NATION

A cabbie's-eye view of Vegas, on Twitter

Don't stiff this Vegas cabbie; you could end up on Twitter

The night cabbie knows this: No reader really cares about him.

The stars all sit in the back seat, with their wild stories, brazen stupidity and every so often, sage lessons.

Andrew Gnatovich tweets about the luck of the ride, good or bad.

Like the night celebrity David Hasselhoff cut into the cab line outside Caesars Palace, slid into Gnatovich's taxi with "a leggy blond in tow," crowing, "It's good to be me," only to go light on the tip. Moments later, the cabbie helped a foreign tourist find a lost wallet.

His tweet on @LVCabChronicles: "So I got $2 from David Hasselhoff and $103 from a random Japanese guy. All in a day's work for this #Vegas cabbie. Things are looking up."

Gnatovich's writes in 140-character bursts about the real-life characters who cross his path. He's an Internet Dickens of sorts, unraveling yarns in installments, a purveyor of old-fashioned serials, writing in the newest of mediums.

His 6,500 Twitter followers devour his street narratives, rants about Uber and hassles with arrogant casino doormen. He riffs on old couples in love and starry-eyed teens, unleashing a sardonic wit to relate rides with winners flush with cash and losers whose credit cards are rejected at payment time.

"Lady: Oh we're going the back way! Me: Yep, this is how they bring the President in. Lady: The President stays at the Stratosphere? Me: No."

"A fellow cabbie told me that his last passenger asked him to turn off the A/C because they thought the cab cost more with it on."

"Wow. This cabbie thing. I gave a free ride to a crying girl because she was having a rough time and then my very next fare gave me a $100 tip."

Gnatovich knows why his tweets attract an audience: Though people love to malign taxi drivers, they're drawn to the dicey romance of their random hunt for strangers.

"Anything in Vegas in marketable," he said. "You put the two together and people pay attention."

He's crawled the Strip since 2004, now for Desert Cab. The 36-year-old is the Iowa-bred son of a dentist who studied music at UNLV. He enjoys good conversation, like when he chatted up a train engineer about safety right after the Philadelphia Amtrak derailment.

At first, he drove the day shift, whisking businessmen to and from the airport. Better than working nights and baby-sitting drunks, he figured, and worrying that they would throw up in his cab.

Then he learned about the strip club racket: He could make big bucks by delivering out-of-town tourists to clubs he made a point of recommending. Club managers paid huge tips to any cabbie with a taxi-load of guys. That did it.

He fell into a routine, knowing what shows let out when. He sent emails to friends about his travels, with verve and a mean turn of phrase.

Later, he began writing a blog, about night people and how he picked up "flags" off the street, rather than sticking to safer hotel cab lines. He wrote about driving 150 miles a night, competing with 2,500 other cabs, how his take-home pay has dipped.

But posts took time. In 2009, he found that writing 140 characters beat countless words, hands down.

He could even dash off tweets at stoplights, or write later. His audience grew. One fare listened to Gnatovich describe picking up magician Criss Angel before blurting out, "I know you! You're the guy who writes on the Internet!"

Readers also responded — with curiosity, humor and put-downs.

For a while, his tweets used a standard joke: Whenever a fare would ask about ongoing construction, Gnatovich would say it was a new strip club. Then he changed the punchline.

A reader asked about the strip-club line: "He called me out on my own meme."

When Gnatovich tweeted about claiming an iPhone that a fare left behind a month before, readers demanded to know why he didn't return it. "The immediate assumption," the night cabbie sighs, "is that I screwed somebody out of their phone."

He continues tweeting: "Reader poll: Your cabbie is wearing driving gloves: Do you think, A. 'Hell yeah my guy means business' B. 'This isn't the Indy 500, douche'?" (The vote split.)

And: "So 10 dudes wearing high heels just walked by me and climbed into this limo. Sure, why not?"

And: "The only thing worse than taking a group photo in front of a limo is taking a group photo in front of a limo you didn't pay for."

One Friday night, he picks up a married couple.

"Hi," he says, sounding like some friendly guy at a college party.

En route to the Stratosphere, he plays talk show host: curious and conversational. He points to a souvenir shop sign: "If it's in stock, we have it!"

They pass a wedding chapel: "You could always renew your vows. It's not too late." They laugh.

Later, he picks up two Winnipeg women to shop and gamble. One needs to make it to Macy's pronto. Gnatovich sizes them up in the rear-view mirror, then relates his "propensity for picking up kooky Canadians." They, too, laugh.

Talk turns to his tweets and fan base.

"You must be saying something right," one fare says. "People wouldn't follow you unless you're interesting."

"I try to have a sense of humor."

"You do!"

He looks at her: "You don't even know me."

"I can just tell," she says.

Minutes later, outside the Wynn, she hands him a $20 bill, telling him to keep the change on a $17.52 fare.

The night cabbie smiles: Some rides you forget; others you tweet.

Twitter: @jglionna

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
82°