Jon Barnes’ ‘Ultimate Taxi’ is probably the closest that the muggle world will ever get to the Knight Bus in Harry Potter’s magical universe. Barnes has managed to completely transform a plain old checkered taxi cab into an experience of a lifetime – it’s a delightful explosion of light and sound rolled into one single ride.
Jon started working on the remarkable taxi in 1983, and it’s seen several transformations since then. In it’s present form it incorporates lasers, synthesizers and an internet-connected computer. “The taxi ride is a 45-minute musical, magical adventure around Aspen, Colorado,” Barnes explains on his website, which is every bit as loud as the taxi itself.
The website also states that a group ride costs $200, and advance reservations are recommended. “The Ultimate Taxi ride is a rock concert, ‘amusement park’ ride, magic show, movie ride, and 3D laser light show. The Ultimate Taxi ride also includes toys, photos, rainbow glasses and a cool page in this world famous site, containing photos from your adventure.”
Over the years, the Ultimate Taxi has enjoyed a varied list of clientele, including celebrities like George Lucas, Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Costner and Michael Douglas. Thousands of people have enjoyed the Ultimate Taxi service th isn’t available anywhere else in the world.
Barnes, who grew up in Greenwich Village in the ‘60s, said that he was mostly a misfit at school and in his neighborhood. His interests were clearly elsewhere – he liked visiting the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History to watch their laser light shows, set to the music of Pink Floyd or the Beatles. “When you grow up with Laserium, the Beatles and ‘Star Trek’, you want to build a rock ‘n’ roll rocket ship,” he said.
And that’s pretty much what he ended up doing, one step at a time. First, he bought a 1978 Checker Marathon cab with 75,000 miles on it. He enjoyed the taxi business for a while, but he started to get restless while sitting around waiting for the next fare. So he added a keyboard to the taxi that he would play in his free time and shove under the seat when he had to drive.
Eventually, he stopped hiding the keyboard and played it for his customers. And over time, he added more and more equipment until it evolved into the Ultimate Taxi. He ended up learning magic tricks to entertain his customers and even added a rollercoaster simulation on a video screen.
“It would be more fun to be an amusement ride around the mall, competing with the horse carriages, than giving people a ride up to Snowmass Village,” he said. “I decided to go and sell fun.”
Soon, word of this highly unusual taxi spread, and Barnes began to gain media attention. His story was featured on a variety of TV stations such as the Travel Channel, MTV, the Food Network, and even TV shows in Germany and Australia. It wasn’t long before Barnes became a mini celebrity in Aspen.
“For me, the car is an extension of my mind,” he explained. “The car allows me to be an engineer and an inventor and a dreamer. I’m free to explore the world of lights and sound. And happiness. Hopefully, I’m creating memories that people cherish. I’m just trying to make town a little more fun and colorful than it would be if I wasn’t here.”
Unfortunately, the old taxi is reaching the end of its lifespan. “30 years has taken a toll on the Ultimate Taxi, and it’s quickly becoming unsafe to drive,” said Barnes. And safety is his number one priority. He actually drives the taxi at very low speeds, “because the first person I run into is going to be the last show the sheriff ever lets me do.”
But there’s good news – he’s planning to build a ‘New Ultimate Taxi’ for the 21st century, for which he’s trying to raise funds through Kickstarter. “Bigger, more high-tech, more amazing, to be the live-video streaming performing arts vehicle of the century! In the process, my goal is truly to make you, and all the riders, both on the streets and the Web, happy.” His goal is to raise $50,000 and he has about 40 days to go.
Photos: Aspen’s Ultimate Taxi/Facebook