Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why we don't call it the Lapdance Film Festival

My regular duties as Carriage Driver are finished now for the season, although if you want to take a ride go on down to South Gate and hook one with the fools hearty individuals willing to work the cruel month of January. I'll be inside the cozy and inviting Rose Wagner Theater, working the Sundance Film festival. That’s my excuse, and I'm sticking with it. It has, after all, worked for 4 years now…

Getting ready for Sundance takes a lot of preparation:

First, I have to warm up.

Second, I need to catch up on all the sleep I missed out on while carriage driving. Luckily for me I will be on approximately the same schedule I'm on when driving; go into work around 4:00 pm, go home sometime after midnight, so no change there.

Also, I won't have to wear quite so many layers, although I still put on the under-roos because it is, after all, January in Utah. Kenneth Cole, the fashionista that provides the Sundance Volunteers with their coats and liners (which are our "official" uniform) has apparently never lived anywhere other than the Equator because, while stylish, his garments are not precisely warm.

Then there is my hair. I have not had my hair cut in about three years. Why? Because I don't like getting into conversations with stylists, that’s why. If I could find a deaf/mute stylist I'd go every month. Okay, it is me we're talking about, and I am both lazy and cheap, so every six to eight months. But since my hair gets bleached out in the summer from my pool, is cursed with split ends, liberally sprinkled ( okay, doused is more like it) with grey, and is all around fugly, I need to so "something" to it prior to the festival so I can hobnob with 1) folks much younger than me and 2) Hollywood types and 3)New York City people all without being sneered at like I've just crawled out of the Van that I live in down by the river.

What the hell, you are asking right about now, does my #$@$%^#$ hair have to do with the title of today's blog?

Okay, here is how it all ties in: the last few years my job for Sundance was OUT Asst. MGR. This job involves me being in charge of the wait list line, which is an exterior (yes, outdoors) position. Except last year the line was moved indoors. Which was nice. Because it's warm. Anyway, I had several people vying for the last seat in the house, and since we only had one seat available, and there were two of them I could not accommodate their request. Because they were together; would not go without the other one, and refused to entertain my suggestion of either a duel to the death or at least an arm wrestling match.

Their suggestion was that I allow them both in and the man would sit in the seat and the woman would sit in his lap. That was when I advised them that this was the Sundance Film Festival, not the Lapdance Film Festival which takes place at the adult theater in Wendover, Nevada.

That was my old job. I got to do stuff like that. It was a lot like being a verbal hit man. One of the titles was "Crowd Liaison" which is polite-speak for "Bouncer."

Now, however, my job is IN Asst. MGR, which means I have to be NICE. Why? Because I'm the person the customers will come and complain to after visiting with the new OUT Asst. MGR.


So this is going to be an interesting test for me, seeing if I can switch gears and be nice. And if I can't fake a smile very well, at least my hair will look good.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Returning to Normal

Okay, my life is not exactly “normal" anyway, but it’s back to the usual routine. I work once more this week, Saturday, and then, unless something weird comes up and Ro needs me, I won’t work again until February.

January is when I get all the things done that I’ve put off until A.C. That’s After Christmas, for you non-Carriage people. That’s when we slave drivers do all the crap we’ve procrastinated for two months. For example, prior to my birthday I, according to the fine employees at the DMV, need to straighten something out at the Social Security office. Mainly that I never changed the name on my card after I got married, which was lucky for me since 18 months later I got divorced, but then another 3 years I got married again…To the same guy. So, I apparently need to scurry downtown and sit in the olfactory offensive/overly warm office for hours on end and get the name straightened out before my drivers license comes up for renewal.

Sitting in the Social Security office and then the DMV. Bleh! Thankfully I got an iPod touch for Christmas and have already downloaded movies to it. YAY! There is only so much Bubble Blaster I can play on my phone before I start looking for something new and exciting to do. Like mocking the people next to me.

Also I have to go online and do my Sundance management training in preparation for the Festival, which is next month. They’ve bumped me up a spot so I’ll have new duties this year and I should probably figure out what the heck they are.

I also need to go with Ro to The Tin Angel cafĂ© and collect the rest of my tip. The Chef and his wife who own and operate The Tin Angel took a ride with me and did not feel that I was compensated enough in comparison to the joy/happiness they felt during their ride. So they said “Come to the restaurant and we’ll “Take care” of you.”

Now, someone “Taking Care” of you can go two ways. Either they treat you liked royalty and fawn over your very presence, or, a la the Sopranos, you wear cement shoes and sleep with the fishes.

I’m just hoping to get their recipe for Tiramisu, since there is the best freakin’ tiramisu I’ve ever had. YUM!

My Jeep needs an oil change. My office looks like someone threw dumpster full of paper on top of the desk. My Pomeranian needs a grooming. Bad. Like she’s gone Rastafarian. And of course there’s all the Christmas decorations to put away, and writing and editing to start up again, and pounds to lose and Chiropractors to see, and wine that needs drinking, and …

Well, you get the picture.

So here’s to getting back to normal. I’ll begin by making a toast. See? That takes care of the wine that needs drinking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Twelve Days of Carriagemas

Editors note: I'm tired and beat to crap. Please enjoy (or not) this rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", carriage driver style. It's the best I can do right now on so little sleep and under the influence of large quantities of Advil.

