Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wheelman - Part One - "Trial By Fire"

Hidey-ho, L'il Shooters.

Despite past failed attempts in volunteering for the Atlantic Film Festival,  this would be the first year as an unrestricted free agent and I was determined to take advantage of it.

The first step in getting involved was to get a background check completed, which the application said I would have to pay for myself as a first timer.  I thought this seemed a bit cheesy, but regardless, I popped on down to the cop shop and sequestered the appropriate paperwork.  After I'd filled it all in, I brought it up to the desk and was pleasantly informed that the Festival had since changed their mind and would now  cover the $15.00 processing fee for everyone.  Boo-ya!

Within a few days I found myself in possession of an official-looking document testifying that I'd never knocked over any liquor stores Todd Bridges-style or rolled any senior citizens into a ditch for their pension checks.  Thank goodness for aliases, huh?

Whoops, you should probably ignore that last part...     

So I sent my application in and a few days later received this email reply back from the volunteer co-ordinators:

"Thanks for your application! We're just in the process of scheduling applications, we will be in touch when we've completed yours."

Yay!  This looked promising...

Things took a positively rapturous turn when I got a phone call a few days later from a dude with the Festival's transportation office.   He instantly seemed down to earth, amicable and strangely devoid of any pretensions.

"So, you're gonna be a driver," he announced.  "When do you want to come in for your first shift?"

I was taken aback slightly by the speed with which things were happening.  The application said there was supposed to be an interview.  Was this the interview?  I wasn't sure since I'd actually been through "interviews" like this before.

"Oh, listen, seriously, I can come in anytime," I enthused.  "Even as early as tomorrow morning if you'd like."

"Well, the first day would be Monday the 13'th but I think we've got enough coverage for that day.  Tell you what, let's make Tuesday AM your first shift, say 4:30?"

The pall of confusion crept over me as I wrote this down.  4:30 AM?  As in, like, a half hour after 4 AM!?  Was he nuts?  What in Odin's name did he need carted around in the middle of the night?  Was the Hospitality Suite to be fully stocked with blow? 

"Yeah," he continued, oblivious to my stunned silence.  "AM, Tuesday, 4:00.  Now, how about  Wednesday?"

"Um...hold up a sec," I said.  "Do you actually want me to to come in at 4:00 AM?  Like in the middle of the night?"   

There was dead air for a few beats.

"What?  Oh...oh...no!" the voice on the other end of the phone sounded as if it was grinning from ear to ear.  "You'll be coming in at 4:00 in the afternoon."

I heaved a sigh of relief and scribbled this down, along with the name of the hotel the Transportation Office would be in along with the suite number.

"Okay, that's great," he enthused.  "Can I put you down for more shifts?  How about 4:00 AM on Wednesday?"

If I didn't know any better I would have sworn that this was some sort of elaborate disorientation test.  At this stage in the game I wasn't sure if I was passing or failing.

"Um, sure, whatever..." I muttered, now totally flummoxed.

"Okay, we'll see ya tomorrow night then!"

Just before he hung up, I was suddenly seized by an attack of paranoia.

"Listen, is there any way I can get a summary of all this in the form of an email, maybe?

"Yeah, I'm normally a phone kinda guy, but give it to me anyway and I'll see what I can do..."

I gave the caller my email address but took little comfort from it.  I would have to trust my hastily scribbled notes, which now resembled a self-administered prescription for percocet.

As I predicted, no confirmation email arrived so I took it upon myself to head in early on Tuesday the 14'th at 3:30 pm.  I reasoned that one way or another I'd either be early or REALLY FRIGGIN' EARLY. 

I met up with a different dude at the office who told me that nothing was really going on until 7:30.  He invited me to kill some time and come back in a few hours.  Trust me, in downtown Halifax there are worst fates.  The only lamentable thing: as a driver I wouldn't be able to take advantage of any of the welcoming and abundantly available bar patio seats all around me.

I did some distribution work for a local poetry outfit I also volunteer for and then returned to the office at 5:30.  I was instantly thankful that I'd gone back when I did since the genial guy that I'd talked to on the phone before was now on site.  He welcomed me warmly and then promptly fired a parkade pass, van key, cell phone and passenger list at me in quick succession.

He then gave me the quickest crash course ever in shuttling around VIP's and staff.

