Address

Part of doing any job is getting into a groove. I’m a slow learner, so it takes me about a year or so to be comfortable doing anything new. Slow, but thorough. Once it’s in my head, it’s there to stay, especially if I have made some mistakes along the way.

Before this driving gig, I barely knew the area around me. The main arteries and the freeways were clear, but the different neighbourhoods were a mystery. Of course that’s the way of things. I would have no reason to know the ins and outs of all the subdivisions around the place (Riverwood Glades etc).

But there’s a quiet pride I take in knowing things now. The really nice parts of town are not where you’d expect them to be, but I can point you there. If I won the lottery, I have a particular house in mind to buy, one that I would not have found before. And the scary parts of town are actually way more scary than I would have thought, given the wealth around the place. Extremes, they exist.

There is a famous test that all London Cabbies have to take, called The Knowledge. I think it would be fun. But it would take me a year to learn. Drat.

Army

Out there, everywhere, are people doing good. They’re often unseen, and almost always unfĂȘted. And that’s a shame, because philanthropy should be celebrated.

Last night I drove for a young married couple, twentyish, I guess, and four of their friends. The Boss took the booking from a third party, a new customer, who was paying for me and the limousine. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it’s unusual for someone to gift hundreds of dollars for something as ephemeral as a night of exclusive transport.

All we knew was that a surprise party had been organized for the wife at a downtown bar, with the limo ride and dinner with friends elsewhere as cover while everyone gathered.

The secret had slipped, however, and she knew about the whole deal. From what I could tell, it was a still a successful night, thanks to someone with the money to spend so unselfishly.

The reason for the gift? They are both joining the army. Yep, the two of them start boot camp next week. Somehow the philanthropist heard about them heading off to serve their country, and decided to make their last night of partying something special.

Brilliant. And thanks to all three.

Drunks

Bachelor parties are a mixed blessing for we limo drivers. On one hand, it’s a bunch of drunken men out for a good time.

On the other, it’s a bunch of drunken men out for a good time.

The arc of these nights always follows a basic plan.

At the start:

– bravado
– bright eyes and clear speech
– “Hey, Driver!”

Somewhere between the second bar and the strip club:

– doubt
– half-smoked cigarettes, half-drunk beers and half-arsed conversations
– “Wombat, dude, take us to where the laaaayyydeees are, mate!”

And around last call:

– childhood reversion
– stumbling, tears, tempers
– “You’re the best Wombat, thanks for looking after us.”

Whatever the aim of these evenings, only bar owners, strippers and limousine owners come out smiling. Participants get regret.

Doc

Horrible truism that it is, truth is always stranger than fiction. Relationships are chock-full of stuff no-one could possibly imagine, or pass off as reality. And so I see strangeness at every turn.

One of The Boss’s customers is a retired doctor. I should really capitalize ‘Doctor’, because he isn’t merely a Doctor of Medicine, he’s a DOCTOR OF MEDICINE.

You get the idea. He’s a God Doctor, blessed with superior intellect, greater understanding, and is overall a better person than you and I could ever hope to be.

Ego is his ruling star. Although priding himself on having a balanced (Godlike?) view of the world he gives himself away at every turn. Most obviously this comes about because even his wife refers to him as Doctor Smith. Huh? His given name is Greg, and yet when she refers to him (to a mere limousine driver, for example) she calls him Doctor Smith, as in:

Doctor Smith and I love walking downtown for coffee in the evening, and Doctor Smith often has a brandy with his.

All the while he’s sitting in the car behind me, barely four feet away, as we drive to Orlando Airport.

Any normal person with an ounce of humility would have put a stop to that years ago, and insisted on being called “Greg”. At least by his wife, if not the likes of me.

Funny thing though. He’s been fighting cancer for years now. I wonder if there’s a connection.

Jet

Once away from Trolls and their spawn, life improves. This last weekend was busy, what with it being Easter, spring, and sunny. Everyone in the world (or so it seemed) wanted some of the sweet weather we’ve been having.

Apart from the fact that there’s little/no money to be made driving, it can be fun. The influx of northerners for the weekend included some regulars who arrive via private jet. For me, that means hanging around the airport. Being swanky jet-setters, they naturally don’t arrive with the riff-raff at the regular terminal, rather they go to what are known as Fixed Base Operators. FBOs service the non-airline parts of aviation, which activity includes maintaining mini-terminals for folks arriving red-carpet-wise.

It’s all quite relaxed. I arrive early at the FBO with the limo, walk in, and tell the nice lady at the desk the tail number – or aircraft registration – of my customers’ plane. She gives me a piece of yellow paper to stick on the dash, and then remotely opens the security gate and voilĂ ! I’m on the apron.

Coz I kinda like planes, I deliberately go early to watch the activity, and it’s always fun. There are rich old guys in their sweet personal twins, dopey old guys clearly lost, taxiing around aimlessly, enthusiastic students and their too-cool instructors, and all kinds of fancy jets for the rich folks. If you like aviation, it’s neat.