"Rubbers", for you straights who do not drive carriage, are the rubber "tires" that go on over the metal wheel rims. Newbies are recent trainees. Also, "Barn Ro" is Ro, the barn manager. That's how her name appears on our Nextel direct connect phones we use as our communication system, aka "Radios", which is stupid because they really arn't radios but phones , however old habits are hard to break.

Sorry, I'm rambling now. Bye.

On the first day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me
“This appointment’s a little goofy”

On the second day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Don’t take two batteries, and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the third day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
Three declined credits, don’t take two batteries, and this appointment’s a little goofy.”

On the fourth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries, and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the fifth day of Carriagemas my barn Ro said to me,
“Five fatties won’t fit! Four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries, and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the sixth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries, and this appointment’s a little goofy.”

On the seventh day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the eighth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
Eight missing rubbers, seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the ninth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Nine feet of snow, eight missing rubbers, seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the tenth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Ten below zero, nine feet of snow, eight missing rubbers, seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the eleventh day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Eleven late appointments, ten below zero, nine feet of snow, eight missing rubbers, seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

On the twelfth day of Carriagemas my Barn Ro said to me,
“Twelve bitching drivers, eleven late appointments, ten below zero, nine feet of snow, eight missing rubbers, seven newbies working, six groups are waiting, five fatties won’t fit, four rigs at Westgate, three declined credits, don’t take two batteries and this appointments a little goofy.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Object of My Addiction:

Now for something a little on the lighter side.

Obviously, you know I like horses. How much do I like horses?


To the casual observer entering my house through the front door, my living room is an explosion of horses. I have a bathroom decorated in horses, and my kitchen is pretty much...well, you get the picture.

But my obvious addiction shines brightest at Christmas. How? Well, my Horsemas Tree, of course.

Some of these you can get from Breyer, others are weird custom jobs that have been gifts.

More than a few I've painted myself. Because I have an addiction. And I love horses.

I also love my Pomeranian, Sammie Two Chews.

And just to prove that I am a well rounded individual, here is a recent addition to my Christmas ornament collection:

I understand it's a Major Award!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem

We lost a member of our Tribe Saturday night. For whatever reason he decided to take matters into his own hands and take the long sleep.

The last time I saw him was the day after Thanksgiving. He was the man who trained me my first night almost five years ago. He was amused by the fact that I am a short little shit and the horse we drove that night, Sam, was a behemoth of a Clydesdale who's back I could barely reach on tip toe to groom.

He hadn't worked much over the past year; he was kind of a grumpy guy, and difficult to get to know. If he thought you knew something about horses then he was okay to you. If he perceived you as a fool he treated you as such. But the fact of the matter is, he left a wife we liked and two pre-teen boys fatherless and heartbroken, and the rest of us wondering when it all went south, and what we might have been able to do to change the turn of events.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The event has left a pall hanging over the barn. The next 10 days are our crunch time. This is when business gets hopping and those families who make taking carriage rides a tradition become frantic when they realize that time is running short and once again Christmas has snuck up on them. We tend to circle the wagons, trying to keep our petty bickering and high emotions in check because we are all, by now, exhausted and frazzled. The weather was crappy on Saturday. Traffic was a nightmare, the snow making getting around town an exercise in creative carriage driving, and every one of us now on the bubble. But, the end is in sight, we have passed through the eye of the needle and come out unscathed, putting our shoulders to the yoke and pulling straight ahead until we get to the other side.

We are a group of strangers who have morphed into a quasi-family, our employment and common love for the equine persuasion the tie that binds. This makes us our own special tribe. That we've lost a member is stunning to us. But we will carry on, trying to reach out to the rest of our herd and let them know that no matter what is happening in their lives we are there, we have their back, and they can come to us anytime they feel the need to vent, to rant, to cry, to hide. Because the alternative is permanent. And it pisses us off.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's Raining Cats and...Nevermind.

Okay, this is a quickie since I have to go to The Fabulous Todd's Fabulous Christmas Party in a few minutes so…

What is the weirdest horse/barn/farm thing that has ever happened to you?

I'll start:

Once upon a time I was a mare handler for a Quarterhorse breeder in Missouri. The owner and I were standing in the hall of the barn when it suddenly began to rain Kittens.

Okay, it was two kittens. But suddenly two kittens fell from the sky…

Okay, they fell through the trap door for the hayloft above us.

Anyway, two kittens fell from the hayloft and landed smack! on the ground between the two of us. One got up and ran away. The other had a broken neck.

We silently looked at each other, then up at the trap door, as if expecting more kittens. No more came.

Weird, huh?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tom and his "Wheel Of Mystery"

Tom. Ahhhhh…. Yes, Tom. I like Tom although he's no great beauty. He has a very noticeable sway back, he's scruffy and a little goofy looking. To counteract these handicaps he has a great work ethic, likes to blow raspberries, and has multiple personalities.

I'm sorry, what was that again?

Oh yes, Tom's "Sybil" complex. Well, it has to be that, or the other choice is "Tom's Wheel Of Mystery." You see, with 99% of the other horses we know their personalities and therefore the things that "Set Them Off." For example, Cletus dislikes Balloons, stepping on manhole covers, and the open back of box trucks. Charlie is not a big fan of Schnauzers and cement mixer trucks. Tony is afraid of leaves blowing around, and Max? Grocery sacks do it for him.

