NEWPORT — Lincoln County residents may know Kelli Thompson as the sparkling, blue-dressed Tooth Fairy who makes regular appearances at fairs and public events and spreads toothbrushes and wishes wherever she goes.
But one weekend of the year, Thompson takes on a different persona: the scallywag driver of the Pirate Taxi. As the Pirate Taxi driver, Thompson raised more than $10,000 for cancer research.
Thompson ran, worked with and organized events for non-profits for many years, and this experience gave her a penchant for what she calls “FunRaising.” This, in combination with the cancer diagnosis of Suzan Vidal, her close friend and the mother of her daughter-in-law, launched her into the life of Pirate Taxiing.
When Vidal was diagnosed in 2009, Thompson and her friends organized a Relay for Life team named “Sisters of Suzan” — though their acronym, SOS, brought plenty of other fun names, as well as a pirate theme.
“I had pirate costumes for everybody and we had treasure chests, and we made a lot of money that year to donate to the American Cancer Society,” said Thompson.
The following February, Thompson was inspired to FunRaise again by providing a taxi service to patrons of the Seafood and Wine Festival who are not fit to drive themselves. As a medical transport driver by day, she already had the required permits, license and insurance to shuttle people in Newport — but she added a fun twist by continuing with the pirate theme that originated with SOS.
“When I do Pirate Taxi, it’s a total pirate immersion experience,” said Thompson. “I have music and props and photo ops, and everybody has a fun time. I scream at everybody and they come laugh and they absolutely have a blast.”
Thompson lights up in the fun atmosphere, but when it comes time for payment, she’s no longer in the spotlight: cancer takes the front seat.
“I tell everyone I have a treasure chest,” she explained, “and what goes in the chest goes to cancer, and what goes in my hand is my tips … I’m very clear with everyone that it’s a fundraiser and that I donate the money, and I accept tips for myself to cover my expenses.”
The chest donations go to cancer organizations, such as CAN Cancer and Relay for Life. This year, however, Thompson has a plan to make a more local difference with a second can which will be called “the Angel’s Inflation.”
“I’m going to find a local person [who is battling cancer] and just give them whatever goes into that can,” said Thompson.
The 2019 Seafood and Wine Festival will be Thompson’s 10th time providing this service, and it hasn’t gotten old for her. While she enjoys giving people an entertaining ride home, is deeply passionate about fundraising and loves the people she meets through the service — she has repeat customers who have had standing reservations for eight years — there is one aspect to the nights that is most important to her.
“I’ve been sober for 27 years,” said Thompson, “and getting drunks off the road: that’s the most important thing to me, absolutely.”
Because Thompson is running this service for fun and on her own, she may not be able to give rides at any given moment, but rides can be reserved up to a day in advance or called for the night of at 541-270-4868. If the call goes directly to voicemail, the phone is off and Thompson is off-duty for the night.