Living in the Light

Daytime limousine rides are a rare but sweet kind of fruit. Obvious advantages over night-time runs are the fact that it’s light (yes, obviously, but very importantly) that you generally feel better (not exhausted by being awake when the body says go to sleep) and that they finish at a reasonable hour (therefore I can get to bed at the same time as regular people.)

The people who book a stretched limousine from noon until 10:00 pm are different from the night-time crowd too. They tend to be older, richer and happier. Often, the booking is made months in advance.

A recent run was representative. I was to meet eight folks in the parking lot of a local restaurant in The Boss’s super stretched SUV. Naturally, he has given me NO details…no idea of who the customers are, where we are going, nor if it’s a special occasion. All I have is a time and a place.

But experience told me the people would be fine, as indeed they were. As is usual, the organizer introduced himself to me, and gave me the outline of the day. His friends all arrived, and they’re loaded with food and booze and in very high spirits. That’s good. Happiness breeds happiness. When I see bottles of champagne, I too am happy.

But not everything is rosy. The airconditioning in this machine works satisfactorily, but not brilliantly. It’s a constant refrain from the back, asking that the a/c be turned up. All I can do is to tell them that it will cool down as we get under way, and that it’s a big volume of air to cool on a hot Florida day. They don’t care. If the least thing is wrong, people bitch. Sigh.

Another pending problem is that I have a navigator on board. A navigator is someone, almost always a guy, who wants to know every turn you plan to make. If you don’t describe precisely the route, they’ll pick it up and correct it. Unfortunately, this turkey is sitting right at my shoulder…which leads me to raise the divider. Thank goodness for the divider.

The plan was a common one: to Tampa for a matinee live performance (The Jersey Boys) then to an early dinner at a fancy steak house, and then home. That part was easy, and almost quite fun. I had time to read three newspapers, finish my book, make a few calls, spruce up the interior of the limo and take a half-decent lunch. (The latter’s not always easy, given how tricky it can be to find a park for the beast.)

After dinner, I was looking forward to dropping off these people and getting home. After all, I’d not finished until 4:00 am the morning before. (More bullshit scheduling from The Boss.) And then came the kiss of death…they wanted to stop for ice-cream. Oh, great. No-one can agree on where to go, and everyone’s tired, so they’re not communicating. The difficulty for me at a time like this is that I hear three different instructions from the back, but when I try to clarify which ONE I should follow, no-one speaks. It’s like I have to play the parent to a bunch of nine-year-olds.

Mr Navigator then springs into action. Okay, if you just make a U-Turn here, he says, pointing hopefully at a break in the median. My eyes roll in their sockets. This thing takes about TEN lanes to make a U-Turn, and gently suggest that another, wider intersection a little up the road will work better. He starts questioning me, asking what I’m doing…

…until he observes for himself PRECISELY how much real estate this damned machine needs for a U-ey.

But it all worked out. And it turns out that they were all real estate agents, on a pep-up trip, hoping and talking themselves into a better year ahead. Good luck with that, guys and girls.

And for a bunch of people who LIVE AND DIE on percentage sales commissions, the tip was abysmal. But I didn’t care. I was home in bed before midnight.

Tired

For two days I have not driven further than the grocery store and the beach. There’s not much driving work at The Boss’s shop anyway at the moment (surprise) but sometimes I need concentrated down-time.

To the untutored eye, the life of the limo driver looks to be a lot about doing nothing. As I say to passersby and other people I talk to whilst on the job, my life is all about waiting. We wait for flights to arrive, we wait for people to emerge from their house, we wait for concerts to finish, we wait for strippers to take the last dollar from the bachelors. Lack of motion defines us.

Except that waiting is not the same as doing nothing, nor is it the same as hanging around at home. Waiting creates a sub-species of stress, based around being ready to spring into action at very short notice. Think of fighter pilots sitting in their jets at the end of the runway waiting for the call to scramble – sure, they’re idling, but relaxed they’re not.

Not that waiting for an arriving flight is the same as defending the country, although if we fail to find our customer at the airport some of them are prone to starting WW III. That’s the stress. It is fear of something going wrong, for which we are blamed. Most people are pretty quick off the mark with a phone call to The Boss if something goes wrong. That tees him up ready to take a swing at us, notwithstanding that we’ve done everything right.

If the customer takes the wrong escalator to the wrong arrivals hall, it’s not my fault. If the customer fails to meet the limo at the previously decided corner, it’s not my fault. If the customer fails to tell me that it’s not THEM travelling, but their daughter and her boyfriend, it’s not my fault if I don’t recognize them.

But it ends up that I get heaped upon, because the driver is at the end of the power line, and at the head of the blame line.

So much of my time is spent out-thinking customers. I’ll pre-call to confirm arrangements. I’ll draw maps and make drive-bys to point out a place I can safely stop. I’ll even park up the limo and follow people so I know where they are – drunks are prone to foxing innocent drivers by claiming to not know where they are.

It’s all part of being a driver, but with all the sleuthing and figuring out human nature, I sometimes I think I should start a private detective agency.