Seasonal

The Snowbird Season, or ‘Season’ as it’s called, is over. Memorial Day has passed, so it’s back to locals and desperados here on the Gulf Coast. Some would unkindly suggest there’s no difference.

In the limo game, business has slowed to a trickle. A driver friend with another company who normally does four, five or even six airport transfers a day is down to one or two. He’s giving up Starbucks for the summer.

The downtime is good for a few things, one of which is to recapture a social life. The winter is busy pretty much every night, so plans to meet friends always carry a caveat that work comes first. But with the likelihood of being called out much diminished, nights are now for having a little fun.

Taking advantage of this, I went to two bars to which I regularly take customers, but have not been to myself. One is a bar/restaurant that has pretensions to class, and the other is a cavernous sports bar, with lots of televisions and beer. As Dickens wrote, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. *

Bartenders make a bar. If the staff are attentive and smile, people will pay to drink water, a fact that clearly not all barkeeps understand. The posh place was anything but. The fat unkempt dude working there could not have been less interested. Ordering a glass of claret, he didn’t immediately just go pour the drink – like, you know, you’d expect – he flipped through some tv channels, hitched his pants, examined his fingernails, and then uncorked the bottle.

Whatever.

This joint used to have a reputation for quality, but something is wrong. Behind the bar, the ‘server’s’ sloth was reflected; messy fridges, dirty equipment and disorganization all over the place. No-one cared about anything here, and it showed. I’ll never recommend it.

By contrast, the sports bar was a wonder. The first thing to notice was the cleanliness. Everything was shiny gleaming clean, and, being a slow weeknight, the barmaid was buffing the liquor bottles from foot to spout. Even the little straw and napkin dispensers looked worthy of a Marine Staff Sergeant. The place looked cared for, which transfers in my mind to caring for the customer. Plus the guy behind the bar was civil.

I dunno, this seems so dead simple to me, I must be missing something.

*Here’s the full quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

Night Creatures

Once all the bachelorettes were in the limousine, and Zolt was out of their lives, the night began. Being from out of town, the ladies – all mid- to late- twenties – had no idea of where to go after dinner.

Tangent: Folks new to renting limos are often shy about asking for what they need. For instance, one of the ladies was pregnant, and wasn’t sure she wanted to stay out all night. Instead of saying to me:
Wombat, at some point you’ll be bringing Hermione home early, that’s okay isn’t it?
to which I say,
Certainly, I am completely at your disposal,
they talk about her following us around town in her own car so she can leave whenever she wants. At $75 per hour, you get whatever I can do for you.
It’s nice that people are that way, though, not wanting to impose, even when they’re anteing up a small fortune.
Back to the story: The question after dinner then became Where to take a bunch of animated ladies in the mood for fun? Some places are too rough, some have an inappropriately aged crowd, some are miles away, some have the wrong music. Speaking of music, when I asked what kind of music they liked, one woman said “Dance Music.” Sorry, honey, but that doesn’t narrow it down.
Thankfully, the sister of the bride took charge. I love it when there’s one person in the group with whom I can talk, reason, make suggestions, and generally create a plan, especially when the rest have had a few adult beverages. A person able to communicate their wants prevents the activation of my mind-reading skillz, which are poor, given I’m not a Vulcan.
Thanks then to Marne for being a great, relaxed and cheery customer, and for being thusly co-operative, all the ladies got what they wanted: the pregnant woman got chauffered home early, the neurotic cousin was collected from her hotel in the middle of the evening, and everyone got to dance to the right music.
(Funk, classic rock and 80s covers btw).

Zolt

Zolt was still in the house when I arrived. The women were all a-giggle, saying things like “I didn’t know this kind of thing happened in Florida”. Makes one wonder how people view the Sunshine State.

Zolt was the prime performer at Saturday’s bachelorette party – the male stripper. It might have been that the ladies were from a cold northern state and weren’t used to our strong sun, but they were decidedly red-faced as they alighted the limo. Apparently the bride had sucked it up, done the womanly thing, and taken all of Zolt’s direction for participation in his erotic gyrations.