With Tom, one can never be too certain. Sometimes it's bells, sometimes it's, well, I've made a graphic to assist in your understanding. You see, I firmly believe that Tom, on a daily basis, spins a wheel in his head to randomly choose what he will be spooking at that day.

Things Tom might choose to spook at:
(AKA Tom's Wheel of Mystery)

A Stinky Bum
Tall Skinny People
Anything In The Color Taupe
The Same Pothole We've Driven Through 47 Times
Screaming Children
Screaming Children Being Pushed In Strollers By Tall Skinny People

Sunday night Tom and I worked together. While we were in the barn getting ready he tried to bite me, but I'm too fast for him and he missed. He never made a second attempt. Once we were on the street he spooked when I sneezed and again when we went through the same pothole that we had gone through at least 5 times that night. Then he jumped sideways, I have no idea why, it must have been scary air or something.

So working with Tom is an exercise in vigilance. One can never be quite sure what might make Tom go "Aaaakkkkkk!!!" and take a sudden jump to the left (or right, depending on which side the mystery object/sound/shadow is on) or come to a full and complete stop to take a good long look at the scary monster he perceives might eat him.

Mr. Carriage Clause had a photo of Tom in his locker from a parade they were in. Mr. Carriage Clause proudly pointed it out to me once, and then advised me that it was Toms one and only parade appearance. Parades, you see, while full of merriment and wonder for the audience, are rife with Things That Eat Horses. This is why there are certain equine employees that are considered "Parade Material" and others that are "Not a Snowball's Chance in Hell."

I did a video shoot last January for a local TV station that wanted footage of their weather person and her husband in a carriage to prove that they were just like the rest of us. Out and about the town, riding in a carriage up in Memory Grove, having a delightful time. I was asked to take Tony. Tony's nickname is "Tony the Kitten-hearted." I've worked with him before up in the grove when a bride was having her photos done, and the camera crew was using one of those big floppy silver light reflectors. Turns out, Tony is not a fan of big shiny objects. Not knowing exactly what kind of equipment the crew was bringing with, I opted to drive Rex, who, while not a great beauty like Tony, is as solid as a rock when it comes to weird shit. So fugly horse it was. At least we both matched.

So if you are wandering around downtown Salt Lake some evening and see a swayback black horse that looks like he's doing the "Time Warp" dance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's probably Tom. Please be kind to him, and leave all your weird horse eating stuff at home. I'm sure he'll appreciate it. I know the driver will.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like...Las Vegas

The Christmas Carriage Driving season opener was this past Friday night and we were fortunate that the weather was good and people came out to take rides around Temple Square to see the lights. The usual suspects made their appearance; Bagpiper guy wearing his kilt and Santa hat; harmonica guy standing on the north east corner by the wall that surrounds the square; Gary and Raine with their hot cocoa stand; assorted panhandlers preying on the generosity of the ignorant but soft hearted who unwittingly finance their addictions, and of course the cast of thousands of morons piloting their vehicles who bypass public transportation (which would drop them a block from the lights) in favor of cruising around for 45 minutes looking for a parking spot, legal or otherwise.

It's all good. I guess.

The funnest part for me is the annual "Pimping of the carriage", and yes, I go all out. Why? I think I already told you; when all the carriages are the same price why choose economy when you can go first class?

Now, I advised The Fabulous Todd a while ago that lights sell rides. After decorating his carriage he finally believed me.

About half of the carriages are decorated, and although on Friday and Saturday,when Ro was our stager, decorations are superfluous because we are loaded from the front of the line, on Sunday we were on our own.

On Sunday I kicked ass. Besides the lights I also run my iPod loaded with Christmas music. People were walking down the line, passing up all the Plain Janes, and picking me out of the middle.


Anyway, for your visual pleasure I took photos of the decorated carriages and some of the horses.

This is my carriage sitting in front of the carriage barn on Friday before we went out.

This is Marky-Marks carriage at South Gate

And of course, Marky-Mark and Rex. In matching hats.

We haven't had bad weather yet so my top has remained down, but here is a photo of the garland that runs along the top bow supports for the roof.

I dumped my old Christmas lights because they sucked too much juice out of my battery and would therefore crap out around nine pm. I bought LED lights at Wal-Mart and layered them over the old lights because I'm too lazy to take the garland off, unwrap the old strings, and re-wrap new ones. These are so much brighter it's amazing, althought I liked the colors of the old ones much better.

Here are the old lights:

And new lights:

The Fabulous Todd pimped his ride. Black carriages suck the illumination out, so he needs to add more lights to compensate.

And of course no photo album would be complete without Scooter's carriage with Drunken Santa on Wessons back.

By the way, Drunken Santa is so popular that people have caused car accidents stopping in the middle of the street to take his picture. Of course there are also a number of traumatized children from the night his head fell off.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Carriage Driver Bail-out Plan

It used to be, over the last four years, if I’d told you that I need a carriage driver bail-out plan, it meant exactly that: The carriage is tipping over, I need to bail out, what is my plan? This only happened to me once, with Mr. Good-Time Charlie at the helm and he jack-knifed the carriage up in the grove, planting the rear wheel against a curb and going into turbo-reverse because of a pair of horse eating schnauzers.

The carriage didn’t tip, but we were on the bubble.

