Captured by Gypsies

Queenie and the Jester take a ride.

Dickie Betts should try to remember exactly what he ate that day, because by all accounts he was channeling Hendrix up there.

"Old dude or no," one guy says to the other. "If you can't sit there and be blown away by someone wailing on the guitar like that, then you're a faggot."

The Jester settles on a $30 fare to take the trio home to Thornton. We're heading for the highway when suddenly, slow rumblings from Mack truck.

Ethan Wenberg

"I'm gonna puke," she says to no one in particular.

Panic fills the vehicle, spearheaded by the Reporter, who knows that if this girl lets loose, odds are an entire buffalo is coming up.

"Do we need to pull over?" the Jester asks.

"I think I'm okay," the girl responds, before turning to me and adding, "Don't worry; I do this all the time. I will let you know if I'm going to puke."

The ride becomes a mad dash, with the two Hispanic guys barking complicated, circuitous instructions to the Jester while the rain pours down and Jim Morrison screams hysterically on the CD. Mack truck leans her head against the thin strip of air afforded by the back van window and chants, "Oh my god, oh my god," over and over again. Each bump on the highway becomes a rollercoaster, every turn a momentous occasion met with trepidation and fear.

Finally we pull into the trio's trailer park. Mack truck lunges out of the van and hurls multi-colored bile all over the grass. A true pro.

We retire to a nearby Waffle House parking lot, where the Jester and I discuss our near-miss over sodas while BoobyTrap relieves herself inside.

Tight regulation in New York City has kept the number of official taxi cabs to 11,787 -- a number that hasn't changed in half a century. It's estimated that nearly 15,000 gypsy cabs are operating in the Big Apple, mostly in poorer, minority communities. Since 1934, Boston has kept the number of regulated taxi cabs on its streets to 1,525; that city also has a lively gypsy-cab industry, with such variations as "black car" livery companies who remove the livery license plates from their cars and operate as taxis.

In the seven counties that encompass metro Denver, there are currently 942 authorized cabs. Metro Taxi has operating authority for 492 cars, Yellow Cab for 300, and Freedom for 150. In 2002, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the taxi business, granted operating authority to Freedom for 100 more cabs. Before that, the last time the number was raised was back in 1995, from 742 to 842.

From 1995 to 2005, the metro area has increased by a total of 23.5 percent, up to 2,612,109 people, according to the Colorado Demography Office. Over the same period, the area has gained just 200 more cabs. Today, there's one cab for every 2,773 people living in the metro area.

But Terry Bote, spokesman for the PUC, doesn't think the demand for cabs is higher than the supply. In fact, evidence points the other way. "Not one of the companies are putting the maximum number of vehicles on the street right now," he says. "The reports from the drivers are that there are too many cars on the street, and if you go out and look at DIA, there's a holding area out there where cabs just sit all day long."

In this city, he adds, the two most common complaints about the cab business are that drivers are either late or don't show up at all.

Which is why the Jester believes his business is successful.

"The cab companies could do so much with what they have," he says. "But they're resting on their laurels. They put you on hold forever; they take as long as they want to come pick you up. They treat people like shit just because they can. With us, we're nice to you, we're reliable, we want to talk to you, to know how you're doing. With the big companies, you have to fight for a cab. With us, we have to fight for the customer."

The Doors CD has spun through several times at this point, so BoobyTrap throws in the Temptations.

"We always listen to this or KOOL 105," the Jester says. "People like that doo-wop, bibbity-bop stuff. Never fails."

The Jester knows late-night LoDo so well that he actually has preferred lanes on his cruising route. Blake to 14th, then up Market the other way until around Park Avenue West, then back down Blake, over and over again, circling the dense collection of bars and clubs in the area. When Queenie and the Jester first started in the gypsy business, they used to go uptown, searching out people waiting for taxicabs. But the real numbers are in LoDo, so they stick to this route to keep down the gas mileage.

After our trek to Thornton, we pick up our next customers outside of the Soiled Dove; the marginally drunk young couple seem sober as priests against the swirling backdrop of Saturday night insanity. At first the two balk at our offer, turning their heads to scan the sea of cars for a licensed cab. Then an epiphany dawns.

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