Cab service in Seattle sucks.
Yellow, Orange, Farwest—it doesn't matter which one you call; when you really need a cab, it's going to come late, or not at all. Or it will arrive filthy, with a driver who doesn't know where the hell he's going.
But which Seattle cab company sucks least? This is a question that has tormented drunk and/or carless Seattleites for years. When you're in a hurry—when you've got a plane to catch or a show to see, or want to get home and hurl in your own toilet—which cab company should you call?
To answer this question, The Stranger pitted Seattle's three taxicab companies against each other in a thrilling, citywide race. We didn't make it easy. The race stretched between four bars in four far-flung neighborhoods—Sunset Bowl in Ballard, Nine Pound Hammer in Georgetown, Targy's on the top of Queen Anne, and the Admiral Pub in West Seattle—before making a final, balls-out dash to Sea-Tac Airport (45.6 miles in all). And we didn't hold the Cab Olympics on some slow weekday evening. Nope, we held them on Saturday, May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, a big night for drinking and a busy night for cabs.
There were just three rules: (1) Team Yellow, Team Orange, and Team Farwest had to call their respective cab companies and wait for the cabs they called to arrive. (2) The drivers were not to be told they were in a race. (3) Each team had to wait 15 minutes at each bar before calling the next cab to make sure the cab they arrived in had left the area (and, of course, to give the teams enough time to pound a few drinks). Whichever cab company got their team to the final destination—the Pilot House bar at Sea-Tac Airport—first would win gold, a cheap trophy, and the distinction of being Seattle's least suck-shit cab company.
Let the race begin!
Sunset Bowl in Ballard to Nine Pound Hammer in Georgetown (11 miles)
Cab Called: 6:40 pm
Cab Arrived: 6:52 pm (wait 12 min.)
Arrived at Destination: 7:12 pm (travel 20 min.)
Moments after Team Orange call their first cab, Orange Cab calls back to say that a cab is "waiting outside." But Team Orange are waiting outside of Sunset Bowl and there's no Orange cab in sight. It turns out the driver went to the wrong address—an address 10 blocks away. Team Orange's cab finally arrives at Sunset Bowl and then makes another error: The driver takes the always slow 45th Street all the way to I-5—a huge mistake! State Route 99 is a more direct route (at least until the commies at this paper succeed in having it replaced by an eight-lane dirt path for bikes and pedestrians). After arriving at Nine Pound Hammer, Team Orange enjoy their first Coronas of the evening—just $2 apiece.
Cab Called: 6:40 pm
Cab Arrived: Never
Arrive at Destination via Yellow Cab: 7:04 pm (travel 16 min.)
After three minutes on hold, Team Farwest are told, "There are no taxis available in your area." Officials determine that Team Farwest can use any means necessary to get to the next bar. Consequently, there is no time to drink at Sunset Bowl. Team Farwest immediately flag down a passing Yellow cab. The lead-footed, chipper driver knows exactly where the Hammer is, heads for SR-99, and pumps KUBE 93 on the way. Team Farwest are deposited in Georgetown 16 minutes later, winning the first heat handily. A sweet-natured pit bull welcomes Team Farwest to the shabby-chic bar, where Team Farwest order tequila shots and draft beers to celebrate their come-from-behind (albeit tainted) victory.
Cab Called: 6:40 pm
Cab Arrived: 6:52 pm (wait 12 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 7:12 pm (travel 20 min.)
Before calling their first cab, Team Yellow propose changing their name to "Team Sombrero" in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Officials reject the name change. Team Yellow—defiantly wearing cheap sombreros and looking ridiculous—get a dispatcher on the phone. When Team Farwest are told there are no Farwest cabs, Team Yellow cackle and point Team Farwest toward a bus stop. When Team Farwest easily flag down a passing Yellow cab, Team Yellow fume under their sombreros. Another Yellow cab drives past the bowling alley—but not the cab Team Yellow called, leaving Team Yellow sputtering with rage. When their cab finally arrives, the driver is chatty and teaches Team Yellow a cool trick about Seattle's traffic lights. (Flash your headlights at signals and they'll change!) Team Yellow lose the first heat, arriving in Georgetown last. Team Yellow order a round of $2 Coronas.
Nine Pound Hammer in Georgetown to Targy's Tavern in Queen Anne (10 miles)
Cab Called: 7:27 pm
Cab Arrived: 7:36 pm (wait 9 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 7:56 pm (travel 20 min.)