Now it means, like all the other greedy bastards in corporate America, I want some money. Our business has declined over the past couple of years partly because at one time there was a mall directly across the street from where we stage. Now, there is a big hole slowly filling with a concrete infrastructure so another mall can rise up. So the only thing to draw people to Temple Square is the church, and they don’t even sell souvenir t-shirts. But the mall won’t open for another three years at least, so, like everywhere else, sales are down.

Since my only two jobs are carriage driving and writing, I’m kind of at an impasse. Carriage driving, while the most fun job I have ever had, is not paying as well these days as it did in the past. So, conversely, I’m not making as much moolah. Writing? Well, the blog is free to whoever wants to read it, and it’s mostly NOT worth paying for anyway. I mean, come on, it’s not like you learn any thing any way, right? So, because I want to get Novel #1 polished up all nice & shiny, (which is gonna cost me), ready to submit to an agent, and I’m in the midst of writing Novel #2, I’ve decided a bailout is in order. And here’s how I’m gonna work it.

You come down to Temple Square, ask for me, Carlos, and take a ride. Then you tip me. A lot. Like, 'till it hurts. If I’m not working, take a ride with another driver and tell them I sent you and they owe me. I think 10% is good. Yes, I know, that’s extortion, but since “The Godfather” is one of my favorite movies, I’m okay with that.

So let’s get the economy rolling people, and let’s start it rolling with a carriage ride. And when/if I ever get my novels published, I’ll pimp you to run out and buy five copies for your mother.

Or maybe I’ll just sell some crap on eBay.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why Some Drivers Hate Me... (Okay, to be honest, providing music on my carriage is only one of the reasons...)

Attention K-Mart shoppers, I’d like to draw your attention to the blue light, located in the center aisle of our store. Here you will find 15 carriages lined up and waiting to take you on your traditional Christmas Lights tour. If Scooter, Marky-Mark, Mr.& Mrs. Carriage Clause, and Slave Driver are working, your choices are as follows:

A black carriage or a white carriage (all the other drivers)

A heated carriage (Scooter, and trust me, you really do not want to know how he rigs it up.)

A carriage with delightful Christmas lights (Marky-Mark)

A carriage driven by Santa (Carriage Clause) or Mrs. Clause (Carriage Clause’s better half)

A carriage with delightful Christmas lights, foot warmer, and joyful holiday music (Slave Driver)

Now, when we have a stager, a person who stands at the front of the line and puts you in a carriage, you get Hobson’s choice; meaning, when you get to the front of the line (and believe me, if it’s a Saturday night, there will be a line) you get the carriage at the front. You don’t get to pick and choose, unless you want to stand around and wait for the carriage/driver of your choice to come back up to the front again.

Some people do, especially if they are friends or family of the driver.

But if it’s a weeknight, or it’s slow and we are selling our own rides, you get to pick. And you know what? A lot of people pick me, and Marky-Mark, Mr. & Mrs. C, and Scooter. Right out of the middle of the pack. Why? Because we’re all the same price. And if you paid the same price for a seat in economy as you did for a seat in first class, where would you choose to sit?

Now, I guarantee you, I will never go the Mr. and Mrs. Clause route. What’s that? Why would I pass up the chance to have a carriage packed with screaming children, smelling of overripe bananas, messy diapers and fruit loops, clamoring for my attention so they can tell me that they’ve been good all year and what kind of gift they want? Oh, I don’t know…

(Pause for maniacal laughter accompanied by gagging sounds…)

Besides, children are notoriously bad tippers, as are people with lots of children. Why? Because they’re broke, because they have so many children. And they all want Xboxes and Tickle Me Dancing Elmo for Christmas.

Okay, where the hell was I?

So, I will now show you one of they ways I pimp my ride so I can pull one out of the middle.

This is Carriage Sound System 101. Over the years I have perfected my design. In the beginning I used a CD Boom box. Let me tell you, not so good. Carriages are not the smoothest vehicle around, and every time I’d go over the light rail tracks it would skip. The I had some speakers that ran on batteries and I hooked up an iPod to it, but the wires frayed over the years and substitute speakers I found were not as loud. So now I use speakers from an old computer system. Anyway, here is a step by step of how you, too, can have a carriage sound system:

First we start with a lawnmower battery. This one is brand spankin new. They tend to only last a year or so because it gets charged every night.

Then I customize mine. How? I paint the positive side red. Why? So I don’t screw up my inverter by connecting it incorrectly, not that I would ever do something as stupid as that...

(Slave Driver scuffs her toe in the dirt and whistles.)

Hey, sometimes it's dark out and I don't see real good, okay?

Then I add a handy dandy carry handle because juggling a battery when you have a lot of crap to carry out to your carriage is tricky. So,

You hook a 100 watt inverter up to the battery using a battery clip power adapter.

Then we add the speakers and an iPod.

I have both a Nano and a Shuffle, I prefer the shuffle because the battery lasts longer and I only play Christmas music. I put it on "shuffle" setting because I've found that I memorize the playlist and cringe when things come on I'm sick of. This kills the anticipatory cringing factor. And in the end it doesn't matter. I'm sick of all of it and really want to hear some AC/DC.

Then I shove the whole shebang into some cheap Gladware for

waterproofing (It doesn't have to be enclosed real well, it sits under my seat and mostly stays dry. But I have killed an inverter by getting it wet, so...) Turn on the speakers and let the festive music of the joyous hoilday season drown out the clammoring for my attention coming from behind me...