"You'll find the van up in the parkade... somewhere.  Just hit the panic button and you should see it or hear it at least.  This pass card will get you though the gates.  You're first pick up will be at the airport at 7:30.  Get out there, find a place to park, take this pick-up sign with you, stay obvious and drive 'em back here to the hotel."

Now, I used to train people for a living so I'm kind of a stickler for instructions and detail.  I know it's virtually impossible to prepare people for every eventuality but I do like to get as much specific and consistently helpful information as I can before I hurl myself into a potential arena of embarrassment.

Even though I wasn't going to be paid for this gig I approached it like any other paying job.  As such, I felt inspired to pepper my guru with a half dozen questions like:

QUESTION: "Where, exactly, do I park out there?"  ANSWER: "The bus depot just past the arrivals section of the airport."  QUESTION: "What precisely is the pick up etiquette?  Do I lead them to the van or bring it to them?"  ANSWER: "Get them to walk to the van unless the weather is 'inclement'.  QUESTION: "What if I run out of juice?"  ANSWER: "The Irving service station on Robie has a credit system set up for us."

He then asked me to go up in the parkade, retrieve the van and then bring it down in front of the hotel so he could install a CB radio.  I mercifully found the van on the first level but stood in front of it like an idiot for a moment as I gaped at the mutant key I'd been given:

Okay.  What the f%$^ was this?  It took me a second to puzzle out that it was one of them thar' new-fangled keyless entry dealies.  I mashed the unlock button and felt the heady intoxication of a minor victory.

But I couldn't celebrate yet!  I still had to maneuver this massive shitbox out of the close confines of the packing garage without re-enacting this little scene:

I cleared this hurdle only to be confronted with yet another.  I'd put the pass key into the machine but it wouldn't read it.  Then it did read it and told me to re-insert it upside down.  Then it said it couldn't read it again.

I was trapped.  At this rate, my theoretical Atom Egoyan would be risking cannibalization as he hitch-hiked down the 102 Highway before I got out of this infernal concrete cage!

With vehicles bearing irate drivers piling up behind me I mashed the emergency call button and babbled at the attendant like a redneck calling into 9-11 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face.  She calmly asked me to try my pass again.  I did so and got zilch, nil, nada, SFA.

She then got me to hit a reset button and wait for a second.  The gates miraculously lifted and I was free at last and on my way!

Now, let it be know that I've been driving the same crappy Toyota Carolla for the past seven years.  I don't think I've driven any other vehicle in that time so the van's alien instrumentation layout had me temporarily confounded.

All the signal lights (minus the cabin and main lights which, for some God-forsaken reason, were on the dash), the back and front wipers, windshield wash and high beams were all controlled by the left stick.  Somewhere between the parkade and the front of the hotel, the emergency flashers had been triggered.  I hadn't even touched anything on the panel and suddenly I was in a red alert!  WTF?!?

I stopped in front of the hotel and let my boy install the radio.  This was also followed by an equally abbreviated lesson on how to operate it.  And by that I meant he got me to plug it in, told me to "stay in touch" then sent my on my merry way.

I maneuvered slowly out of the downtown core.  Precious intervals spent at every stop light were burned frantically mashing random buttons on the panel trying to get the emergency flashers off.  I felt the eyes of fellow motorists on me.  They looked at me as if I were Homer Simpson during a nuclear meltdown.  Their eyes seem to say: "Oh, what a brave little soldier, fighting on despite his obvious mental challenges."

But not all were so sympathetic.  I limped onto Robie Street and pissed off a few drivers as I nudged into the required lanes.  I just drove REALLY SLOWLY, trying to give some legitimacy to the fact that the ass end of the van was lit up like a friggin' Christmas tree.

Just as soon as I'd get a fleeting moment to size up the Boeing 747-style dashboard the cell phone would ring or the radio would squawk to life (or both would fire off simultaneous...my own personal favorite), often forcing me to pull over and call back into the office.

I finally managed to puzzle out where the emergency light was.  It was cleverly concealed as a big-ass black button smack dab in the middle of the dash with an angry-looking red arrow on it.  Y'know, it looked like EVERY OTHER FOUR-WAY FLASHER BUTTON ON EVERY VEHICLE ON THE PLANET.

I would have been flushed with triumph if I didn't feel like such an tool.  I now blazed merrily down the 102 for my pre-arranged date with some intriguing industry types.

Hopefully I'd actually get there...

EPIC: Glad I left so early, otherwise I would have pulled up to the airport like this:

FAIL: God, I hope there are no bodies of water close to the airport...

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