Jon Barnes was waiting for me in his taxi in front of the Little Nell Hotel. I was expecting one of those pathologically cool cab drivers you sometimes get, with detached ennui written in their cigarette gestures. But I was wrong. Barnes, 38, is eager to please and pleasantly amusing. Born and raised in New York City, he moved to Aspen in 1979. Ten years ago he bought a run-down yellow Checker with 75,000 miles on the odometer and turned it into what he describes as “a theatre on wheels.” Since then, he has transported the famous and infamous, from Lee Iaccoca to possibly Ted Bundy, and has covered 300,000 miles just between Aspen and Basalt.
Forget traveling from A (Aspen) to B (Basalt). To climb into Barnes’s back seat and shut the door is to enter an alternative dimension. I’ve been tickled by my share of Thai tuk-tuk drivers and haunted by a few LaGaurdiabound street demons. Never have I had a cabbie how plays the saxophone, flute, drums, and keyboards-and keeps all handy on the front seat of his ride. My man Barnes has Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison down pat. When I asked who his wildest passenger has been he replied instantly, “Ringo Starr-to play for one of the Beatles sitting in the back seat was wild, absolutely wild.”
As soon as w e pulled away from the curb, Barnes flicked on the multicolored lasers. “Here, put these on,” he said, handing me the 3-D shades. The neon and glittering interior became a twinkling planetarium of pulses and light beams. When the blue-ice smoke started to roll up over my legs, I was no longer a virgin. I knew we were headed somewhere, but I wasn’t doing much sightseeing.
Just when I thought I had no more senses to overload, a hand-sized camera, discreetly mounted in the corner of the ceiling, flashed without warning. Faster than you can say “X-Files,” ,y image was captured, digitized, and beamed into cyberspace. Linearity became ubiquity: I was suddenly on the internet. Why? Who cares. When you start asking with in the Ultimate Taxi, it’s to late. Barnes is Big Brother, the ‘90s version, dressed in rapper-slacker clothes. He’s computer wise, and he wants to party. Pay him $75 for a half-hour, or hail him at www.ultimatetaxi.com. Since he went on-line June 1, more than 5,000 Web surfers have visited his site. Some e-mail him their pictures, which he prints out onboard; others sit back at home, and let Barnes play them a tune. “This is why I got on the internet-to do cool shit like this,” he said, adding that USA Today gave him a Hot Sit Award in his first week on the web. But even this is not the Ultimate Hacker’s ultimatum. Barnes is impatient. Like Gatsby, he wants and wants and wants. Which means he’s keen to sell, sell sell. “I want to be the 3-D glass supplier to the world,” he says with a megalomaniacal chuckle. Willa Wonka had his chocolate; for this Willy Loman, it’s hologlasses glowing balls, and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. The true hum of his vehicle is his salesman’s pitch. It’s Dial-a-Ride meets Home Shopping Network. Call Barnes’s Web site and click on the product icon; the virtual trunk opens and offers lava lamps, black lights, and fake hands. El Ultimo even takes credit cards.
And so I arrived at the end of my journey. For a moment I lingered in the back seat and let the cosmos settle. I contemplated solid ground like a sailor from the Sargasso. Finally I stepped from the mother ship, a crease of worldly grin stuck to my face. As the Ultimate Taxi pulled away, the glowing red lights from the back seat faded to nothing. Or maybe not quite. Andy Warhol was wrong. In the Ultimate universe we’ve got more than 15 minutes.
About The Car Jon Barnes
The Pictures 3D Fun
Jon's Photos Of Aspen Colorado Passengers Pictures From 2003
Taxi Video Clips