I was searching for a late night job that would leave my days free to write -- non-stimulating work, somewhere I could wear grey sweatpants and my “Jesus: That’s My Final Answer, Regis!” tee-shirt. Who doesn’t love a timeless pop culture reference spun into a religious ad?
I discovered a business called Autopilots, Inc. looking to hire late-night chauffeurs. The owner is a guy named Barry who bought collapsible motorbikes from Italy. The bikes are sixty pounds of lean mass, three percent body fat, and fit inside a zippered black bag. The company exists as a unique service. (1.) Someone guzzles too much happy juice and gets drunk. (2.) In a stupor, they call Autopilots and within thirty minutes a driver arrives on a motorbike, collapses it, and places it in the trunk of the alcoholic’s car. (3.) The driver takes the customer home in their own car, preventing them from having to retrieve their vehicle the next day. The idea is as smart as lowfat Funions.
Barry wanted me to start right away. I shared my main concern about accepting his kind offer. “How many cars will have a stick shift?” I asked with reservation. I had learned to drive a stick but that was when I was fifteen, young and stupid. What does a fifteen-year-old know? Barry said that in the thrice years since he’d started the company, maybe four cars had a stick shift. No problem. “Besides,” he said, “We drive upscale clients – agents, lawyers, tax collectors – and most of them own Jags and Beemers.” I had no idea what Jags and Beemers were, but it sounded British so I didn’t question it.
I would earn one-third of the listed fee, plus tips. In a good night, I could expect to pull down about a hundred sheets. A hundred big bones. A hundred screech owls.
I nodded blankly. I wasn’t hip to Barry’s lingo but I respect anyone with a foreign accent.
The first evening we trained and it was all-good. We worked a gala opening for a store named Ocean, though it probably should have been called Notion. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the owner was selling. It was an abandoned West Hollywood storefront on Melrose with great track lighting and a couple of chrome stools. Flamboyant people like you see on Bravo mingled, sipping champagne and making small talk. I overheard one woman saying – in an opinion supported by viewing Michael Moore movies – that the war in Iraq was “for oil.” That caused everyone to toast their champagne flutes, WeHo’s version of a high-five.
The night was a bust financially. No one needed a designated driver. I went home with nothing in my pocket but a lint-covered Chicklet. Still, it was fun watching people watch me do my job. Passerby’s were mystified observing a motorbike collapsing into a bag.
The second night I got my first call at ten p.m. I was psyched. I sped up to the W, a hotel too hip to be bogged down with vowels. I stood outside the building and watched young ladies with A and B-sized busts getting turned away by discriminating doormen. Probably for the best. If you don’t have cash to splurge on silicon, you probably don’t belong at the W. After thirty minutes of standing around, I called Barry and asked for the name of my client. He neglected to get that nugget of trivia.
Barry left four messages on the alcoholic’s cell phone before telling me to turn around and go home. All in all, my first ninety minutes on the job yielded exactly no sheets, no big bones, no screech owls. I was working on commission, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “getting the shaft.” I popped that dirty Chicklet in my mouth and chewed my frustration away.
My next job came at 2:00 a.m. when Los Angeles bars close and liquor stores experience an economic boom. Four intoxicated frat dudes needed a ride home. Now I’m not a racist, but there is one people group I hate across the board – young white guys I don’t know.
I reluctantly entered their sports car and there it was. A stick shift. I was as scared as a bounty hunter at the dentist. When I get intimidated by an overwhelming obstacle in life, my natural instinct is to immediately chant this affirmation – “You cannot do this. You are incapable of this task.” There you have it. I become absolutely convinced I have no ability to perform the task at hand.
I put the gear in reverse. No problem. Then I pushed in the clutch and tried to shift it into first. The car stalled. Immediately, an odor resembling “burned clutch” filled the car. The owner got sloppy-angry. He started cursing at me over the music of rapper 50 Cent, the volume so booming you could hear every inarticulate nuance.
The vehicle stalled in the busy intersection of Desperation and Anger. The “dudes” in the backseat cussed at the awful stench. They suggested that I -- now responding to the name Senior @#$% -- jump out of the car and let them drive home, drunk. My eyes narrowed as I considered their tempting offer. “No,” I determined, “In the interest of public safety I will square my jaw, clench my diaphragm, and press on.”
Forty-five minutes later I completed the twenty-five minute trip. Since I had probably burned out the clutch of his fifty-thousand dollar car, I didn’t anticipate a tip. They cursed at me and gave me five bucks.
As I unfolded the motorbike for the hour-long return trip (they maxed out at 30 MPHs), I started to wonder if this non-stimulating job was for me. I was not overwhelmed by the five bucks of profit. Was this truly the glamorous life of a Hollywood writer? Would I be able to write about this night on Barbara Nicoloi’s blog? Could I go home now?
No. Barry called and offered me one more pick-up. It was four a.m. I was giddily exhausted but decided to give this career one last go. I drove up to Silverlake and picked up two drunken jokers. Their car was neither a Beemer nor a Jag, but rather a Mazda GLC that made my ’95 Corolla look like the car all the kids are talking about these days. Sure enough, by the end of the hour-long drive, the drunks gave me a gratuity-free thank-you and went on their way.
The night was a bust. I was winded and exhausted, topped by broken and bruised spirit. The morning sun was already seducing the Los Angeles skyline.
I tried to look on the bright side. But then my motorbike choked like a dyslexic at a Spelling Bee. The bike ran out of gas. I kicked in the reserve supply, as I had been taught. There was nothing left in the gas tank, save a few broken promises. I called Barry and told him I needed to be picked up. Angry and alone, I was left with nothing but my thoughts. Delirium became my closest confidant. I sat on the sidewalk of a street called Sawtelle, a name better suited for a young kid in the inner-city.
I had plenty of time to ponder the concept of time. I reflected on my life before I started this ridiculous job, two days ago. I decided to quit this demeaning job and return to my bed, where all honest people spend the night. The next day I would look for even more non-stimulating work. Maybe, with just the right amount of luck, I would find something disgracing, devastating, and debasing. One can dream
I’d have to find another job that would allow me to wear my pop-culture parody Christian tee-shirts. I’ve got another great one hanging in my closet -- “Eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?” That one's really gonna minister the socks off this town.