Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wheelman - Part IV - "Tour Guide"

G'Day, Mates!

I was feeling pretty cocky going into the Atlantic Film Festival Transportation office at 4 pm again on Day Two.  After all, I had the process and procedures down cold now.  Even if I'd been handed a list of twenty VIP airport pickups including Simon Cowell, Naomi Campbell, Kanye West, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson and Jennifer Lopez I would have been nonplussed.

In a very considerate move the guys in dispatch sent someone to pick me up.  The dude who drove me to the hotel was great and we talked at length about how the airport retrievals were going.

"Yeah, it's kinda fun playing tour guide.  I like takin' 'em across the bridge for some sightseeing on the way back."

I turned and regarded him skeptically.

"Wait, pay the toll out of your own pocket every time you go across the bridge?"

He leveled a look of incredulity at me while deftly maneuvering the van through traffic. 

"Um, you do realize that there's a MacPass in every one of the vans, right?  They're usually on the rear-view mirror or lying on the dash somewhere."

He pointed to the little, yellow, magical, rectangular, pre-loaded MacPass which would have gotten me over the bridge that night without paying my own .75 cents.  I sat there slack jawed for a bit.  No one told me about that.  Which, co-incidentally would have made for a considerably more apropos title for this series than "Wheelman".   What was I theeking? 

"That's so weird," I mumbled.  "Before I went through the toll I looked around for a pass but didn't see one.  Plus, the gate didn't lift before I paid the toll guy.  Weird."

My driver just shook his head as he dropped my clearly myopic ass off at the hotel.  In another omen (or perhaps an ottoman?) I was immediately paired up with another volunteer who was about to begin her own baptism of fire in the form of her first shift.  We were dispatched down to the Atlantic Film Festival main office to pick up some posters and programs so this worked out quite well.  I could brief my new cohort about the van and airport protocol while she could tip me off as to where exactly the main office was!

But once again, the f$#$%^& parking pass wouldn't work.   I put it into the machine, flipped it over and then tried sacrificing a goat to the GODS OF FREEDOM AND GATE LIFTERY.  Nothing budged  and soon cars were piling up behind me.  

"You're seeing this, right?"  I said to my co-pilot with exasperation.  "You're my witness!"

Again, I had to press the call button to get help.

"Sir," began the attendant, as if addressing a simpleton.  "Are you actually putting the pass inside the machine?"

"Yes, of course I am!" I said, wrestling with my temper.

"Well, don't do that.  Hold the pass up in front of the green laser eye on the front of the machine."

I looked again and all I say was one of those ATM security card readers, like this:

Since it was the only thing that looked green I held up the pass flush to the thing and the gates went up.  Once again I cursed my lack of psychic powers and sped out of that accursed concrete tomb.

Seconds later I also noticed the MacPass, sitting in the change holder between the seats for some God-forsaken reason.   Little wonder it didn't activate the booth gate the night before. 

Once again we had little inkling about where best to park for our pick up.  We managed to eke out a spot on South Park Street across from the CBC building and next to Public Gardens.  I put about four pounds of (very) loose change in the meter, which earned us about fifteen minutes of time, and we then proceeded to play a live-action version of the video game  Freeway to across the street to the office. 

My compadre led me inside and all at once we were set upon by the truly awesome volunteer coordinator Krista Davis.  In a flash she had us registered and armed with an ID badge (which we could scan to gain free access to movies).  As an added bonus, she also gave us four passes each to hand out to friends and some ultra-fly volunteer t-shirts.

Krista, bless her heart, knew nothing about the imminent pick up, so she sent us next door to the REAL main office.  The feverish activity inside brought to mind an ants nest that had been kicked around by a hypoglycemic ten year old.  It was a hive of frenetic activity.

We picked up our cargo and booked it back to the hotel.  During this time I gave my new navigator a crash course on everything I hadn't been told on my first night.  Share the wisdom, I always say.

After completing our appointed delivery to the registration office up on the eighth floor we bipped back down to the Transportation Office for our next assignment.

"Alright," I cackled while rubbing my hands together.  "Where my new airport pick up list?  C'mon, bring it on!"

"You're not going back to the airport today," Jim the dispatch supervisor said.  "You're going out to Peggy's Cove."

I winced at him and scratched my head.  That made no sense whatsoever.

"Um...Peggy's Cove?" I dimly repeated.

"Yep.  A bunch of the delegates want to go out there tonight.  For a lot of these people it's their first trip to Nova Scotia and they want to see the local attractions."

"But...but what about the airport runs?" I sulked.

"Someone else is taking care of that.  We need seven out of the ten vans tonight for this Peggy's Cove run."

"What time are we supposed to go out there?"

"Well, that's changed a few times.  It used to be five PM but the last I heard they were shooting for seven o'clock."

My new cohort piped up with a good point.

"But it'll likely be almost eight by the time we get out there.  It'll be getting pretty dark..."

Our supervisor paused to refill his endless spring of patience and forged on.

