Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Re-education of the One Trick Pony

Trainee. “Ugh!”

You see an unfamiliar name written next to yours when you walk into the office and look on the master sheet, and you shudder.

Trainee. “Ewww.”

Trainees are a fact of life in the carriage trade. Everyone driving carriage had a “Once Upon a Time…” The seasoned drivers, with the exception of a few who have the personalities of Rabid Pit Bulls or the I.Q. of a gnat, all get stuck with a trainee once in a while. Several drivers, and I won’t say exactly who, are assigned trainees with explicit instructions to “Run them off.” For some of us them it’s a specialty.

Anyway, the state requirements in Utah to be a professional carriage driver are as follows:

1) You must be 21.

2) You must hold a valid/current Utah drivers license

3) That’s it.

4) No, really, that’s it!

Now, just because you qualify with those two items doesn’t mean that we will hand you the lines attached to a horse and wave bye-bye, turning you loose on an unsuspecting public.

Nope, first you go through the training program.

Preparation for writing this blog involved me asking Ro, the barn/office manager, several questions pertaining to the success rate of our training program. She was not real happy because I made her do math, and the first time we ran the numbers we came out at a
–20%, so we had to refigure. This is what we came up with:

50% The number of people who actually come in and begin training after calling about a position as a carriage driver and/or filling out the application. Some folks don’t even make the first cut. You have to be able to lift at least 30 pounds, and we stay out until 11 pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends, so if you have another job (for most of the drivers this is a second job. Except me, this is my full time/only gig. Yes, I know, I live a charmed life) and you have to be up early, this is probably not for you. May I suggest you consider a career as a Wal-Mart greeter? Apparently the only requirement is that you be upright and occasionally breathe.

50% The number of people who never return after the first night of training. And, funny as it sounds, some never make it through the first night.

You see, where we stage, in front of the South Gates at Temple Square, you have to go into Temple Square if you need to use the restrooms. Temple Square has three escape routes gates, North, South and West. So sometimes the trainee asks to “Use the john”, and never comes back, having slipped out the West Gate and hoofed it to the barn and their automobile. It’s only about ¾ of a mile, so it is definitely within walking distance. After about 30 minutes of “bathroom” time we figure they’ve bagged it and run off. We see that as a sign that they don’t have the intestinal fortitude or character to do the job anyway. After all, if just tacking up the horse and driving it to Temple Square, then standing around with the drivers is too much for you to handle, then you’re going to melt down big time during the difficult stuff. You might want to consider a job as a ticket seller at the Googleplex. That looks low stress.

So now we are at 25%. This is where our math went south the other day

Of the 25% that actually survive get passed off after training for three to seven nights (without pay, mind you. And I don’t share tips with trainees, and I’ll tell you what I tell them: I know how to drive a carriage. I don’t need training, and quite frankly, most of the time having a trainee is like swimming with a brick around your neck. So if having a trainee means cutting into my income, I would tell Ro not to give me anymore, because, you see, I don’t need you. I already know how to drive a carriage. You don’t.)

So, sorry for the long interruption, but of the 25% that actually pass, 10% quit driving within a month, which is their probation period. Why? I don’t know. Most of them have a romanticized idea of what we do anyway. I had a trainee who sang opera in college and wanted to sing arias to his passengers.

I’m sorry, we’re strange people, but that is “Freak Show” quality right there, my friends.

Then we get the guys who are new fathers and are trying to make a little extra on the side, or just get the heck out of the house. They bag off after a short time because their spouse resents the fact that they get to leave and stick them at home alone with the kid. I can’t say as I blame the new moms. That’s why I drive. I have a teenage daughter. It was either drive carriage or join a carnival for five years or so, or end up in the Big House with a prison record.

Kids. You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t legally sell them on eBay. Bah!

Anyway, for whatever reason many people who do pass the training never come back after the first month or so. To tell the truth, new drivers don’t have the selling skills the seasoned ones do, and many times they don’t make a whole lot of money. But it takes time, and that’s what I try to tell them. So if you’re looking to get rich quick, may I suggest you join Amway or Usana? I hear they churn out millionaires daily.

(Pause for maniacal laugher.)

(Wait…still laughing.)