The three teams call their respective cabs at different times, but all three cabs pull up outside Nine Pound Hammer at the exact same moment—leading to a scene of chaos and confusion as the competitors rush out of the bar and pile into their respective cabs with photographers and videographers in hot pursuit. All three cabs take off for Targy's, located on top of Queen Anne.
Sadly, Team Orange's driver seems to have only a vague notion of Queen Anne. Halfway through the ride, he turns up the volume on awful smooth jazz—music you'd hear on an elevator to hell. Team Orange's cabbie then gets lost and winds up looping through residential neighborhoods on top of Queen Anne, talking all the while about the new condos going up in West Seattle, with the meter running the entire time. Team Orange lose the second heat, coming in a distant third, and drown their sorrows in a round of $2.50 Coronas.
Cab Called: 7:12 pm
Another Cab Called: 7:16 pm
Cab Arrived: 7:36 pm (Yellow Cab, wait 20 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 7:45 pm (travel 9 min.)
After four minutes on hold, Team Farwest is once again told, "There are no taxis available in your area." The dispatcher then gives Team Farwest another number to call, which turns out to be a backdoor number at Yellow Cab. Team Farwest are whisked to the top of Queen Anne by yet another pro Yellow driver blasting KUBE 93. Cruising along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Team Farwest wonder aloud if Farwest operates so far west that its cabs are only available on the Olympic Peninsula. Or in Japan. Despite their continued setbacks, Team Farwest are the first to arrive at Targy's, a friendly neighborhood pub with two pool tables and a collection of well-worn stools with well-worn regulars perched on them. Team Farwest order another round of Coronas to celebrate yet another tainted victory.
Cab Called: 7:28 pm
Cab Arrived: 7:36 pm (wait 8 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 7:47 pm (travel 11 min.)
Although all three cabs arrived in Georgetown at the same moment, Team Yellow's cab was arguably the fastest to arrive, as Team Yellow called their cab last. Team Yellow laugh and point at the other Yellow cab—the one carrying Team Farwest—causing Team Yellow's driver to realize he's part of a race. He then tries to overtake Team Farwest's Yellow cab on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Asked for his preferred solution for the Viaduct—tunnel? rebuild? surface?—Team Yellow's driver says that he was on the viaduct during the Nisqually earthquake and consequently supports the surface option.
Team Yellow arrive second at Targy's, clearly annoyed that Team Farwest won two heats in what were, by all rights, Team Yellow's cabs. Team Farwest buy Team Yellow Coronas to make amends—despite the fact that Team Yellow are wearing sombreros and look ridiculous.
Targy's Tavern to the Admiral Pub in West Seattle (9.5 miles)
Cab Called: 8:18 pm
Cab Arrived: 8:52 pm (wait 34 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 9:10 pm (travel 18 min.)
The beer and tequila Team Orange have consumed up to this point has taken its toll, and Team Orange momentarily forget to call their next ride. When Team Orange finally do call, the dispatcher assures them that she'll "rush one right out," and Team Orange step outside to wait. Twenty minutes later, wondering if they will ever make it off Queen Anne, Team Orange call Orange Cab's dispatcher again and are told that "the driver went to the address and no one was there." That is impossible, of course, as Team Orange have been waiting outside Targy's the entire time. Thirty minutes after the first call, a cab shows up, and Team Orange grumble that they could have gotten to West Seattle faster on a fucking pogo stick. Team Orange come in last in the third heat, drown their sorrow with a couple of $3.50 Coronas, and observe that Coronas are getting more expensive as the night wears on.
Cab Called: 8:10 pm
Cab Arrived: 8:20 pm (10 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 8:38 pm (18 min.)
After a one-minute wait on hold, a Farwest dispatcher promises a car in 10 minutes or less. Finally! But when the first Farwest cab of the evening materializes, it is iguana green and smells strongly of incense. Team Farwest report their previous troubles conjuring a Farwest cab and the driver acts exasperated. He blames "new dispatchers" and "lazy dispatchers." He says there are more than 100 cars in the Farwest fleet—and he's been on duty since 7:00 p.m. and hasn't been too busy to take a pickup. Team Farwest enjoy the sunset, in all its sherbet-hued beauty, from the West Seattle Bridge. Later, the waitress at the Admiral Pub charms Team Farwest with blinking Cinco de Mayo necklaces and serape-clad Coronas.
