Port Angeles cabdrivers tell of wild rides
By Jesse Major
For Peninsula Daily News
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“I was driving a couple of young ladies from a bar to their house,” said Royal Taxi driver Charles Becker.
“The one behind me tried to strangle me. It was startling.”
He thinks she wanted him to drive a different way.
Blue Top Cab and Royal Taxi are the two taxi services in Port Angeles.
Christopher Cowell, co-owner with Darryl Lowe of Blue Top Cab, said he has crazy rides “at least every day.”
One trip that contributed to the approximately 365,000 miles on his car was when a few customers came to Port Angeles for the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts, the festival of music and dance over Memorial Day weekend, and had not planned for a place to stay.
Cowell drove them to every lodging place between Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Even after driving the 50 miles between Port Angeles and Port Townsend, they were still unable to find a room, he said.
Because of the popularity of the Twilight saga, Cowell has had customers from all over the world who want to visit Forks, the setting for the best-selling four-novel series and popular movies.
The Twilight saga, written by Stephenie Meyer, is a young-adult love story about a mortal girl, Isabella Swan, who falls in love with vampire Edward Cullen.
“I thought it was kind of silly,” Cowell said.
But he also enjoyed meeting Twilight fans.
“Just name a country, and people came from there for Twilight,” he said.
Cowell recalled a woman traveling from California to have her book signed by actors from the “Twilight” movies who were visiting Forks.
She disembarked at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, traveled to Port Angeles and took a Blue Top Cab to Forks.
After spending an hour there, she went right back home.
Cowell wouldn't give a flat rate from Port Angeles to Forks, but the cab fare is $4 for just getting in the cab, an additional $2 to cover high gas prices and another $2.50 a mile.
From Port Angeles to Forks, it's about 55 miles each way.
Cowell said only diehard fans spend that kind of money.
Becker also had trips to Forks.
“Last year, Twilight was a big draw for tourists,” he said.
But Twilight fans aren't the only customers.
Cowell said the Elwha River restoration project, the largest dam removal project in history, also brings people to the area.
In the $325 million project, two dams originally built without fish ladders are being removed to restore the river's once-legendary salmon runs.
People from all over the world come to see the trails at the nearly million-acre Olympic National Park as well, Cowell said.
Cowell sometimes drops people off at trailheads in the park and picks them up a couple of weeks later.
Meeting people who don't live around here is the cool thing about being a cabdriver, Cowell said.
This lets him get away from the norm.
Not all his customers are tourists, though.
During the day, customers include those shopping for groceries and going to doctor's appointments and other meetings throughout the day.
At night, Cowell gives people rides from bars, saves them when they lock their keys in their cars at night and rescues those whose cars break down in the middle of nowhere.
“Bars are a hot scene,” Cowell said.
People go to the bars for entertainment, and many expect the entertainment to continue once they get in the cab.
Cowell said he would be asked by some passengers seeking entertainment, “Where's the 'Cash Cab'?”
Little did his customers know they were in it — sort of.
“Cash Cab” is a Discovery Channel television show in which unsuspecting people enter a taxi and are asked general knowledge questions. Correct answers result in cash prizes. Three incorrect answers get the passengers kicked out of the cab.
Cowell said he had his own version of “Cash Cab.”
He didn't have the flashing lights or the prizes, and he didn't kick his passengers out, but customers were entertained by his questions about musicians.
Some of the busiest days for cab drivers are weekends and holidays.
Cowell enjoys the costumes on Halloween and calls New Year's Eve “Amateur Day.”
“People don't know how to drink,” Cowell said.
He gives one free ride to Port Angeles bars each week because that's how often he needs to.
“Sometimes people get so intoxicated they don't know what to do with themselves,” Cowell said.
“But the bars around here are good with taking care of people.”
Some passengers inadvertently spend all their money at the bar and forget they need to pay the cab to get home, Becker said.
There have been a few times that Becker has accepted beer as payment when customers had spent all their money at the bar.
Cowell said when customers don't have enough money, the amount of respect he receives determines how he deals with it.
If it's just a few dollars, and the passenger tries to make it right, Cowell usually will let it slide — even if it is as simple as the person giving him his or her last piece of candy or shaking his hand.
When passengers don't show any respect or remorse for their debt, he will try to get collateral from them until they can pay.
Sometimes, Cowell is asked to drive to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In an effort to save the customer money and make the trip safer, he drives passengers to Bainbridge so they can take a ferry and bus to the airport.
“It's not about the money,” Cowell said.
“I do it 'cause I love it.”
He likes driving in the area above Port Angeles High School. From there, he has a view of the whole city.
He experiences the sunset and sunrise — all in one shift.
Becker also enjoys his job.
“It's a good job for older folks,” Becker said.
“It keeps you from becoming older and grumpier.”
Jesse Major, a recent graduate of Peninsula College and Port Angeles High School, was an intern with the Peninsula Daily News.
Last modified: July 23. 2012 6:02PM