"Yeah, trust me, I know but that's just the way it is.  They have reservations at a restaurant out there for seven-thirty or eight.  So, we'll head out there around seven, drive to Peggy's Cove, let 'em jump out, wander around a little bit, take some snaps, pile 'em back into the van and then take 'em to the restaurant."  

I wasn't impressed.  As a local, I'd been to Peggy's Cove a few times before but I wasn't keen on trying to get a bunch of VIP's out there quick enough to do all of this and keep a dinner appointment as well. 

"Can we all go out together?" my fellow volunteer mercifully asked.

"Of course," he replied.

The seven drivers, your truly included, then spent the next hour or so rubbing our collective noggins together  to puzzle out the quickest, most efficient route to Peggy's Cove.  We decided to do the Cogswell/Robie/Young/Bayers Road/Highway route and avoid the rotary altogether.  After all, the "give n' go" nature of the exchange would surely break up our little Caravan of Courage.  I even moved the van out of the parkade and put it with the rest of the vehicles to make sure I'd be mid-pack when we left.   
But, of course, nothing ever goes to plan.  At around six-thirty an urgent call came in to pick up two staffers and some equipment at the main office and bring them back to the hotel.  Naturally, I was the one tapped to do it.  

"Okay, I'm going, but for the love of everything holy, DON'T LEAVE WITHOUT ME!  I'm barely confident that I can get out to Peggy's Cove in time let alone to this restaurant."

"No worries," the dispatch overlord proclaimed, instantly making me worry.

"Alright," I continued.  "And you said we're leaving around seven?"

He chuckled, rubbed his hand through his hair and grinned.

"Well, honestly, if we're all out of here before seven, I'll be shocked." 

 I scrambled out to the van and felt a twinge of regret as I nudged away from the primo spot I'd eked out for myself.  I wrestled with the wheel and pulled out into traffic, still unable to shake the paranoid feeling that I was going to be left behind.

To further complicate things, it was starting to rain.  A lot.  When I got to my intended destination, I cursed the dearth of available parking spaces across the street and snuck into the lot at the corner of Bell and Sackville.  I ran into the main office and was amazed by the difference from earlier.  It was like walking into a dance club after a massive rave had let out.  The staff count was down now, but the ambiance inside was muggy and depleted.  I couldn't help but sense the palpable karmic residue of exhaustion and tension hanging in the thick air.

I hastily located my two passengers Laura and Sarah.  They both appeared pretty tightly wound which could certainly be forgiven given a stress-filled day.  To help ease their immediate concerns I offered to carry some of their considerable payload out to the van.  They had several boxes, a slew of binders and an iMac to bring with them.

"Where are you parked?" Laura asked as we left the office.  The rain was heavier and now rendered almost vertical by the strengthening winds. 

"Uh, just across the street over there," I replied.

"Really?  Why so far away?" she asked. 

"Um, well, because there were no other spots," I returned. 

"You know you can park right out front here?  Just by the doors."

Right.  Wow, was there anything that I'd been told at all in advance to help me do this job properly the first time out?

I thought this but didn't verbalize it.  Instead what came out of my mouth was:             

"Okay, that's great.  Just hold up here and I'll bring the van around to you."

I dashed out into the rain, getting soaked in the process, but I really didn't mind.  Better me than a baker's dozen binders filled with pertinent info.  I retrieved the "bus", navigated it into the spot right where they stood and helped the girls load up their gear.

We were back at the hotel around ten to seven.  Despite getting back early, as soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I could clearly see that all the other vans had left.  I silently cursed under my breath as I tried to get under the valet parking shelter by the front doors.  The rain was now torrential and some d-bag was sitting in his car blocking the way.  I gestured for him to move, blew the horn and went to jump out but Sarah beat me to the punch.  The f#@$%^& doofus still didn't budge, either out of spite or due to the fact that he was clearly born sans genitals.

Just before I was about to drag him out of the car and beat his ass Clockwork Orange-style, Jim the dispatch dude appeared from out of nowhere and got him to move.  The way now clear, I nudged the van up to the door, popped the hatches and then proceeded to help the gals disembark.

I thanked our hero and then proceeded to grill him about missing the wagon train to Peggy's Cove.

"I thought you said they wouldn't be ready by seven!?" I said.

"Turns out there's only four van loads going so they left a bit early."

"Anyone else going out there?" I wheezed.

"There may be a few stragglers.  Come up to the office and take a break for a second and I'll see if anyone else is headed out there."

After a brief respite, I was informed that Laura, Sarah and two other gents would be destined for Peggy's Cove as well.  I was hastily provided with some directions to the Inn where they'd be dining.

"You can't miss the place.  It's along route 333 and you pass it just before you get to Indian Harbor.  Just look for a big place with a bunch of vans parked by the side of the road."

He could see I was still hesitant but offered some encouraging words:

"Dave, you're a quick learner and a smart dude.  You've already picked up on everything with barely any instructions.  You're doing great and I have faith you can do this as well."

Unreal.  I know this wasn't a real job but I'd just received more praise, encouragement and an infusion of work-related pride than I'd received during the past four years at my last gig.  I flew out of there like friggin' Superman.

