Driving for a Living: Driver #69, Part 2 is an excerpt from my first book, Down and Out in California that covers my time as a driver messenger.
To see Part 1 of my driver messenger stories, go here: Party on the Freeway
One time I deliver to A Band Apart studios, up some elevator in the Western part of West Hollywood, and there, brushing shoulders with me is Quentin Tarantino. I realize I could have a pitch, or work for him. I’m more qualified to work for him than to deliver packages to him. I note he’s gained weight, and looks surly. I keep my head down, and deliver the package to his receptionist.
Once I deliver to Warner Bros. as the last drop of my day, and I notice that my pass is for the rest of the day. I explore the lot, peeping in on preparation for movie shoots and a few TV shoots in action. Don’t miss this industry, but it feels odd to be on the lot as a blue collar worker. I look at the sound people on set, working complex microphone robots. Certainly don’t envy them. I press on and find a catered event. I remove my work shirt and stuff it in my purse, and then have dinner and drinks on them.
Often my work is to repair some breach of integrity.
Someone promised something they were unable to deliver on until just before or after the due date, and the solution is to hire someone to drive that thing to someone else while they do something else. Or even not. Sometimes they have nothing else to do but would rather pay than face the person whose deadline they broke. No matter the reason that someone wants to save face, I’m paid.
Usually this is carried out in a work context, and mostly for the entertainment industry. Videotapes are the most common thing I transport. Hard drives are the second most common. I wonder, now, with digital media that can be instantly e-mailed, what has happened to the driver messenger business. In business, it’s important to change with the times.
Sometimes the deliveries are personal.
A day or two after Easter I deliver three giant baskets to a mansion in Brentwood. I pick them up just South of the 10 around Fairfax from a black owned business that sells custom baskets. These are not custom though, they have chosen the pre-made deluxe package. They are done up with fancy ribbon and wrapped in plastic. Inside are treats of all kinds. I carefully, painstakingly unwrap all three and steal two items from each, and then remake them. They’re not quite as picture perfect as they were before my pilfering, but I’m sure good enough for whatever neglected children will receive these generic gifts. The maid who receives them from me speaks no English, and thanks me profusely with many a “Gracias”. I get the feeling she has had to suffer for daddy’s forgetfulness.
Gorging myself on chocolate and treats I get it all over my shirt. I’m glad that most of the deliveries in the day have been done, and that the rest are all to private residences. I stop in Westwood to deliver some video to a small studio out of someone’s home. Well coiffed women work there, all limbs and elbows. I feel fat and inferior with my chocolate-stained uniform. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with my life. I write this:
“I was three years old when I learned to read
I was four years old when I was first told I was gifted, which of course went straight to my head.
I was sixteen when I finished high school
I was nineteen when I graduated college
I was twenty-one when I got my masters from USC film.
I drive for a living”
And I am driving. I drive up to Topanga and into the mountains. Here there is no one around, and here I lock my keys inside my car. The standard protocol is to wear an extra car key around one’s neck so that one does not end up in situations like these. Today I have forgotten mine. It’s one of only two times that I haven’t worn it. I have no cell phone reception here.
I sit next to my car swearing for a while after dropping the package in the mailbox. There was no signature required on this one because the recipient knew they wouldn’t be home. The smell of sage and dust and the Santa Monica mountains is intoxicating. I remember all the hikes I’ve taken through these peaks. Consider just walking off from my car and never getting into a vehicle again. I walk up and down the street to see if I can knock on someone else’s door for help, but everything is gated. There aren’t even buzzers or doorbells or any alert system on the gates. Just cameras.
I find a brick. Look carefully at my car and select the passenger side rear window. I take off my delivery shirt and wrap it around my hand. I begin to practice my swing. Just at that moment, a dog comes around the corner, and after, his human. The dog trots up to me and I turn towards the human, chocolate-stained, brick in hand, red-faced, stoned as shit, and frustrated.
He sees me and says “Woah woah woah”. He has both hands out, to calm me. The dog sits near him and looks at me, and cocks its head, panting.
“I’m a driver messenger. I’m working, and I don’t have time to deal with this.” I explain, with exasperation.
“I get it. I really do. But you don’t have time to deal with a broken window if you don’t have time to deal with your keys being locked in the car.”
He makes a good point. He’s surprisingly understanding, and treats me like a human. I’m so used to being treated like a servant in this job – people love to blame the messenger. I’m often the target of disappointment and scrutiny, and I don’t seem to get credit when people feel relief brought by whatever I’m delivering.
“Wait here a minute.” He says, and smiles
He jogs off. I wait what for seems much longer than a minute, and wonder if he called the cops on me or something.
He comes back with a wire hanger, works his jimmy magic, and in less than a minute my door is unlocked. He grins. “I haven’t gotten to do that in years. White collar crime is so much less fun.” He winks at me, whistles for his dog, and jogs back up the hill to his twelve million dollar mansion.
And there is Paul, always, cheering me on. When I tell him this story he smiles. He says he is jealous, sometimes, of what we see out there on the road. I tell him it takes a lot of being stuck in traffic for a story like that one. One day for some reason Paul is late and a temp dispatcher takes his place. Can’t stand it. I realize how much of a difference to my livelihood it makes, route planning and job assignment of a competent dispatcher.
I only ever meet one of the other driver messenger colleagues, driver one twenty-nine, one time when I go in to headquarters to pick up my check. Every two weeks they cut checks, and then we have the option of starting our day from there to pick it up in person, which I usually do because I’m out of weed money by the time I’m paid, and desperate. Driver messenger one twenty-nine is tubby, very tubby, and I wonder how he manages the physical part of the job, the getting out of the car, running in, up the stairs, down the stairs, always on the clock. The more deliveries we make, the more we are paid. The faster we move, the more our reward in our movement. I am always running.
One morning Paul calls me on the phone, which is rare.
“Six Nine, this is dispatch.”
“Oh, hey Paul, what’s up?”
“I’ve got a special run for you.” He clears his throat. “It’s triple price.”
“Why, what is it? A dead body or something?” I’ve learned by now that things are always priced accordingly.
“Not yet.” He deadpans. There is a pause. “Uh, you have to go to the store and buy three packs of Newport Beach menthols and deliver them to room 134 in St. John’s, 2121 Santa Monica, Santa Monica, 90401”
I let it sink in. “Dispatch are you asking me to deliver cigarettes to someone in a hospital bed?”
“That is correct, Six Nine”
I think about it. I know I’m twenty minutes from the hospital and that every block between here and there has a store that sells cigarettes. “And how much is this run?” I ask.
“Dispatch, Sixty-Nine is a go for room 134, St. John’s, 2121 Santa Monica, Santa Monica, 90401.”
I am already out the door. I slide into my work shirt while I slide into my Saturn. The seats are stained with sweat and coffee and junk food. It’s not nearly as bad as some cars I’ve seen, and since mine was bought new it’s not got much wear, yet still the smell of these makes me instantly depressed. I try not think about what I am doing.
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