Fold

Clean.

Last evening I spent three hours in the back of one of our cars. It wasn’t glamorous, there was no booze involved, but it was a productive time nevertheless.

A large hotel chain had a cocktail party launching their planned hotel and condo complex out on one of the keys. I was there in an eleven-seat limousine as a static prop for a magnetic sign advertising the place. Apparently large white cars used as billboards get passersby to part with three quarters of a million dollars.

This was the easiest gig in the world: three hours, no driving, no CUSTOMERS and nothing to do. So I cranked up the air, rolled up my sleeves and went about cleaning the interior of that thing with a vengeance.

No-one could see in, thanks to tinted windows and strong sunlight, although it must have looked odd with the thing bouncing on its springs while the engine ran the air conditioner. Oh well.

The final touch that makes The Boss happy is well presented glasses. That means making nice with the decorations.

Here’s the result. Looks pretty good, I think. And I have a new skill: origami with multiple napkins.

Yay me.

Boink

Cruising.

What a difference a week makes.

After the messy start to their vacation, the eighty-something couple eventually arrived back in Tampa last Sunday morning. I was schedule to collect them. Something must have happened onboard that ship. It might have been the sea air, the cheap booze or even the Mexican food, but they were a different pair.

When we left, Matt was dressed in a vest and cargo shorts, black socks and brown lace-up shoes. His wife was in expando-pants and droopy top. Altogether uninspiring.

Looking for similarly attired people at the pick-up point, I hardly recognized them. Matt was in stylish white jeans, short-sleeved shirt and natty shoes. His wife (I can’t remember her name) was looking almost hot (in an eighty-something Florida way). Not only were they looking tanned and chic, but there was something in the air. And it wasn’t just her new perfume.

Yep, I think Mr and Mrs had revisited the carnal side of their relationship. There is an air about a guy when he’s proven his manliness again, and Matt had it. He swaggered. And she was kittenish, not a bad feat for an arthritic oldster.

Anyway, it was a fantastic advertisement for the cruise line, and one I’ll be bearing in mind in the coming decades.

I can’t believe I wrote that.

Clean

Clean it.

The Boss is obsessed with the cleanliness of his cars. Not the inside, mind you. That he could give two hoots about, but all the cars’ outsides are cleaned at least twice a week.

The theory is that at the end of each run, we drivers will clean the interior of our car. Therefore, Bossman need not spend money on it, as it is in our interest (read: larger tips) if the customer thinks he is travelling in a sparkling environment.

Two problems with this:

One is that everybody has a different standard of cleanliness.

The other is that the link between freshly cleaned carpet and tip size is weak.

If it was Wombat’s Limousine Service, I would worry less about the way the cars look to everyone else, and spend much more on keeping the insides looking and smelling pristine. That is what the customer sees most of; the seat backs, the cabinets and the carpets. Surely this is where to make an impression.

There is only one other driver apart from me who I know cleans after each run. Apparently all the others cannot see white sand on black carpet – and all the cars have black carpet.

Truthfully, our shop vacuum really isn’t up to the job. Poor thing should have retired years ago. Sometimes I understand why drivers just don’t bother.

Work

Working stiff.

 

In my former life, I worked for a company that provided taxi and limousine transport for its employees. Once the ego-high of being driven around the place wears off, it becomes routine and just another part of the drudgery of making a living.

As I remember, the limousine drivers were all good guys and girls, who stuck by a maxim I now use: speak when you are spoken too, converse when the customer converses, and remain silent when they do. Simple, right? Not necessarily.

It is easy to slip into the conversational habit of talking about yourself when a customer gets chatty. But the relationship is very different than if you and I were talking. The limo customer truly isn’t interested in what I think, unless they specifically ask. The best response comes when I keep the conversation centred around them. It’s a basic technique of reflecting what they say back to them, and asking open-ended questions.

Occasionally, someone will connect on a personal level, at which point it’s clear that they want my opinion. But most people don’t get my humour, so I gave up doing my bits in the first month.

It’s the constriction of the role that is the problem – the context. People see a driver as only a driver. And what driver could possibly know more than sports, weather, and road conditions? Revealing interesting experiences from my life flummoxes them, because it jars with their vision of what a driver should be.

So much of my time is spent biting my tongue, smiling, and licking arse, like every other working stiff.

I Know

Tell tales.

Put me behind a car on the Interstate, and I can tell you – with 90% accuracy – the sex, ethnicity and age of the driver. Not only that, but I’ll tell you if they’re using a cellphone, although deciphering their service provider is more difficult.

Now that I’m a professional road user, I can look down haughtily upon my fellow travellers. With a keen eye for detail, deducing basic facts about people from the model and age of car is infant’s recreation. The manner in which people careen about the place is a dead give-away; combine the two and you have an unbeatable system.

Late model Camry in the fast lane steadfastly doing two mph under the speed limit?

White male over 55.

New Honda Civic changing lanes erratically at ten mph over?

Female on cellphone under age 27.

Tricked out eighties GM product, driver so far back he’s practically in the rear seat?

Black male under 35.

This is too easy. I need a challenge.

Bespoke

Dress for success, young man.

Cool Men

At The Boss’s Limousine Service, the stated uniform is black suit, black tie, black shoes and white shirt.

I am the only mug in Bossman’s memory who actually took this to heart. On the day he gave me the job, I duly purchased a (cheap, oversize) black suit. Nobody employed since has done anything like that.

