes-like glass, making notes on the conspiracy. A man plopped himself down on the barstool next to me, exasperated.
"Whew! What a night!" he said.
"Uh huh," I responded, not looking up from my notes.
"Yep, just finished a twelve hour shift. Cab driving is tough work."
"Tonight was particularly interesting. Man, the stories I could tell."
"Uh huh...HEY!!" I turned to him excitedly. "Did you ever notice that there are the same number of letters in Lincoln, Kennedy and Simpson?! Seven letters each. Wow!"
I turned back to my notes.
A few minutes later, the guy started rambling again.
"Yeah, boy...what a night. I picked up this family of Argentinean royals, and out of the blue they all started to..."
"Is it just me, or does Kato Kaelin' s hair look an awful lot like a grassy knoll?"
"I guess so. So, anyway, this royal family just up and decided that they wanted to..."
It was clear I wasn't going to get any work done with this guy blabbering, so I paid my tab and headed back out into the night.
Yeah, these hacks were definitely covering something up, and it was going to take everything I had to get them to talk.
A half an hour later, the pieces were beginning to fall into place. For instance, in the "Pink Panther" movies, Peter Sellars also had a houseboy named Kato, and the name "Sellars" has...that's right...seven letters. This was bigger than I thought.
In the distance I heard the faint strains of music, and saw a pulsating neon glow moving slowly on the horizon. I walked out and stood in the middle of the street, as the glowing anecdote on wheels rounded the corner and headed for me.
"I've got tales to spin," I heard an almost telepathic voice say, as the cab pulled up and stopped beside me. "Tales, anecdotes, legends, lore, answers to mysteries, solutions to problems, cures for what ails you...all yours for the asking. Get in."
The back door, once I grabbed the handle and pulled, seemed to open on its own-just like in my dream. Inside were sights beyond belief. Black lights, lasers, confetti, musical instruments and enough electronic gizmos, gadgets and goodies to launch a space probe.
"I'm Jon Barnes," The driver said as he stepped on the accelerator and handed me a pair of psychedelic rainbow glasses. "And this is the Ultimate Taxi. You are my guest for the evening. Any questions?"
"Have you seen any of the Pink Pantherı movies?²
We drove around Aspen for the better part of an hour, Barnes playing a variety of musical instruments while I sat in the back taking copious notes.
"Here, check this out," he handed me an electronic guitar looking thing, with strummable plastic slats where the strings should be, and piano keys along the neck. "It's synchronized with the CD that's playing now. Give it a try."
I strummed on the plastic "strings", and the notes matched the song perfectly - cut three of the Beatlesı "Abbey Road." That sound, combined with the laser and fog show that was going on inside the cab and the special glasses I was wearing, created the illusion that I was actually there in the Abbey Road Studios, and Paul and Ringo were following my lead.
"So," Barnes said through UT's internal PA system. "Word has it that you're looking for some taxi stories. You've certainly come to the right place. Where would you like to start?"
"Well, let's see," I was still trading licks with John Lennon. "Could we skip forward to "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window?"
As the evening progressed, I managed to rock my way through Abbey Road, the entire White Album, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon,² and the Stonesı "Exile On Main Street." And believe me, it isn't easy keeping up with Keith Richards when some guy keeps interrupting you with stories about cab riders.
When I finally staggered out of the appropriately named Ultimate Taxi, I thanked Mr. Barnes and wandered back into the night -something I'd grown quite skilled at.
With deadline just a few short hours away, I felt I had far more questions than answers. Though Jon Barnes had shed some light on my conspiracy theory, I still couldn't help but wonder:
B-a-r-n-e-s...only six letters. What was he hiding? A silent "Q", maybe?
By Barry Smith
About The Car Jon Barnes
The Pictures 3D Fun
Jon's Photos Of Aspen Colorado Passengers Pictures From 2003
Taxi Video Clips