Okay now, we’re down to 15%. And that’s not too bad, and I’ll tell you why. Because 15% is the summer figure. Come September and October it starts getting chilly and the business drops exponentially (sorry for using such a big word, * B *, I know I just recently defined “Superfluous” for you. I’ll tell you what this one means next time we’re at breakfast) so while they are standing around freezing their patooties off they are also not making any cashish. This causes yet another drop off of about 10%, which is too bad on their part because if you can scratch your way through September, October and the first three weeks of November, you eventually hit the mother lode.

So that’s bring us to our 5% solution. Yep, that’s the figure Ro and I came up with for the success rate of our Carriage Driver Training Program.


Now, I don’t know how this compares with other training programs in other professions, but I’m sure it’s a pretty low success rate. I’m okay with it though, and I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve discovered in my experience in driving carriage and training potential drivers that besides the Utah State qualifications (21, valid Drivers license) there is another quality severely lacking in many of the applicants. 95% of them to be exact.

You see, to drive a carriage you don't have to be real smart, but you need to be at least 1% smarter than the horse.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

You’da thunk it was Brittany Spears…

I was sitting in front of my computer this morning, doing what I normally do when I’m not driving carriage, which is pretty much just goofing around. I could hear the drone of helicopters coming from outside, but that’s normal for us. We live just down the road from the National Guard helicopter training facility by Airport #2, and they frequently fly Apaches in formation 3 or 5 at a time. It makes a lot of noise and rattles the stuff on my walls. My Susie Morton Horse Plates are kept on their display racks by double-sided tape. I’m no fool.

Well, I guess that’s debatable. Anyway, I kept hearing the helicopters, and it sounded like they were circling. This I think to myself, is weird. So, I go out to the back yard, and see a helicopter, but it’s no Apache. It’s a news copter. I go back inside, grab my binoculars and go out front where I have a better view. My good friend and fellow slave driver ~A~ has just pulled up in front of my house because we are supposed to hang out today, go to lunch, use her discount to get dog food cheap, and go see my horse, Dreamer. ~A~ tells me that just a moment ago there were two news copters. I look to the east, and sure enough, there is one behind us now, too. Circling like vultures, you would think Brittany Spears had moved in two blocks over.

Now, I notice is that they are hovering over the direction of the High School and Middle School. So, of course, Columbine immediately springs to mind. That’s the way my shit works.

So we run back into the house and check the two channels that own the copters. Nothing but icky soap operas. Bleh! So we hit the computer and see if anything is on the station’s websites. Nothing on one, but a very small blurb on the other one says:

“Cougar spotted roaming in neighborhood. Residents warned to stay inside by reverse 911 call.”

Well, that’s a relief, because stuff like that never happens around here, and besides I never got a reverse 911 call so we must be okay. But the choppers are still there, so we go back outside and at the end of my street is now filled with Animal Control trucks, cop cars, DNR vehicles and news vans.

“Holy crap, when did they get here!”

I see a couple of uniformed guys struggling with something on a stick and run back to the house yelling for ~A~ to come out. Sure enough, in front of Val and Val’s house (I don’t know why they have the same name but they do) they have cornered a cougar and are getting the rabies stick over its head.

I say to ~A~ “Stay!” (I don’t know why, it just came out. I do spend an awful lot of time alone with two dogs, you know) and I run in to grab the camera (yes, the same one that wouldn’t work on Saturday) and it’s GONE! Someone has taken it to SCHOOL! So I go outside, once again run afoul by the God of Kodak Moments, and use my cell phone. Then I use ~A~’s cell phone. They’ve gotten it into a cage in the back of the DNR truck now, and it’s totally out in LaLa Land because they tranquilized it. Soon the neighbors are coming out of the woodwork, and I look at Val and Val’s house and say “I wonder if they’re home. They have two dogs that are usually out in the back yard.”

As it ends up, Val and Val and their 2 dogs were hiking in Millcreek Canyon. They pull up and 50 gazillion people are in front of their house with news trucks and cameras and cops crawling all over the place. Val and Val are both like “WTF?”

But I finally did get a camera, and these are the pictures I took. I cannot decide which ones are more interesting, the ones of the cougar, or the media circus that followed it. Now I know how Brittany must feel.