What this means in its totality I am uncertain, but at a minimum our (literally) blushing bride used her teeth to take down his fly.

Oh well, it’s not that salacious, but it put all the little-black-dressed ladies into a state of titillation that lasted for hours. Zolt had volt.

Although not in the least shy about taking his kit off, Zolt was apparently sensitive about one thing. For your information, men who slowly disrobe in front of paying women are NOT male strippers – they are Male Entertainers.

Let’s all remember that.

Bureaucracy

I imagine some number of entrepreneurs take on the limousine business each year, with the idea of making some good jink. I mean, let’s face it, if you can rent out a stretch at anything from fifty-five to one-hundred and fifty-five dollars an hour, if you get get forty hours a week, well, that’s….quite a lot of money.

And in fact, if that was all you were doing, it would be a pretty decent business. Even when gasoline goes back to previous highs, as a proportion of the costs, it won’t be that big.

Three things kill budding transport moguls: interest on borrowed money, insurance, and bureaucracy. The first two are normal anticipated business costs, but the last one is more insidious.

It seems that every part of government wants some kind of permit, registration fee or licence. In our neck of the woods, operating into Tampa Airport is a must. That means money to Hillsborough County, (a sticker) and also to the airport itself (another sticker). Then there is the Port of Tampa, which requires a fee each year (sticker). If you need access to secondary places, like Sarasota Airport, that’s money to Sarasota County, (sticker) and if you want to use the limousine park at that airport, more money again. (Stops you getting roughed up by the Town and Country boys.) And so on.

Note that these imposts are all cost, and no revenue – the fees come straight from the bottom line, and they amount to hundreds of dollars and tens of hours lost each year. That sucks.

Sometimes being a mere driver is quite okay.

Rain

After three years of drought, it’s raining again. There’s an upper-level low up there *points skyward, to the south* and a stalled surface front *gestures behind me, to the north* that combined a few days ago to bake a nice big unstable pot o’ mischief, atmosphere-wise. Do I have a future as a weatherman, or what?

What’s that? Stick with the driving? Oh.

Anyway, the result is lots of wet stuff and puddles. Big puddles. A secondary problem is that it’s now the season of the delayed flight. Last night, for instance, I was scheduled to collect a customer from Tampa Airport at 1730, take him home, then return for a 2050 pickup. Normally, that would be no problem, but a thumping great thunderstorm decided to set up shop right on top of the airport at 1725.

Now, modern airliners can overcome most weather phenomena, but the winds and turbulence generated by a maturing thunderstorm can overwhelm them. It’s kinda nice to know that nature has one ace up her sleeve. But that ace meant my 1730 man didn’t arrive until 1845. Bingo, there goes the second run.

Fortunately, we’ve been here before, so when the future is that clear, I ring the boss and encourage him to find someone else for the later trip. That worked, and the other guy was happy for the money.

But now the rains and storms (and dare I say it, hurricanes) are back for a while, schedules become no more than a rough outline. Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Hugo

In town this week is a bunch of high-powered biz-types. A large contingent of Germans is among them, adding a little bit of Euro-pizzaz to the joint, even though they stayed at the beach. It’s odd seeing all those well-dressed people about the place. Hugo Boss suits aren’t exactly thick on the ground here in the Tropical Midwest, where Sans-a-Belt pants and trucker hats are the dress of choice.

There are two features of the Germanic business type apart from the cut of their threads. First, they are tall, towering a few hands above most of us, and secondly, they walk around in a cloud of cologne. It’s uncanny – all the men smell like, well, Eurotrash. No Old Spice here.

Oh, and one more thing. Some of them have their own three-engined planes. Nice work if you can get it.

More Prom

A. Sorry about the ongoing prom stories, but it’s at an end now. I think last night’s was the last, and probably the best.

Arriving at the pick-up address, the mother of the teenage hostess came out to meet me. (That’s unusual of itself.) She was perfectly charming. We chatted, then I asked her the question:

Have you had the alcohol talk with the children?
I groaned inside when she gave me the these are good kids blarney. When I explained the consequences if I found any one of the sweeties drinking, she came out with the magic words:

Oh, if you have any problems, call me, and I’ll come and string them all up.