Edited to add:
It wasn't until later that I put everything into a grocery bag, and noticed that it looked suspiciously like...

Well, you decide.

However Mr. Slave Driver strongly suggested that I do not attempt to go anywhere near the airport with it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Everything You Thought You Knew is Toast

Harley, looking sad, because it's not his first Rodeo either, and he knows what's coming...

Monday evening we had the Barn’s annual Christmas Carriage drivers meeting. Looking around at the hope filled, shiny faces of the Rookie employees, and the stoic expressions of the old Pros, it’s clear to us seasoned drivers that our work is just beginning, and the newbies haven’t got a clue.

This will be my fifth year driving during Christmas. Every year presents new challenges to the slave drivers because it appears that the City of Salt Lake has acquired a hobby, and that avocation is demolition and construction. They have amassed a nice collection of orange cones, too, which makes downtown oh so jolly to navigate.

The rest of the year a driver might amble into the office, bullshit with Ro for a while, chat with co-workers, leisurely pull their own carriage out, get the assigned horse ready, saunter into the driver’s room to change into an appropriate ensemble, hook their partner to the carriage and head out to downtown.

Yeah, forget all that shit. Welcome to our brave new world.

From the day after Thanksgiving until January 1st, the new people will experience a downtown like they have never seen before. The mass of humanity, the intersection clogging traffic, the plethora of panhandlers and street musicians who come out of their hidey-holes is unrivaled by any other event during the year.

First off, anyone who arrives early will be enlisted in pulling out every carriage assigned for that evening. We don’t bother with parking them into the barn lot, we drag them all the way out to the street, where they sit, batteried up, waiting for the horse and driver.

After all the carriages are out, then the horses working that night get yanked out, groomed, tacked up, and wait for their co-worker.

The employees arrive, SILENTLY get their driver’s sheet (if they talk to Ro while she’s on the phone they will receive a withering glare that could melt stone, not to mention the ass-chewing directed at them once she’s hung up) change into their winter gear, get whatever other shit they need and GET OUT! NOW! No chatting, no BSing. It’s Guerilla driving; Get in, get out, and nobody gets hurt.

Then they will proceed to South Gate and attempt to negotiate around Temple Square, where people who only come downtown once a year and have no idea where they are going will test their patience. The concept of the WALK/DON’T WALK crosswalk signs are no longer understood, or obeyed.

They will find that their patience has a very short fuse, and our driving becomes less traditional and more, ahem, creative.

They will start looking for holes in traffic so they can make their ride in the appropriate time. Soon, the horses will start to look for holes all on their own. This, you see is not their first rodeo. Unfortunately some of the horses either don’t realize or don’t care that the hole they have chosen to slide into is, while large enough for the horse, too small for the carriage they are attached to. This can be a little tricky. Some of the horses get road rage. This is not a pretty sight. And when Tony looks into a car window, all pissed off at the driver, he appears to be one of the four horses of the Apocalypse. Okay, he’s a Belgian Draft, so he looks like two of them combined.

The newbies will also learn that whatever traffic laws they might follow the rest of the year don’t apply at Christmas. So, while driving on the wrong side of the road, making illegal turns, cutting corners by using the sidewalk or the crosswalks, making a right from the center or even the left turn lane are usually frowned upon the rest of the year, during Christmas it is “Open Season.”

We even get to drive down North Temple when the cops have shut it down. Why? Because they like us. Because we know where we’re going. Because we slow down traffic and keep cars from running over pedestrians. Because the horses are big and pretty.

So, welcome to the brave new world of Christmas Carriage driving, newbies. Enjoy the warm spirit of the holiday now, because in a couple of weeks you will develop a hunchback, abhor seasonal music, start talking in a series of grunts and growls, and avoid eye contact.

In other words, you will turn feral.

And because of that, to you, dear reader, I take the opportunity to say right now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Because four weeks from now, if you say “Hi” to me, I’ll probably bite you.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

All's fair...

Friday night the drivers at South Gate found ourselves bobbing in a sea of signs and slogans. For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about:

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”*

People against Proposition 8 protested around a LDS (Latter Day Saints AKA Mormons) temple in California on Thursday and decided to do it again in Salt Lake on Friday. 3000 of them.

I work in Salt Lake, right in front of the temple, matter of fact. Well, maybe not in front, more like the southwest corner, but about half a block way.


Now, I’m all for equality. I even held up a sign stating as much last night to the passing throng. But while the “Oh yeah I love you AND your horse” is appreciated we also got a lot of “That’s wrong and abusive” about being a carriage driver. But how equal is it if I support you and your quest to be allowed to live your life in the manner you want to without criticism and reproach and you will not afford the same consideration to me? I don’t walk into your house, point my fingers and say "Shame on you for doing something that's not hurting anyone else, but because some people don't understand that they insist on creating an atmosphere of hate and conflict."

I wouldn't exactly call that equality.

So, let's try and get the problems directed at humans ironed out in the world first; and once we've wiped out prejudice against race, sex, lifestyle, religious choice, socio-economic status, eye color, height, Plain or Peanut M&M's and Coke VS Pepsi, then we can start a dialogue about the life of the working domesticated animal.

Which, by the way, is not as bad as the Anti-Equestrienne-Eco-Terrorists like to make it out to be.