The Gathering of the Villagers
A media frenzy
We haven't seen this much

action since the drunk across the street
threatened to kill himself with a spork

The woman in the white T is telling anyone who will listen that the cougar was in HER yard first.

Sleepy time for Cougar
It was just a juvenile female, not Catzilla
Val #1 getting a picture of her surprise visitor
Val #2 "He,he,he. I was out getting a jamba juice!"

"It was right over THERE!"

Nope, still sleeping
Here, Kitty kitty kitty...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The things we do for love

A funny thing happened at Strut Your Mutt on Saturday. Well, funny for most of you people who are a little more relaxed than the me kind of people who are type A, anal retentive and have a plan…

I wanted many pictures at this event. Many. So I grabbed The Kids really nice digital camera, and put it in the car. The Husband also grabbed his 35mm camera. On the way to the event Sammie Two Chews, my freshly groomed (Thanks again, ~A~) Pomeranian managed to open the camera and spill out the batteries. Now, I DO NOT KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED. MAGICAL THINGS HAPPEN IN THE BACK SEAT OF THE TRUCK. I HAVE STOPPED ASKING HOW. AND QUITE HONESTLY I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. So, after the dog messed with the camera it wouldn’t work. Maybe the batteries were dead, I have no idea. So, we still had The Husbands 35mm camera and there was another digital in the back seat that is a “work” camera. I told The Kid to grab it and give it to me. She took it out of the case and started taking pictures with it.

Brown Dirt Cowboy always has the funky one ear down one ear up thing going on. He is the best dog we have ever had the pleasure of have as a family member.

We arrived at the fundraiser venue and got organized with the two dogs and all of our stuff, water bottles, promotional hats and paperwork. Then The Husband got a work call at the last minute so we had to wait for him to deal with that. Finally we met up with the rest of the “Dog Pack” and signed in.

The Kid getting special recognition for bringing in the big bucks

Our “Dog Pack”, a group of 5 of more fundraisers who join as a team, was actually a corporate sponsorship. The Kid, all on her own, raised $504.00 for the event, and the company The Husband works for kicked in a separate amount of $5000.00. The money went to No More Homeless Pets in Utah because we nagged him and nagged him until he convinced the rest of his co-workers that if they didn’t agree he would make their lives as miserable as we were making his. Shit, as we are all aware of, does indeed roll downhill.

Anyway, we finally got ourselves together and went to the Buster’s Backyard area, staking a claim to a table. It was at this point that The Kid informed me that she had left the work camera in the truck.

The truck is parked a half a mile away, and the flow of human and canine traffic is not in my favor. I was getting ready to go swimming upstream when The Husband said “Hey, I still have my camera, we can use it.” So, okay, I like digital photography because of the instant gratification, but 35mm has better quality so I can go with that. Years and years ago I photographed Chicago area Rock bands. You know, back when they performed in caves, using instruments made from dinosaur bones and rocks, and my trusty Vivitar X-C traveled the tri-state area at my side.

Anyway, The Husband begins making the rounds, taking lots and lots of photos so he can send them into his company’s newsletter. Then the strut starts and I take a bunch of pictures so I can post them. We get back to our table and we take more pictures, really good, cute pictures, and then out of nowhere he says “Oh Crap!”

“What?” I ask.

“You are not going to believe this,” he tells me, opening the back of the camera for a visual, “but there’s no film in the camera.”

After agreeing that he did indeed win the “Idiot of the Day” award, he put some film in the camera so it will now actually take pictures.

Of course by then most of the work related people have left, so now it’s just us and our friends. And dogs, lots and lots of dogs. So The Kid takes the camera and goes around taking pictures.

Now, I took pictures I thought would interest people who read my blog, and photos we could send to corporate for the newsletter. The photos that The Kid took? Of a roll of 24, only 6 pictures include people, and The Husband took 1 of them.

They say everything happens for a reason, I’ll let you decide. Personally, I think The Kids pictures are way more interesting then anything I took.

They appear to think if they lean any farther out something is gonna eat them.

IMHO the dog on the left is enjoying itself. However, the Dog on right would like to see lefty walk the plank.

This is not my Pom. My Pom is way cuter than this one.And besides, this one has an evil grin.