Taxi driver loves job

Sep 162003
Authors: James Baetke

The dashboard clock reads 12:26 a.m. and it’s an early Saturday morning in Fort Collins. The streets are bustling with partying college students, the rain is drizzling and taxi cab driver Dune Hartsell is ready for another night’s work.

Only wanting to be referred to as Dune, he leans into his radio speaking in a smooth concise tone, “14 to base. 10-23 passenger pickup.”

Dune’s early morning shift has just begun. His personal goal each night is to keep drunk drivers off the streets.

His dispatcher, Tiffany, gives Dune coordinates to Jackson’s Sports Grill where two gentlemen wait eagerly in the rain for a designated driver home. Drinking after a golf game, the two men are in good spirits and carry on conversation until they are brought safely home.

“Cab driving has got to be the most fun job on Earth,” Dune said, who has been working at Shamrock Taxi for about five years.

Shamrock Taxi is the single cab service available in the Fort Collins area. The service also serves Greeley and Loveland.

Dune’s next call takes him to Skyline Street where party crawlers infest the street, getting dangerously close to traffic. A lively young couple pile into the back. They both try to direct the cabbie to their destination but through slurring words and tangents they fail.

No problem. Dune is a literal walking GPS system. He knows the majority of Fort Collins’ streets, drives and cul-de-sacs by heart and knows exactly where he’s going.

“It takes a certain kind of person to become a cab driver. I find that I’m very good at it,” Dune said.

Despite having a bachelor’s degree in Russian history and a Masters in elementary education, Dune continues to work as a cab driver, an occupation he loves. But last spring he nearly was out of a job when something life-changing happened.

In April, Dune, his wife and son were hit head-on by a drunk driver on a dark rural road. His infant child was spared physical injury but his wife was pinned in the car and had to be cut from the mangled steel. She broke both of her legs and sustained other cuts and injuries.

Dune suffered a broken leg and hip. He walks with a cane or walker everyday, both of which act as permanent passengers in his cab. Dune returned to work in early August, he said.

“It’s incredibly ironic,” Dune said.

For someone who has been hit twice by a drunk driver while on duty and once on his day off, Dune said it is very ironic that he, on a daily basis, drives drunken people home and is victim to these types accidents.

It’s now12:49 a.m. and another call reaches Dune over his radio. It’s another couple enjoying the Fort Collins nightlife and they need a lift home. Asking questions and prying into the world of Dune, both are extremely verbal. After a ten-minute cab ride and the female threatening to take off her shirt, the couple’s destination is met; the meter reads $9.90. The gentleman hands him a twenty-dollar bill and is on his way.

Tips are a huge part of Dune’s nightly income, he said.

Dune encounters interesting people like this every night. He has given rides to such performers as Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, along with many high profile athletes.

“Ray Charles’ assistant gave me exact change, but it was my birthday and Ray sang me ‘happy birthday,'” Dune said.

Another call later in the morning at 1:30 a.m. involved a man who was new to the area and had been stranded at the Hunt’s Club, a local strip bar. After waiting shortly for the man, Dune decided to go in and find his customer.

“I’m actually gonna go in because I have to pee. Plus, there are boobs,” Dune said, who sees deliberate nudity at least once a month from people in the backseat of his cab.

Dune said one of the strangest things ever to happen to him while on duty was when a man asked if it would be okay to bring his nude wife for a ride. Furthermore, the woman was mummified in colored plastic wrap while blindfolded, Dune said. With the woman’s approval, Dune drove the couple aimlessly around town while they took advantage of the erotic situation. Dune was tipped $100.

Perhaps the grand finale of Saturday’s early morning shift was picking up a group of six friends who had been out drinking for most of the night. As each person stepped in the backseat of the cab, the vehicle lowered closer to the ground. One of the occupants was celebrating her 27th birthday and in the midst of loud conversations and screaming, one her friends decides to give her 27 birthday spankings, all the while in the cab.

Meanwhile, two guys in the back complain the cab is dragging too low to the ground and then just as Dune takes a turn and hits a bump in the road, sparks fly and loud whooping laughs erupt. The occupants clearly love the ride home.

The largest tip Dune has received was $15,000 from an avid Central City-goer. Dune would drive a woman to the casinos and “take care of her,” he said. One day the woman handed Dune a $100 bill and told him to play it on a slot. Soon thereafter he hit the progressive jackpot and was told to keep his winnings as an additional tip.

With his shift ending at 5 a.m. and with a total of 12 hours, Dune made it clear this is the job for him; his true passion in life. With his liter of Diet Coke wedged in between the seat and munching on his Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Dune said he is already looking forward to his next shift.

It’s fun being a voyeur in people’s lives,” he said.

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