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…