Cab Called: 8:02 pm
Cab Arrived: 8:08 pm (wait 6 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 8:25 pm (travel 17 min.)
Team Yellow's driver takes a long and winding road down the back side of Queen Anne to 15th Avenue West and then jumps onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct, getting Team Yellow to West Seattle in a blistering 17 minutes. This is Team Yellow's third trip on the viaduct in two hours. The view from the viaduct is amazing, and Team Yellow conclude that the elevated road will be missed when it is replaced by a dirt path. Team Yellow offer the driver a sombrero but the driver, an attractive, talkative Russian, isn't interested in looking ridiculous.
Admiral Pub in West Seattle to the Pilot House bar in Sea-Tac Airport (15.1 miles)
Cab Called: 9:17 pm
Cab Arrived 9:30 pm (wait 13 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 9:50 pm (travel 20 min.)
Team Yellow and Team Farwest have an insurmountable lead, so officials allow Team Orange to call a cab as soon as the other teams have left. An Orange Cab driver pulls up 13 minutes later, dressed to the nines in a pinstripe suit, and promptly asks Team Orange, "What's the best way to get [to the airport] from here?" Team Orange lose the final heat, arriving too late to enjoy a final Corona at the Pilot House, which is now closed.
Cab Called: 8:58 pm
Cab Arrived: 9:07 pm (wait 9 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 9:28 pm (travel 21 min.)
The Farwest dispatcher seems hesitant to send a cab to West Seattle until Team Farwest mention that they're headed to the airport. The driver calls several times to confirm the address. Unfortunately, Team Farwest are so drunk by now that they think the barely audible voice on the phone is a member of Team Orange making prank calls. Team Farwest's cabbie, apparently keen to earn the airport fare, eventually finds the team on his third pass down California Avenue Southwest. KUBE 93 is blaring again. Team Farwest don't remember much else, but still manage to arrive second at Sea-Tac.
Cab Called: 8:47 pm
Cab Arrived: 8:58 pm (wait 11 min.)
Arrive at Destination: 9:17 pm (travel 19 min.)
Team Yellow whisper the magic words "to the airport" to the dispatcher and a Yellow cab arrives 11 minutes later, forcing the team to leave two half-full Coronas on the bar. En route, Team Yellow's driver explains that the myth about cabs not going to West Seattle is false—he only drives in West Seattle.
Team Yellow arrive at Sea-Tac first, winning the final heat, and celebrate with another round of drinks before the Pilot House closes for the night.
THE DRUNKEN AWARDS CEREMONY
By the time Team Orange arrive at Sea-Tac Airport, the Pilot House Bar is closed, so the Cab Olympics officials move the proceedings down the concourse to the tiny Vintage Washington wine bar. After some back-of-the-napkin calculations, preliminary results show that Orange Cab earned bronze for third place, covering the 45.6-mile course in 146 minutes (68 minutes of wait time and 78 minutes of travel time). Farwest took the silver, with 111 minutes (47 minutes of wait time and 64 minutes of travel time), and with two assists from Yellow Cab. And Yellow Cab took the gold, completing the course in an efficient 105 minutes (37 minutes of wait time and 68 minutes travel time).
Furious Team Orange representatives object to the standings. Team Farwest's two fastest trips were made in Yellow cabs, Team Orange point out. While a series of fatal errors by Orange dispatchers and drivers pushed Team Orange's totals up, Team Orange at least managed to make every leg of the race in actual Orange cabs. Team Orange—noisily downing their most expensive Coronas of the evening—insist that Team Farwest should be duly penalized.
After conferring among themselves, Seattle Cab Olympics officials determine that Farwest should indeed be penalized. Because Farwest cabs were unavailable two of the four times Team Farwest needed them, and because Team Farwest would still be wandering around in Ballard if it weren't for Yellow Cab, Farwest forfeits silver and barely deserves bronze. Team Orange are elevated to silver and finally shut up about it.
After much deliberation, Seattle Cab Olympics officials have concluded that based on its May 5 performance, Yellow Cab is the most reliable of Seattle's three cab companies. Still, officials caution that individuals in high-traffic areas should refrain from calling any of the three companies' dispatchers, and should instead flag down the nearest cab—be it Yellow, Orange, or Farwest—on the street. Knowing your preferred route is also recommended. Excessive consumption of cheap tequila and Corona, as well as wearing cheap sombreros, is not.