Colorado Gypsy For Hire

There are gypsies on our streets, prowling the avenues in their ghetto-fabulous low riders, blasting "LA Woman" from the stereo and telling passersby that although they may not have a taxi license, they'll still take them to their hotel or convention or flight out of DIA in a ride that trades certification for style. We've written about Denver's gypsy cab phenomenon in the past; check out Adam Cayton-Holland's 2005 feature by clicking here. Now, however, one wheeled wanderer of colorful Colorado proportions has returned to the state after exploring this underground business on the mean streets of New York City -- and he did so in an auto whose slick corporate sheen contrasted sharply with the alluringly shabby circumstances of the crate that preceded it.

The cabbie in question is Steven Capstick, a Colorado cinematographer who's found accidental success in driving people around. After helming a series of Emmy-winning history documentaries for Douglas County Television, Capstick started a new, unusual program for the station. He installed four video cameras in his heap, a beat-up 1991 Nissan pickup, and began ferrying local luminaries around Douglas County, all while ruminating about the issues of the day with the cameras rolling. He discussed censorship with the head of Douglas County Libraries as they cruised through Castle Rock, and he rapped about the stigma of authority with the local sheriff as they ambled down the highway. "I always had the best conversations on a road trip. You get this person really close to you, and you are enclosed. And you often have a much more open mind and you listen better," Capstick explains. "It's a good vehicle for conversation, no pun intended."

The curious arrangement also proved to be a good vehicle for his career. When word spread that Boulder would become the new home base for Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the innovative ad firm responsible for all those cleverly hip Volkswagen ads, Crispin sent the firm a reel of his work, with an episode or two of his four-wheeled talk show at the end. "I don't know why that was on there. Probably as comic relief," he says now. But the CP+B folks took one look at the show and saw something better than fluff. They saw buzz.

Soon Crispin found himself shipped to the Big Apple, once more behind the wheel with cameras mounted to the dash. But his junky Nissan had been scrapped in favor of a shiny new 2007 VW Rabbit, and the footage wasn't for Douglas County TV; it was for a website called the Gypsy Cab Project. As part of a VW promotion, Crispin pretended to be a cab driver for fourteen days, escorting a hundred fares for free around a hellacious tangle of city roads he'd never navigated in his life, all for the benefit of bored cubicle-dwellers looking for funny online videos to help them while away the work day. He gave the world's youngest sword-swallower a ride to Coney Island, where she took him on the Cyclone. He took a schoolteacher to her swing-dancing class while she sang jazz tunes in the back seat. And he drove a bunch of Columbians to a Slayer concert in Jersey, then rocked out with them at the show. And he never got in an accident -- unless you count the real New York taxi he hailed one day. "He rear-ended someone," he says. "That scared the crap out of me."

His odyssey complete and his on-road adventures entombed forever on the web, Capstick returned to Colorado in June, where he's still doing VW commercials -- though now he's at the other end of the camera. "It's hard to get your credibility up," he laments, "because they all know me as a cab driver." And as for the worn-out wheels that started it all, the 1991 Nissan that took him to places he'd never imagined: "It's sitting outside my house, if you want to purchase it for $500." --Joel Warner

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts