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Passenger's Fancy : Pasadena Woman With 'Cabin Fever' Takes a Taxi Ride to Canada and Back

July 23, 1996|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fare warning to taxi drivers: If you're called to pick up a passenger on El Molino Avenue in Pasadena, be prepared to carry a suitcase. Your own.

Cabbie Steve Baird found that out when Pat Fry summoned him for a ride to the beach--and ended up traveling instead to Victoria, Canada.

The pair was back home Monday from a nine-day, 3,128-mile odyssey in Baird's dusty Yellow Cab that drew double-takes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The round trip fare came to $4,100. Baird earned a 15% tip, plus meals and lodging.

"I kind of had cabin fever," explained Fry, a 68-year-old retired hotel worker. "I needed to get out of my apartment."

Fry said her spirits were down because of the death of a friend. So she called Baird on July 13 for a lift.

"I love riding along the ocean--I guess I could have gone to Santa Monica. But I said 'Let's go to Santa Barbara.' When we got there I didn't want to stop. I said, 'Let's keep going north.' "

By then Fry had climbed out from behind the Yellow Cab's bulletproof backseat divider and was sitting up front, watching the taxi meter spin wildly. Baird, 40, of Burbank, told her not to worry, that he'd give her a discount.

Good, replied Fry. "I've never been north of San Francisco."

Baird didn't bat an eye. "My bosses don't care how far I go as long as they get their money. I'm always ready to go--I just follow orders."

It helps, of course, that Baird was fairly certain that Fry was good for the fare. In February he had given her a ride home from a luncheon at the Warner Center Marriott, and he remembered her.

And the trip was not Baird's first long-distance fare. Two years ago he gave "a couple of drunks" a ride from Los Angeles International Airport to Lakeview, Ore., the 10-year-veteran driver said. While those two riders paid upfront, Fry wrote him a check when they returned home.

Outside of Santa Barbara the pair pulled over to buy toothbrushes. Later, they stopped to buy clean clothes. With Fry footing the bill, they ate at fast-food restaurants and coffee shops and picked budget motels--"with separate accommodations," Fry quickly points out.

"I had my credit card and checkbook and about $30 in my purse," she said.

Baird had an ATM card and more credit cards. "That's all we needed," he said. That, plus the cellular phone he keeps in his cab glove box.

Baird used it to call his bosses at the taxi office to explain he wouldn't be back any time soon with their 2-year-old Chevrolet Caprice, which has 177,780 miles on it.

Fry called her landlady to tell her not to worry. And she telephoned her dentist to cancel an appointment.

The cab, with "City of Los Angeles Taxi" decals on its yellow doors, was attracting plenty of attention by the time it cruised through Northern California's redwood forest and stopped in Mendocino. Fry says she made a point of stopping there to see the fictional "Cabot Cove" backdrop for her favorite TV show, "Murder, She Wrote."

"Kids would hang out of vans when they drove past and yell, 'Hey, baby! Go for it!' " she said. "People stopped us to ask if we were lost, or if the cab was a movie prop."

Police in Washington state stopped the taxi to see if it was hot. "Three of them pulled us over near Olympic National Park. They thought the car was stolen," Fry said.

The taxi rolled onto a ferry at Port Angeles, Wash., for the trip to Victoria. There was a problem when it passed over the Canadian border, however.

"I didn't have any ID with me. I don't even have a driver's license," Fry said. "Steve got me in with his ID."

Canadians surprised by the sight of a Los Angeles cab on their streets treated Fry and Baird to lunches and dinners in local pubs and hotel restaurants. Some even invited the pair to their homes. The tale of the taxi carrying "the little old lady from Pasadena" made the front page of the local newspaper.

There was more sightseeing on the way home as Baird plotted an inland route that included a visit to Sacramento. The pair returned home at midnight Sunday.

But not before making a detour to Simi Valley, where Baird plays ice hockey in an amateur league. With his passenger looking on from the stands, Baird helped his team, the Sharks, skate to victory Sunday night over the Penguins.

On Monday, Fry spent the day relaxing. Baird, meantime, was having the turn signals and gas gauge repaired on his road-weary taxi. Both had conked out during the trip--"We ran out of gas the last day," he explained apologetically.

Fry said the taxi trip was just the thing to snap her out of her blue mood. "I never laughed so much in my life as I did the last nine days," she said. "I'll never be depressed again."

She said she is already thinking about her next trip. "Banff. I've always wanted to see that place."

Replied Baird: "I'm ready to go. I've got a full tank of gas."

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