I laughed and told her that I now knew there would be no trouble, and that they were guaranteed to be good kids.

And so it eventuated. Very nice tip, too, thank you Debbie.

B. Is it odd that I find myself taking photographs of people taking photographs?

Sweetness and Light

We’re approaching the end of prom season, thank goodness. Last Friday night I was kept busy with the worst behaved bunch yet, which I put down to them having the least responsible parents yet.

When I arrive to collect the spawn of these parents’ loins, I make a point of asking them if they’re aware of our liquor policy. The law is that nobody under twenty-one can imbibe, and if a responsible adult is handy, the blame will likely fall on them. In the case of promsters in a limousine, the responsible adult is me.
Consequently, if one of our drivers finds the kids drinking or in any way intoxicated, we reserve the right to end the run there and then, with the parents still paying for the minimum six hours.
Determining how seriously the adults take this is easy. If they say:

Oh, look, if you see them drinking or doing anything out of line, you call us, and we’ll be right there to kill them. We’ll be backing you up 100%.

…you know eveything will be cool. These parents I like.

But if they say:

Well, they’re good kids. I don’t think they will do anything like that.

…I know there will be problems. And so it turned out.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The quote of the night came from the girl most keen on being a hellion. This she screamed – and I mean really screeched – into her cellphone:

He’s my date, he’ll do what I want him to do!!!

Such a shy retiring flower that young lady.

Port

I was in Tampa this morning, at the port, waiting for my customers who were returning from a cruise.

The disembarkation system is well organized, if only for those onboard. One imagines that in the past they tried allowing folks to leave whenever they chose. Inevitably, everyone would have wanted to leave immediately after the ship docked, creating an unholy mess – imagine three thousand over-fed cruisers passing through a ten-foot gangway all at once. Lawsuit, here we come.

Each cabin has a specific time at which the occupants bid adieu to the Lido Deck, kiss the buffet table good-bye, and head back to terra firma. Unfortunately, we ground transport peons have no way of knowing what that time is for our customers until it’s too late, so there is no choice but to be there for the first wave.

Which is fine when they are in amongst the early leavers, but sucky if they’re the last. Guess which today’s were.

But that’s fine. It was a nice morning, getting hot and sticky (and – yay! – rainy) in Florida now, giving me plenty of time to find interesting photographic subjects.

The kvetch factor was pretty high there today, with wives carping at husbands, and parents snarking at their uncommunicative teens. I’m not sure why this day was worse than others, but there were some lighthouses of calm. Like the group above. They had clearly enjoyed their cruise, and let the afterglow of nice linger a while.

Equipped

Over at my What do I tip the driver? lens, Geezer asked me what a good chauffeur should carry.

I rummaged through my work bag, and this is what I found:

~ two bottle openers (crown seal openers, for beer.)

~ three (!) corkscrews, only one of which I recognize as being mine.

~ three white cotton dishcloths for polishing glasses. (I washed them yesterday)

~ paper towel for spills.

~ Band Aids, of which I use an inordinate number, mostly for ladies’ heels.

~ gum and breath mints, because a driver with coffee breath is horrid.

~ two Swiss Army knives, but a Leatherman would be really handy.

~ two spray bottles, one of window cleaner and one all purpose cleaner (I use the green products I sell.)

~ one needle and thread (white cotton). (Never used, but someone said it was a good idea to carry some, especially for weddings.)

~ spare pens and paper, mostly because I am the one losing the pens. Smile.

~ three small bottles of hand sanitizer.

~ one spray bottle of air freshener (Fresh Rain Concentrated Mist, which says it is a wonderful way to enhance your mood…or create the perfect atmosphere. No wonder I’m hooked on this stuff like a drug.)

~ OTC pain pills.

That’s a pretty comprehensive list, now I look at it. The only things to add would be as many different power cords as I could find for phones and computers. (Suggested, quite forcefully, by a customer who had chewed up the batteries on his three phones and two computers.)

Oh, and maps. I have lots of maps, coz GPS sometimes just doesn’t cut it.