When my particular rich folks arrive, you wait for the word from the ground guys, reverse up to the jet’s door, welcome the people, load their bags, and head back through the security gate to their beach house. Everyone’s happy. It’s Easter, it’s a weekend off, and they’re at the beach, and we’re all (including me) in a good mood.

Troll Family

Huh. I don’t believe in coincidences, but guess whose family is having a reunion?

Last night I collected the first wave from Tampa Airport. The party consisted of husband, wife, and three kids under age eight. Here’s the rundown.

Father didn’t stop longer than fifteen seconds from fondling and whispering to his Blackberry.

Mother (the Troll daughter) made idle threats to the kids and otherwise looked like she needed a very stiff drink.

Three children ran amok.

When I say they ran amok, they did so whilst strapped in to their seats, so they were clearly well practised at raising hell.

The first clue as to the unfolding horror was that I couldn’t tell the kids’ sex, because they all had hair to their shoulders. Poorly groomed kids means poorly disciplined kids, and so it turned out. In one hour and ten minutes, all three had two rounds of tears and blubbing, there were two episodes of punching, one of biting, and a possible soiled pants in a six-year old.

Oh, and they threw all of the water bottles, all of the ice, all of the napkins and all of the plastic cups on the floor.

Trolls beget trolls, I tell you.

Troll

The Troll lives on one of the offshore barrier islands they call “Keys” hereabouts. His condo is atop a tall building in a fancy “community” overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. I imagine it’s spectacular.

The Troll and his contrastingly charming wife spend most of the winter here. Business takes him back to New York regularly, however, and he’s a fan of early departures. That means extra-early (2:30 or 3:00 am) starts for we drivers.

That’s fine, and all part of the gig. Like I always say, this is not a job for those who need routine. And if you look, there are benefits to odd hours.

The Internet tells me that The Troll has a long career in finance. His last position was as chairman of a listed finance company, whose share price is now in the pennies. I imagine at one point he was a multi-millionaire, but now might be worth considerably less. There’s no way of telling, although public records tell us that he is still a decent-sized shareholder in that and several other companies.

All this communicates nothing about the man. We call him The Troll because he’s just plain unfriendly. And short. And squat. I’ve tried my “think your way to a happy customer” technique on him, which works to a point. He even said thank you last time I drove him, but in general he fails to acknowledge one’s presence. And of course, he doesn’t ever tip.

Life has a funny way of working. I note with interest that he suffers from some kind of skin or auto-immune ailment. Every time I drive him, he sits in the back scratching his surface like a moulting dog. It’s horrible, really, having an older man in a suit pick at his arms and face until there’s a cloud of epithelials in the Town Car. Gross.

Recently, his flight from Newark arrived forty-five minutes early. The driver just missed him at the airport, and so he caught a cab. Two points about this: one is that the cab fare would have been around eighty-five dollars more expensive than his trip with us. The second is that the reason he missed the driver was that he’s too cheap to own a cellphone.

Yep. Life has a funny way of working.

Detective

Prior to every trip I attempt to find out a little more about the customer. I ask The Boss if they’re young or old, whether it’s a birthday or an anniversary, if they’re drinkers or abstemious. Being prepared makes a big difference, because if I can arrive at the door and announce:

“Hello Mrs Krebopple, congratulations on the anniversary of your splenectomy,”

it makes a good first impression, which will translate into a more relaxed night at a minimum, or a big tip at best.

Last night was a complete mystery, a relatively late-booked four-hour limousine run for eight, to a local Mexican joint, and possibly some nightlife after.

Rolling up to the house, I look for clues. It’s in a decent neighbourhood, but the garden looks unkempt. (Like them all here thesedays, what with the drought and all.) Hmmm, there’s a BMW X5 in the garage, that’s decent money. Then again it might be on the never-never from the boom times. On balance it’s a good sign.

So I knock on the door, and a woman cracks it open.

“She doesn’t know you’re here” she stage whispers pointing to the interior of the house, “We’ll be out in five or ten”.

“Okay”, I whisper back “You take your time, I’m here when you’re ready.”

Still none the wiser, I check the ice, the radio, and the airconditioning in the limo again, and stand in the shade waiting. And waiting. And waiting. That’s really what this job is: a waiting and cleaning gig.

Eventually three of them emerge: the mom, a hot-looking but over-made-up yummy mummy, her seventeen-year-old daughter, and the eight year-old son. It’s the girl’s birthday, and the mother is about to take her and a bunch of her friends out.

I can’t help wondering where the father is, and, why do mothers allow their seventeen year-old daughters to dress like strippers?

Despite my misgivings about a limo-load of teenagers, they were just fine. In fact, they were cleaner, tidier, more polite and in better cheer than a lot of older folk, so kudos to them. I’d even go so far as to say they were sweet, which is a lot coming from me.

So despite the bum rap, my experience with teens has all been good.

Now watch me get through prom season, Tazer at the ready.