Captured by Gypsies

Queenie and the Jester take a ride.

Once a driver completes all of the necessary training and passes all of the required tests, he can operate as an independent contractor for Yellow Cab, essentially leasing the services provided by Yellow -- the satellite dispatch, the insurance, the brand name -- for a flat rate, and keeping every fare and tip in return. According to Alexander, some drivers pay as little as $40 a day to drive for Yellow, and some pay as much as $580 a week -- generally when they don't have their own cars. Drivers pay for their own gas and, if driving their own vehicle, their own maintenance.

"I'll level with you," Alexander says. "I'm a hippie from the Œ60s, I'm pretty much a Democrat, I'm sitting to the left. If you had told me in 1980 that I would be sitting here singing the praises of a regulated transportation industry, I would have told you were crazy. Free enterprise, go out there and make your living, absolutely. But the thing is, it doesn't work. Let's say everyone's unregulated. What happens is the little old lady who needs to go to Safeway can't get a ride because no one is going to take that small a fare. Everyone would gravitate to downtown or the airport, where they can get a walk-up customer, and next thing you know you've got lines around the block with everyone trying to get the same customer. You think that will bring the cost of the ride down? No way. The guy's going to charge you $100 instead of $30 to make up for the seven hours he sat there waiting for a fare.

"The other thing is, there is no recourse," Alexander continues. "I've got all my guys on GPS, I know where they're going right now, how fast they're going and whether or not they have a customer. Say you leave your cell phone or sweater in a cab -- you can call us and we can get it back to you. It sounds like a small thing, but it happens all the time. And what about insurance? You get into an accident in one of our cars and you're going to be taken care of. You get into a crash in an unlicensed cab, who knows what's going to happen?"

Ethan Wenberg

Or, as one Yellow Cab driver says of a gypsy driver: "You get in a car crash with that guy, you're fucked, he's fucked, the whole situation's fucked."

The Jester is fully aware of this dilemma. Thankfully, he's never had to deal with it.

"Our insurance is just like any normal driver's insurance," he says. "We're covered, our friends that we're driving are covered. If we ever got into an accident, hopefully we could handle things like that: That these were just some friends we were driving home. We know we operate on the fringes of legitimacy."

Ross Alexander would never let his fifteen-year-old daughter into the Jester's ride.

Two drunk, white, thirtysomething men, one with black hair, one blond, flop into the van talking loudly about Dickie Betts. They point in the direction of downtown, but as the Jester starts to pull into traffic, they suddenly motion him to stop. The black-haired man sitting by the door slides it open and calls after three girls walking the other way.

"There you are," he says. "Come over here."

The girls step over to the van and cautiously peer inside. The blond guy leans over his friend and begins speaking softly with one; it becomes clear that they were flirting earlier at the show. He tries to convince the girl to join us in the van -- him, his buddy, the Jester, BoobyTrap, the Reporter -- but for some strange reason she seems uncomfortable with the idea. Asking quickly turns to begging, but the girl is indecisive. Her two friends seize upon her vacillation and pull her away from the car. The door slides shut and we merge into traffic.

"Fucking cock-blockers!" the black-haired man screams. "That was the worst fucking cock-block job I've ever seen."

"No shit," the other concurs. "I was freaking with that girl the whole show!"

"They were like left guard, right guard with that bitch! Unbelievable!"

"I served our country. This is bullshit!"

"Hey, did you guys hear they're going to nominate Manu Ginobili for an Oscar?" the Jester asks, trying to lighten the situation. The two men stare back at him, unblinking.

"I don't care about those bitches," the black-haired one says. "I will get laid tonight."

We squire the gentlemen to the Celtic Tavern, where they hand BoobyTrap ten bucks and head inside.

"He's not getting laid tonight," BoobyTrap predicts. "Not a chance."

Three people outside the Celtic are waiting for a cab, and we offer them a ride. One woman is game, the other two in her party refuse. We wish them a good evening and return to the Fillmore.

Although it's almost midnight now and the concert crowd has grown thin, we pick up two Hispanic guys with thick plugs in their ears and a Mack truck of a female companion. The girl climbs in back, into the area we're now referring to as the "Honeymoon Suite," firmly pinning me against the wall.

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