I pitched down in the lobby, rounded up my four passengers and piled them back into the van.  With their time-sensitive mission complete, Laura and Sarah seemed to be winding down considerably.    

I was chomping at the bit to catch up to the pack and was a bit worried when asked to stop at Park Lane and someone's apartment even before we got on the highway.  My concerns, as it turned out, were baseless.  In a turn of good fortune my passengers requested a specific route out to the lighthouse landmark and we were soon through the rotary and on our merry way.

Despite being politely introduced  I was too preoccupied to retain or record the names of the two gentlemen that came with us.  This was a regrettable since both of them spent most of the time swapping stories about  interesting projects they had in the hopper, attempting to get funding for their films and shooting in exotic locations like South America and Pakistan.  Besides the industry talk, most of the conversation en route generally revolved around the collective feeling that the most taxing part of the day was fover and the staff could start to unwind a bit.

En route to Peggy's Cove, Laura and I kept a watchful eye out for this phantasmal Oceanfront Inn.  I was a bit unnerved that we didn't seem to pass it along the way, even after we rolled up on Peggy's Point Road.

Upon reaching the summit where the lighthouse and beautiful sunset was on display I felt a palpable sense of relief.  All of the vans were still there and the delegates were still milling around.  We all took a casual moment to unwind as we jumped along the rocks, sat close to the lighthouse and took stock of the beautiful surroundings.

I fished for more directions when we came back to the fleet just as it was leaving.  We retraced our steps but nearly drove past the Inn!  There was no obvious building by the side of the road!  There were no vehicles parked around!  There was just a tiny, nondescript sign and a single unpaved lane vanishing into a dense tree line.  If we hadn't been looking intently for the sign we surely would have missed it.

I dropped off my four passengers and all the drivers piled into one van and went back to the hotel.  This made sense since we didn't want to loiter around for four hours as the Festival guests and staff finished their collective meals.  During the drive back it was whispered that a passenger in one of the other vans didn't take too well to the serpentine knot of Peggy's Cove Road and got a bit...shall we say...yarfy.   

Man, I'm glad it hadn't been my van, since with my luck, it would have been a domino effect like in Stand by Me

When we got back to the Transportation Suite, our coordinators had kindly arranged for a food delivery with pub favorites like chicken wings, nachos, fried peperoni, onion rings and other nummies.

We ventured back 'round eleven o'clock.  I was one of the first to retrieve my van, gather a full load of passengers and hit the highway home.  Silently I prayed that I didn't have Yacky McSpewsalot onboard as I gingerly navigated the twisty course back to the highway (especially considering that everyone was reloaded to capacity by the rich meal they'd just consumed). 

In a turn of good fortune, Sarah hopped into the passenger seat and we had an extended yarn about the meal, the Inn and other things.  Up to this time I'd been enthralled by a brand new radio station in Halifax, "Live 105" and I had it on constantly in the background.  Sarah picked up on the great music they were playing (like Wintersleep, Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire) and this set us off on a non-stop dialogue surrounding our mutual love of music.

Turns out Sarah was a Strategic Partners Coordinator for this year's Music Industry Conference held concurrently with the AFF.  She was particularly interested in catching some of the featured acts which included The Stanfields, In-Flight Safety, and Two Hours Traffic.  We yammered on about our favorite bands and concerts.  She had fascinating stories to tell about her ties to Wintersleep and their hither-unknown-to-me side project Postdata ("You can listen here.  Don't say I've never done anything for ya," signed  your Humble Host:

Perhaps Sarah's funniest story was inspired by the fact that it took Halifax so long to get a decent radio station.  Up until "Live 105" arrived on the scene the situation was pretty grim in this city.  "C-100" propagated nothing but non-threatening manufactured pop product, "89.9 HAL FM" and "Q-104" are both designed for people like Homer Simpson who believe rock attained perfection in 1975 and "Kool 96.5" (there's never been a more ironic name for a radio station, by the way) is a viable promotional tool for artists that are all either irrelevant, defunct or deceased.

"That's too funny what you said about Homer Simpson," Sarah said.  "My family was convinced that there was no good music at all past 1975!  I remember sneaking a Blind Melon CD into the house and playing it surreptitiously when no on was around.  If I'd been caught playing it they would never have let me live it down!"

With such entertaining conversation, the time driving back flew by.  If you ever read this, Sarah, thanks for making a very routine and boring milk run a lot more entertaining!

I felt elated when I dropped my weary guests off at the hotel.  Jim in dispatch was kind enough to drive me home.  En route he said something which was at once partially thrilling and partially ominous:

"Tomorrow's the really big day.  It's gonna be crazy.  The opening gala is tomorrow night so you're constantly gonna be on the go.  It's totally nuts."

Totally nuts?  Really?!  Like, more nuts then what it's been like up until now? 

A part of me was kinda scared but mostly I couldn't wait for the next day to come.  As soon as I got home around 12:30 am I crashed hard and quickly got my wish...




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