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October 30, 2014

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NFR: Vegas cash cow:

A Las Vegas cabbie has cowboy roots

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Leila Navidi

Cab driver George Allen sits in a cab at the Yellow-Checker-Star headquarters in Las Vegas on Tuesday, November 20, 2012.

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Cab driver George Allen sits in a cab at the Yellow-Checker-Star headquarters in Las Vegas on Tuesday, November 20, 2012.

Most people in the tourism industry love it when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo comes to town because they make extra money.

George Allen likes it for a different reason. The road supervisor for Yellow-Checker-Star Cab sees it as an opportunity to revisit his roots and meet up with salt-of-the-earth people.

“It’s an interesting breed of people, totally separate and apart from the people who typically come to Vegas,” Allen said. “For the most part, even if they’ve had a bad day at the tables, they’ve always got a positive attitude. It’s part of being a cowboy.”

Allen was born in North Dakota, “where the real cowboys come from,” he said.

While he has always been comfortable around horses — his family owned a horse when they settled in North Las Vegas — he is equally comfortable around cars. He worked locally as an automotive service technician and began driving taxis after the economy soured and he lost his mechanic job.

Now, 3 1/2 years after joining YCS, he can’t think of anything he’d rather do. Managers liked his country attitude so much they quickly promoted him to road supervisor. He now is a full-time driver who handles paperwork and conducts investigations when a cab is involved in a crash.

When offered the job, Allen bristled at having to wear the road supervisors' uniform of logo polo shirts. But Allen’s bosses recognized that western wear is part of his identity, so they allowed him to bring in his pearl snap western shirts to be embroidered with a YCS logo. He completes the look with a vintage cowboy hat, boots and Wranglers.

When NFR comes to town, Allen gets to mingle with people who enjoy what he enjoys. Most of his NFR customers are rodeo fans, not participants.

“Rodeo cowboys ride in their own trucks, have crews and usually stay with their animals,” Allen said. “We deal with the people who have flown in from Calgary, Canada, to watch the rodeo or hang around with the rodeo crowds at the casinos. A lot of them just watch it in the sports books and at hotels that have the events televised. They’re just here for the rodeo atmosphere. It brings its own special feel about it.”

Allen establishes rapport with customers by getting them to talk about where they’re from.

“Typically, we’re the first ambassador for the city that these people get to see,” Allen said. “How we carry ourselves and react toward them affects their whole stay.”

He acknowledged that one bad taxi experience could affect tourists' attitudes for a long time.

“It can leave a bad taste in their mouths for years,” he said. “In Las Vegas, we give about 25 million rides a year, so you’re bound to have a couple of bad rides.”

Allen said tip revenue has gone down steadily with the economy's struggles. But he noted that a positive cowboy attitude can play a significant role in the amount of the tips he receives.

“I’ve gotten everything from 30 cents to $60,” he said. “A $60 tip on a 15-minute ride is a pretty good tip.”

The big tip came a few months ago from a cowboy — or, at least, someone who fancied himself a cowboy.

“He was a Texas cowboy," Allen said. "He traded a jab or two with me, and I would trade a jab or two with him. His wife was in the back, kind of snickering under her breath and every now and then letting out a big laugh.

“We got to the airport, and it was about a $15 ride. He gave me $40 and said, ‘Keep the change.’ I said, ‘Cool, thank you very much,’ and he reached for another $20 bill. And he said, ‘This is because I enjoyed the ride so much.’ Right after that, his wife came around the cab and she handed me another $20 bill. And I said, ‘It’s OK, he’s already taken care of me.’ And she said, ‘This is for making him shut up.’”

Today, Allen has regular clients who call his cellphone to request him whenever they come to town.

No doubt, he’ll get a few of those calls when the rodeo is in town.

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