Captured by Gypsies

Queenie and the Jester take a ride.

"You're not going to drive us into the desert and kill us, are you?" the man asks, sliding open the door of the brown minivan piloted by the Jester. This is a fairly common concern -- not always expressed with the exact wording, but with the same sentiment behind it, the doubt and the fear. Most people are suspicious when they first encounter a gypsy cab.

The Jester usually drives a classic lowrider once featured in the pages of Lowrider Magazine, a ghetto-fabulous vehicle that he operates like a taxi on the weekends with his mother, Queenie. That ride is enough to make a lot of first-time passengers forget their fears and climb aboard, he says. But the lowrider's in hock, and tonight's a-serial-killer-would-drive-a-vehicle-exactly-like-this minivan inspires particular skepticism. The owner of the Caravan is a certified bra-fitter for a major retailer, which means she measures women's breasts to make sure they're wearing the correct bra size; she once saw a fifteen-year-old with 34 DDDs. She occasionally accompanies the Jester as he makes his rounds, divvying up the take at the end of the night. Tonight she is riding shotgun. She is known as BoobyTrap. (The Jester doesn't want real names used in this story, since exposing his identity could hurt his business -- which is illegal. The Jester came up with these nicknames.)

The far back seat of the minivan is missing, and in its stead is a plush, whitish section of a sofa. This is where I sit. The Reporter. The man who'd asked the Jester if he was a killer helps his wife into a seat belt by his side in the middle seat, and turns to look at me curiously.

Ethan Wenberg

"I'm the Reporter," I say.

The man stares at me for a second, with drunk, unfocused eyes, then turns back around and faces forward. I'm but another feature in his increasingly bizarre evening. The van pulls away from the Fillmore and as we head downtown, toward the couple's hotel, the woman begins chatting excitedly about the concert they just saw.

"George Thorogood was good, but Dickie Betts opened and he absolutely stole the show," she says. "He was incredible." The Jester and BoobyTrap make pleasant conversation with the woman, and we learn that the couple are in for the night from Sterling, the kids safely at home with the grandparents.

"They say grandparents are like the assistant coaches," the Jester says eagerly, studying his passengers in the rearview mirror.

We're listening to a live Doors album, and as the song "LA Woman" begins to crescendo, the man, who's been listening to the music attentively, silently nodding his head, speaks up.

"You know, Jim Morrison is alive, man," he suddenly informs us. "Elvis is definitely dead, but Morrison? He's alive."

The van fills with silence. After a moment, the Jester speaks up.

"They say Tupac is like the black Elvis."

We pull up to the couple's hotel. After plugging the Jester's cell-phone number into her phone -- "put it in under G-Ride," he tells her -- the wife climbs out of the van and hustles into the lobby. The hulking husband from Sterling hands the Jester a twenty-dollar bill for what would no doubt be a sub-$10 fare with a normal taxi service.

"You've got a brilliant plan going here," he says.

"People like us because we're not corporate or sponsored," the Jester tells me as we retrace our route so we can pick up more concertgoers. "We're the real deal. It's like that Bill Hicks bit: Would you rather go to some corporate asshole rock show or check out the maniac punks snorting rat poison and screaming their hearts out?"

Back at the Fillmore, the Jester parks his van in the middle of a line of taxis and exits into the rain, walking along the street and sniffing out pockets of people waiting impatiently for cabs. BoobyTrap remains in shotgun position and calls after passersby, "Can I interest you in ride? We're gypsy cab." Most people pass by without even acknowledging her, like she's a homeless person begging for change. Under the marquee, a fight threatens to come to a boil, but as quickly as tempers flare, they cool, and the two parties head off in separate directions, teams of friends soothing ruffled feathers. Walking down Colfax, twirling his blue umbrella like a busker, the Jester pays them no mind.

Queenie and her son, the Jester, were driving their vintage car home from a downtown sports bar one evening after watching Queenie's beloved University of Oklahoma Sooners play football. On the side of the car, hanging proudly, was a red OU banner. Four sports fans noticed the flag, as well as the sweet ride to which it was attached, and started up a conversation while the car was stopped at a red light. As the light changed, Queenie offered them a lift. For driving the group a mere three blocks to the Holiday Inn, Queenie and the Jester soon found themselves $25 to the good, though they were down one Sooners banner.

"Turns out they were Nebraska fans," Queenie says with a grin.

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