change its color? “No way,” his son says.
Lee Barnes grew up in the Wyngate neighborhood of Bethesda off Old
Georgetown Road, not far from where
he lives now, and graduated in 1971 from
Walter Johnson High School. As a kid, he
rode often with his father, who, in addition to owning the company, drove cabs.
He remembers his dad giving him a dime
each time he opened the door for the “
little old ladies” to whom he gave rides.
During the summers, Lee Barnes
worked in the cab company’s dispatch
room and garage, in an old house at 8215
Wisconsin Avenue that had rental rooms
for drivers. As a teenager, he cleaned cabs
and answered phones, experiences that
taught him the importance of customer
service. “You have to learn how to read
your customers, their wants and expectations,” he says.
Barnes was studying accounting at
the University of Maryland and driving
a cab to make money when his father
suffered a heart attack in October 1974.
Barnes dropped out of school the next
day to help run the business, and the two
worked together until Harrison Barnes
died in 1983 at the age of 63.
“Washington is a town of movers
and shakers, and I’ve had my share as
a driver,” Barnes says. “When I drove,
[presidential adviser] Clark Clifford
was one of our regulars, and he always
asked for me. He was a really good tip-
per. I drove [television news commenta-
tor] Eric Sevareid, [AFL-CIO President]
George Meany, [columnist] George Will.
I drove [former Vice President] Hubert
Barnes is proud that his father hired
the first female and African-American
drivers in the 1950s, and that he refused
to cater to the Southern sensibilities of
some of his white customers. “In 1965,
1966, you’d get [white women] who’d ask
not to have an African-American driver.
My dad would say, ‘Be polite, say no, we
can’t do that.’ ”
In 1970, Barwood moved its head-
quarters to Metropolitan Avenue in
Kensington, near the train tracks. Twelve
years later it moved to 4925 Nicholson
Court in Kensington and then in 1995,
moved again, this time next door, where
it’s been ever since. The 3-acre site, on a
cul-de-sac in White Flint Industrial Park,
encompasses a sea of light-blue Barwood
cabs, a repair shop and a two-story brick
Office walls and hallways are adorned
with family and Barwood photos.
Upstairs, a former locker room is now a
prayer room to accommodate the com-
pany’s large contingent of Muslim driv-
ers. The call center on the ground floor
is a warren of 16 cubicles. Four to 20 dis-
patchers are on duty at any time, depend-
ing on the hour and day.
Over the years, the driver demographic has changed from all white to a
rainbow of colors and ethnicities. Barnes
says the company often sees an influx
of drivers from countries that are experiencing upheavals. In the late 1960s,
Iranians began driving; in the 1970s,
Nigerians; in the 1980s, Afghans; and
Uber driver Richard
Sassoon says he
doesn’t drive for
money; he does it to
people and socialize.