Susan, until this week our only female chauffeur, sports what amounts to a tuxedo when she drives. Black trousers, black waist-length jacket, white shirt with studs and a bowtie. Frankly I think the stiff shirt and bowtie are over-the-top, but she always looks the business.

Today, I want to present the best looking limousine drivers I have yet seen. These guys were in the west coast of Florida’s limousine Mecca: the cellphone waiting lot at Tampa airport. Glamorous, eh?

As I drove in, their cool threads and Crockett and Tubbs demenour shouted at me to take their photo. So I did.

Yo, Peeps

Yin and Yang.

The reason I started in the limousine game in the first place was to meet people.

Working at home, alone, was driving me slowly insane. In the absence of anything resembling a social life, taking an evening and weekend job was logical. Although I rant a little here, I’m glad of the experience. Doing something outside my comfort zone is good for my brain, creating new pathways or synapse links or whatever the heck happens up there.

People are the upside and the downside of life. People can make your day, and people can ruin your day (if you allow them). Driving has meant I have met people I would never have found before, and every new person gives a slightly different slant on life.

At one point I thought I was a good judge of character, but now I know different. In fact, I have stopped judging people altogether, given how past snap decisions have done them and me a disservice. Thesedays I simply watch, observe, look, question and remain neutral.

After a while, people will show you their true nature.

Read This

Door-opening-ready jobs.

Caddylights

Reading other people’s minds is one of the many skills the professional limousine driver needs to succeed in his chosen field.

It works like this. You will collect a couple, or three, or four, knowing that they want to start their evening at a particular restaurant or bar. On Harry’s trip sheet, it’s usually referred to as:

Take from residence to Mongrel Grill for dinner, then as directed.

It’s the “as directed” part that sometimes gets messed up.

You know you’re in for a big night when they say, Nah, forget about the Mongrel Grill, we don’t want to go there. Where’s the action in town tonight? Take us there.

Great. Now I’m responsible for the success or failure of their evening, with the resulting effect on everyone’s mood. In this part of Florida there IS nowhere to go on a Tuesday night. Alright, maybe a handful of places that might have some live music and atmosphere, but come on people, the average age here is 231. Dinner service is over at most places by 6:45.

Once they’ve had a few adult beverages, things loosen up. They usually start being more chatty, but also more forgetful. I receive the call to collect them from one place, and everyone piles in. I often just start driving, because it’s not my position to start demanding answers. At some point, someone will shout “Hey, where are you going?” to which I always say, “Sir, wherever you want.” Some form of instruction usually follows.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST TELL ME WHERE YOU WANT TO GO WHILE I’M HOLDING THE DOOR OPEN FOR YOU, YOU IDIOT?

Boy, that feels better.

What’s worse than a fool? A drunk fool in a limousine.

No Border

Visit Florida.

StretchExcursion

Question: How many people can you fit into this limousine?

Answer: 24.

It’s completely illegal, of course, as the beast is only licensed for 16 punters. But when it’s a sunny Saturday and the event is a Mexican wedding, then who am I to be the Limousine Grinch?

I’m rapidly learning that different cultures have remarkably different norms, especially in social situations. Mexican folks apparently don’t put much stock in the tradition of the bride being given away by her father. I was chatting to the father – well, trying to understand him, as I don’t speak Spanish – beforehand, and the gist of it was that his role was limited. It was her mother we had to wait for at the church, and it was her mother who gave the final assent for the hitching to go ahead.

It was a Catholic ceremony, as one would expect. The groom, when he appeared with his new bride an hour and a half later, looked as if he had seen a ghost. He honestly seemed shell-shocked: blank faced, silent, wide-eyed. It was as if he was a wild animal freshly captured for the amusement of everyone else.

Rather an apt metaphor for his wedding day don’t you think?

The funniest part of the day was the “videographer.” This guy ran the entire show, choreographing the arrival of the limousine, the opening and closing of doors and pretty much everything else. When the wedding party emerged from the chapel he shooed them all back inside so he could get a better angle.

In twenty years the happy couple will relive it and marvel at how wonderful everything was. But on the day they were tired, hungry, stressed and feeling powerless. At least we stopped for cokes and corn chips on the way to the reception. That cheered everyone up no end.

Lies

Yep.

People lie. There’s no way around it, they lie to themselves, and they lie to their limousine driver.

The lies start small, and expand like insulating foam to fill the void. A common lie is “Oh, we’ll only be four hours, we want to be home by nine-thirty.”

This one happened Monday night. A man celebrating his 34th birthday with his wife and some friends began with the intention of being home early.

At 1:30 am, while I was in the car park of Cheetahs, I contemplated the change of mind. All along they knew it was to be a big night, but couldn’t bring themselves to admit it. When I collected them at 5:30 pm, and dropped their kids at Grandma’s place, it was clear they were out to do some damage. Especially the wife.

The other big lie that starts small is “We’re going to be the easiest customers you ever had.”

This, more than any other statement, puts me on edge. Why? Because one man’s “easy” is another man’s two hours on the back of the clock cleaning up the shit left by ferals lucky enough to scrape up the four hundred bucks to hire me for five hours.

These people use every glass in the limousine. They smoke. They put their feet on the ceiling – don’t ask me why. They insert crushed Goldfish into every seat crevice and still complain that the radio doesn’t tune correctly.

“You’ve been great,” they say, handing me a five and five ones. “Next time, we’re gonna ask for you.” * hic *

Yessir, and next time I’m unavailable.