*From The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back in the saddle or why it’s fun to f*ck with the newbies

I have been away from downtown a while now, 6 weeks to be exact, and according to Ro, barn manager extraordinaire, there are a few newbies whom I have yet to encounter.

I love f*cking with newbies, it makes my day.

By now the most recent crop of carriage-drivers-in-training have found their feet— that is to say they have finally gotten past that deer in headlights look.

He he he…

Some have been there long enough now to see the even newer newbies show up and be trained. A couple, Ro tells me, even think they know what they are doing.

That’s where I come in. And for me, it’s where the fun begins.

For example, without even looking at them I can tell you that this weekend none of the newbies will be prepared. Why? You ask. Because, say I, first off it will be cold.

I can break “cold” down in to a mathematical equation:

Cold + possibly damp= the ink in a pen will not write. So, filling out a credit card slip or the driver’s sheet will be an exercise in futility. Unless you have a pencil. Markers or Flair Pens wont work on wet paper.

I carry so many pencils with me that if I duct-taped them together I could fashion a Louisville Slugger.

I also keep my drivers sheet in a Ziploc bag on my clipboard. This keeps it dry. ~A~, who has left us to pursue a career as an OTR trucker has left me a box of them in my locker. I love ya, ~A~!

Newbies, no matter what the season, are never prepared for the weather. They use their personal experiences of walking from house to car and car to grocery store to gauge how cold it is outside.

Yeah, that doesn’t work. Why? You ask.

Because unlike skiing or snow shoeing or some other outdoor activity, when you are standing at South Gate trying to sell a ride, or actually on the box driving the carriage, your “Weather preparedness skills” are tested. Because unlike those activities, you are not moving around very much.

So, the boots which were purchased because they are rated to “Below 10 degrees Fahrenheit” are really only warm if you are walking in temperatures below 10 degrees. Standing around holding a horse on a string— not so much.

I would love to be a Columbia Outerwear test subject.

When it comes to gloves I think I trump everyone. I typically carry 8 pairs of gloves with me. I have a duffle bag that I clip on to my carriage. Why? You ask. Because “waterproof” is subjective.

Then of course there are the accessories I use. Some are purchased and some I had to develop on my own. For example, I use a “Heat seat”; this is an ugly bright orange pad hunter’s use in the field to keep from freezing their ass and kidneys to the ground while waiting for game to sashay into their crosshairs. For me it creates a barrier between the depression in the seat from my buttocks and the pooling of rain or snow. Because, as we all know, water seeks it’s own level. So I sit above the water, thus eliminating what we refer to as “Swamp Ass”. Or, in the winter, Popsicle Ass.”

I tried several “Stadium Blankets” and they have all failed. Some which were touted as “Water proof” are really only “Water resistant”. Others which have a plastic coating get so stiff when it’s cold that the flexibility is lost and I might as well be trying to fold a ¼ inch piece of plywood over my legs. So, no good.

I finally found a thickness of vinyl at Wally-World at is more flexible in the cold, and sewed it to some polar-fleece. This I cover my legs with when it’s snowing/raining and it keeps my feet dry. I also use “Foot heaters” a fun antique I buy on eBay that is filled with charcoal and lit- as it burns it warms the metal surrounding it, we put our toes on it and they stay toasty. I also keep one in the carriage for my customers, a great selling point that really pisses some of the other drivers off.

So while I will be warm and dry, and, unfortunately so wrapped in clothing that I appear six sizes larger than I am, the newbies will be huddled in a ball shivering.

In addition to the cold, there is the boredom quotient. That’s where the newbies come in. I will amuse myself by f*cking with them. They will be too cold to try it with me.

So, now I have to go, because it’s Thursday and that means Ro will call me 147 times today to chat. And that’s okay, except I have 50 or so carriage-driving tools I have to gather and bring into work tomorrow and somehow shoehorn into my locker. So I’m prepared. Because f*cking with the newbies is no fun if I forget something and end up looking like one myself.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Use it or Lose it

Tomorrow is Election Day here in Utah, as it is all over the United States, and since I don’t consider the state I live in to be a part of America most of the time, it’s nice to feel solidarity with the good ol’ USA once in a while.

I registered to vote when I was 16, and the state of Illinois gave me a Voter’s registration card. Once again, a case of me not reading the instructions… But it was Chicago, after all, and there everyone votes at least once, sometimes more, even the dead. So, did I fraudulently go to the polls when I was 16? No. I figured I’d have enough time to rack up felonies later in life, so I actually waited until I was 18 and legal.

Although he was eligible to vote in 1978, The Husband cast a ballot for his first time in the election of 1992. He returned on a stormy evening from out of state in time to vote before the polls closed. The next morning he drove me to work, totaled my car on the way back from the grocery store, went to the ER, where I picked him up and three hours later we drove straight through from Chicago to Fort Worth, Texas, to compete in the Appaloosa Club World Championships. Ah, good times…

He’s been voting ever since.

My father never voted. Not once. * Sigh * He figured that if he didn’t register he would never be called to jury duty. To me that is a lame-ass excuse. You can always get out of jury duty by standing up during Voir Dire and singing “Alice’s Restaurant”; at least that’s my plan. MBA got out of it by telling the attorneys that she was a carriage driver. That will be my backup. Unless, of course, I really need the $18.00 a day. One never knows.

