Coachella Cabbie Confessions
Kai Flanders Naser Herzallh and his not so yellow cab.
After the music shuts down each night, thousands flock toward Coachella's taxi-stands, located at the end of the long, winding "yellow path" - a 20 minute walk from the polo fields. (As Jeff Weiss called it: The molly trail of tears.)
Once you arrive, the wait can be almost two hours long, and the drivers are in a state of constant hustle. Considering they're picking up some of the richest, most entitled, most drugged out young people on the planet, their stories are as good as you might imagine.
Alex Victor, 38, is a veteran cab driver with Yellow Cab of the Desert and lives in the area with his wife and children. He's worked Coachella for five years, and recalls picking up a frantic man at 4 a.m. on Monday morning after the festival had ended last year.
"His friends had left him in the campgrounds," Victor says. The man needed to be on a flight back to Illinois a few hours later and told Victor to take him to LAX. "I told him, it's 475 dollars to go to LAX. He paid with his credit card and gave me a 100 dollar tip in cash when we got there. He was passed out the entire way."
That same year, Victor spotted a couple fighting near the festival gates. The woman ran up to the cab idling next to Victor's, manned by his friend, and demanded to be driven first to a liquor store to procure two bottles of wine, and then to Las Vegas.
"The dispatch said it was going to be 945 dollars. She said didn't care as long as she got away from her boyfriend." The woman paid half in cash, half on her credit card, and off they went. Victor said he cracked up listening to his friend check in over the dispatch throughout Nevada.
But it's not all funny stories and big tips. The cabbies see firsthand the effects of the rampant drug and alcohol use surrounding the festival. Victor often picks people up from the JFK Memorial Hospital, where 24-year-old festival goer Kimchi Truong was taken before she passed away Thursday. Last year he says he picked up 7 or 8 girls from the hospital, and drove one to the emergency room, from an after party. "She was out of it," says Victor. "Her boyfriend said she overdosed." Another cabbie named Naser Herzallh, 43, is a lanky man who talks between rapid pulls on his Marlboro Lights. He says Coachella is something drivers look forward to every year because they can earn good money, but that the dynamics have shifted this year. Competition from Uber and cabs sourced all the way from Los Angeles has sucked profits out of a weekend many Valley area drivers depended on.
"Cabs from Los Angeles and Riverside county take business from us," Herzallh says. "Last year business was very good. Non-stop, you didn't have one minute to smoke a cigarette. Now it's like a normal weekend."
He says he's even contemplated taking next year off, as the headache associated with festival logistics isn't worth a typical weekend's earnings.
Still, Herzallh says he enjoys the manic excitement of the festival. "People are always very nice," he says. He's never had a violent or unpleasant experience with a fare, save when someone is simply too drunk to tell him where to take them.
He concludes: "You've got to have a destination."
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