Besides, I like to bitch a lot, and if you don’t go out and vote (which I already did last Thursday) then you don’t get to bitch. Those are the rules, plain and simple. So, are you ready to hold your tongue for the next four years? If not then tomorrow is “Put-up or Shut-up” day.

Go vote. I have a roll of duct tape over here, and if I hear you bitching next week and you don’t have a little “I Voted” sticker…

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview with Melissa Blue, Writer and Shark Expert.

Today we have a very different kind of post, for me at least. One of my “Imaginary Friends” (so dubbed because they are people I only know from “The Devil’s Playground” aka “The Internet” and have not actually met in person) has had her second book published today. Her name is Melissa Blue and she writes Romance, although she’s thinking about dabbling in YA just for a change of scenery, and possibly Erotica, but not combined into one book because I’m sure she could get in lots of trouble for that.

Mel also pens a great blog and includes tips for writers at Brain Clutter.

So, for a nominal fee (just kidding), I offered to interview her here because I’m always happy when one of “us” back alley writers claws their way into the light of actual real live publishing. Yay! Melissa!

Now, for your reading pleasure, here is our conversation. And if you like this, you should checkout her books over at Wild Rose Press, and if you don’t like it, blame me. I’m used to it.

Slave Driver

Slave Driver : You claim to write romance novels with a lot of sharks in them. Exactly what kind of sharks do you write about? Great White sharks? Nurse sharks? Tiger sharks? And what exactly qualifies you as a shark expert? Are you an oceanographer? Because I read a rumor on the internet that you're really a Slurpee Wrangler at the 7-11.

Melissa Blue

Melissa Blue : I never said shark, I said snark. Snark is a fine art form full of sarcasm and wit. The best writers serve it with dark humor, but it's not mandatory. Ask anybody who knows me I serve it well. You really don't see it coming.

Slave Driver : Your name is Melissa Blue. Is that a pseudonym? Or are you really Blue? And is it like a neon blue, a sky blue or a Smurf blue?

Melissa Blue : I'd call myself a nice Carmel color, but from reading my books one would think I don't accept my "blackness". Not quite sure what that is. Even in today's world people think there is a recipe to writing African American books. And if you don't sound "black" then you must be selling out. I sound like myself. I sound like my upbringing. Of course my characters are going to sound like me. The important issue isn't color, but having two characters meet and fall in love.

Slave Driver : Do you like the singer and PETA freak 'Pink' ? And if you say yes this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : I'm too poor to own real fur, but if I could...

Slave Driver : How hard was it to break into a field dominated by fugly middle aged women? Because I've seen the jacket photos for many of these authors and they're kind of dowdy looking to be writing such hot and smutty stuff.

Melissa Blue : I lucked out with having both brains and beauty. Just kidding. Not all romance authors are fugly. We all don't wear house robes, and eat bons bons. That's a myth. Romance authors come in all shapes in sizes. Many have very high profile professions like attorneys and doctors. Me, I'm going to school to become a paralegal. Come hell or high water, I'll be graduating in May with my certificate.
As for was it hard to break into publishing? Yes and no. I lucked out with my first story. I'd only submitted it once and on the second submission it was contracted. I didn't know what real rejection felt like, but trust me I've made up for those in spades.

Slave Driver : How many books have you allegedly written? Do they have titles? Can we get them at a book store or must they be purchased from a creepy guy on the corner wearing a trench coat, black socks and not much else?

Melissa Blue : I only count books I've finished, so since I started writing in 2004 I've written seven. Only two have been published with The Wild Rose Press, See Megan Run and How Much You Want to Bet? Since SMR is a new release you can get it as an e-book directly from their site. HMYWTB? (A mouth full of a title) you can find it on Amazon, the Barnes and Noble site, or download the e-book in varies locations. Truly, if you are buying it, I'm not picky.
Side note: My mother has said she'd be willing to sell it out the trunk of her car. She's not creepy, but she might feed you.

Slave Driver : How do you research your characters? Because I've seen a picture of a placeholder for one of your stories and he's yummy looking. Do you ever ask someone, say, me, to volunteer to take one for the team and do the research for you? Because I promise I'd turn over all my notes when I was finished with one of your boytoys character models. But you might have to take a hairdryer to it to dry all the drool off the pages.

Melissa Blue : I'm a visual person, but it amazes me finding a placeholder is the last thing I do when I'm researching my characters. I do free-writing sessions and write down what comes to me. I need to know my characters back story or I get stuck in the story. I truly believe a person is made up of everything they've experienced. How they dealt with it. Who they have as friends. Who raised them. And most importantly what's their profession. A cop will think differently than a librarian. But both would have chosen their jobs due to their personality.
Then the grand finale is finding their placeholder. That's the most fun part.

Slave Driver : Vegetarian or Omnivore? And if you say Vegetarian this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : I tried to go without a beef when the tainted meat story came out. I live in the valley so we were the main target area. The day the ban was lifted I had a burger. Does that answer your question?

Slave Driver : Do you have any pets? Expound. And do you have pictures of them as long as it's a dog? No pictures of children please, you are, after all, talking to me.

Melissa Blue : I have children. That's enough.

Slave Driver : Have your parents read your novels? Many people who write sex scenes in their stories have some concerns about their Mother reading those sections, but has your Father tried to send you to your room until you change your wicked ways?

Melissa Blue : When I gave my parents my first book I told them, "Don't read it. You can brag, but for the love of all that is holy don't read it."

Slave Driver : Do you have a day job? And do they know what you do while you are 'On the clock?' Because even if you're not actually writing on the company dime you're probably thinking on the company dime and most corporations don't like that. They don't appreciate it when their employees think while on their payroll. And if you do think about a character do you punch in and out while you do it or subtract the twelve minutes you've been running a scene in your head from your weekly time sheet?"

Melissa Blue : Yes, I have a day job. If "thinking" on company time could get me fired than my boss would have gotten rid of me a long time ago. Though to be honest if I had all the time in the world to write I'd probably wouldn't. I have a lot of respect for authors who write full-time. I don't have the discipline to write every day from nine to five. But here's my secret: I write better (and more) when I only have 2 hours a day to write. Plus, all that isolation would get to me. I won't go as far to say I'm a people person, but I need human contact every once and while. So, in a perfect world. I'd work part-time and write part-time.

Slave Driver : When you die what would you like on your Tombstone? And do NOT say Pepperoni, that's already taken.

Melissa Blue : Well, first I won't be buried. I've never liked being large crowds, but if I did... Don't mourn. Celebrate her life with Cabana boys.

Slave Driver : To continue in this vein, Pineapple on pizza; Yummy or an affront to God that should be banned from Pizza Parlors for life, like Pete Rose and Baseball? And Cubs or White Sox. And if you say White Sox this interview is over.

Melissa Blue : Umm, so not a fan of sports. That's why I became a writer.

So everybody jump on over to Wild Rose Press and buy an e-copy of Mel’s new book, See Megan Run.
And for those of you who insist on buying it in actual paper form, it comes out December 12, 2008.

While you’re there buy “How Much do you Want to Bet?”
also. I’ve read it and it’s really good. And you can trust me on this because my personal philosophy is “Life is too short to read crappy books.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

More of my favorite people, uh, I mean Horses…

PART TWO (for part one, skip to "What's in a name", it's right there! Just below this one>)

Charlie Horse is a favorite amongst the drivers because of his funny and curious personality, mixed with his arcane habit of “exploding” for no particular reason. For example, with me he enjoys breaking into a gallop when we leave the parking lot of Little America and make a right onto West Temple. No reason. He just does. And I know it, so I’m prepared. Of course I wasn’t the first time. But we were okay. Charlie is all black with a strip and snip on his face which makes him look a lot like Cletus, but he’s shorter ( although w i d e r ) and is half Percheron Draft and Morgan saddle horse. He was the horse I was working with the night I had a mechanical failure, and we got through it just fine. He is a very oral horse, always trying to snatch your cell phone off of your belt or the barn phone we hang around our necks. His favorite snack is Starburst Fruit Chews, any flavor. And if you have snacks, and he knows it, he will continuously use his lips to tug your sleeve, or your wrist, to remind you “Hey, lady, I’m here and I’m starving and would you pleeeese gimme a treat?” Of course the joke is that Charlie is so fat he’s lucky to fit between the shafts. And to demonstrate that, here is a picture of what we have lovingly dubbed his “Apple Butt.”

Rex has been described by Wease as “The first horse who will try to bite you when you enter the pen.” I don’t know if I’d agree with that, but he does tend to be sullen. Maybe it’s because Marky-Mark makes him wear a hat when they work together. And although I am not Rex’s biggest fan, I have asked to work with him on the occasion when I have some weird assignment, because he is willing to go anywhere and do anything you ask. Rex is a red Belgian Draft, so his color is a little unusual compared to a horse like Tony.

a Clydesdale, is the newest addition to our work force. He came from a family that kept him as a pet. When he first started his employment with us he occasionally decided he was “done”, like a lazy teenager, and simply sat down, once in the middle of a busy intersection. He was the horse Em was driving who rubbed his headstall off and took her for a leisurely walk around downtown, looking at stuff like a tourist, until Em got a man to grab his halter and stop him. Ralphie isn’t naughty, he’s just…different. When Ralphie is standing his upper leg bone ties into his hip about five inches above my head. He is very tall.

Jerry is one of the most beautifully colored horses we have. A Percheron Draft off of an Amish farm, he is a beautiful Dapple Gray. Jerry came to us with a partner named Ben, who looked identical to him. Ben, sadly, died of cancer. Jerry mourned for weeks, and when a driver would take him through The Gateway mall and Jerry would see his reflection in the store windows, would whinny, thinking it was his long lost buddy Ben. When they first arrived they had no idea what pets or treats were, but Jerry has since become attached to humans, and will follow you around the pen, attempting to stick his face into the halter you are carrying to get the horse you are working with. When he realizes that you are not coming for him, he stands by the gate, because whether or not you’ve come to get him, he’s leaving with you, like it or not!
People often ask if his dapples are real. We’ve started saying “Oh, no, it took me all day to paint those on.”

Some of the horses that live at the carriage company have never worked for us a day in their lives. One of those is Picaso,
a beautiful Black and White Percheron. He's a paint. His name is Picaso. Get it? When he first arrived he was called Hutch, and he came with Starsky, a gray Percheron, who also never works.
But they get fed, and wormed, and spend all day long with the other horses in the pens, mostly doing this.