Confessions of a Chauffeur

chauffeurMy name is Matt. Having been a limousine chauffeur for the last four years, I must say it has been a unique career, certainly the most interesting one I have had.

At one point I thought about writing a book about the entire experience, but the key to being a good chauffeur is discretion and maintaining the privacy of your clients, so I left that idea behind.

Being a chauffeur entails more than just shuttling people around. The most essential element is being able to actually operate and drive a limousine, which is not as easy as some might think. The large distance between the front tires and the rear axle decreases the ability to make sharp turns. You must be observant of your surroundings, avoiding things like concrete poles next to gas pumps, curbs, and parked cars. Maneuvering through crowded venues such as hotel and restaurant parking lots, as well as other tight spots, takes skill, and no matter where you are, you must always observe caution.

Customer service: Going above and beyond

Once you have mastered the driving part of the job, you can focus on the real key to being a great chauffeur, which is catering to your passengers. The more you make the experience a stress-free delight for the client, the more they will use your service.

One of my clients, a real-estate broker named Deborah, called upon our limo service at least once a month. The first time I drove her, she was with her family and the purpose of the trip was strictly for pleasure. While waiting for her outside her family's residence, I noticed that one of her children had wandered off into a brushy area and emerged covered in stickers. So I sat with the boy and picked off the stickers one by one. When Deborah learned what I had done, she was extremely appreciative.

The more I drove for her, the more I learned about my client. I began to notice things such as the brand of champagne she preferred. While driving her and some associates one night, she commented that she wished she had brought some strawberries to complement the champagne. After dropping them off for dinner, I realized that I was conveniently close to a grocery store. I bought a fresh bottle of champagne, a box of strawberries, and some ice. Knowing the strawberries should be rinsed, I went to a local deli and asked the employees there if they'd be kind enough to rinse them for me. I then returned to the restaurant parking lot to wait for her, and while waiting I checked the state of the limo's back seats.

I noticed that the glasses needed cleaning, so I spoke with the restaurant manager and he arranged for the glasses to be cleaned for me and returned to the limo in an inconspicuous manner. The staff not only washed the glasses but also freshened up the ice bucket and created a beautiful arrangement with the strawberries. When Deborah and her guests were finished with dinner, I was waiting for them curb-side with the door open. She climbed in and gasped with happy surprise. Deborah was so pleased with the level of service that I provided, that whenever she called our limousine service, I was the always the chauffeur she requested.

Famous passengers: Thoughts about celebrities

During my time as a chauffeur, people would often ask me, "Do you get to meet a lot of celebrities?" The answer was yes, I did have the opportunity to meet several celebrities. I won't name them specifically, but I will say that we would generally handle them differently than our other clientele. Most of them had special privacy concerns –- tending to prefer that the driver maintain a sense of professional distance -- as opposed to the driver being overly friendly.

A few of the celebrities required extra special attention. I once drove around a baseball executive's elderly wife who asked if I could escort her around the mall to pick up some things she had to have before she left town. I spent two hours with her in the mall, while the limo was parked with the valet.

No matter what assignment I was on, I always maintained a basic level of service for all our guests. Whenever there was an opportunity, I'd make sure to clean up the back area of the limo. I also kept a plastic crate in the trunk that held a first-aid kit, an entire backup set of glasses used to replace broken or dirty ones, a hand-held vacuum, cocktail napkins in a variety of colors, Windex, paper towels, trash bags, cases of soft drinks and bottled water. I would arrive at the office a few hours early to replenish these supplies as needed.

More job details: Behind the scenes

My down-time at work was spent getting together important information such as the pick-up addresses and necessary contact information. Making a quick call to introduce yourself is not required, but I felt that by doing so, I could gain an edge. Such calls allowed me to inquire about the client's plans and offer my assistance in making their travel plans progress as smoothly as possible.

In my desire to provide exceptional service, I found it helpful to remind myself that many of my clients were electronically challenged. This led me to take an extra few minutes at the beginning of each day to sit in the back of the particular limo I was to be driving, and familiarize myself with operation of the stereo, CD player, DVD player and flat-screen television. I would then make a point of showing the passengers how to use the equipment before beginning the trip. As I quickly learned on the job, being a chauffeur involves much more than just driving an extra-long car.

One drive that I will never forget was a ride to opening day at the Texas Motor Speedway. It rained and the outer parking area was not paved, so there were many cars that were just buried in the mud. I was driving a stretch Hummer with fully functioning four-wheel drive. Just to get out of the parking lot was going to take a few hours since a mess of cars were queued up in an attempt to get out of the mud into the portion of the parking lot that was actually paved.

My passenger spoke up and asked if there was a way I could get them out of there faster. I replied, "Yes, sir!" and dropped into a low-gear four-wheel drive, made a left off the pavement, and drove off into the mud. Once in the mud, I knew I couldn't stop moving, since the limo weighed seven tons empty. I kept a steady foot on the pedal and maintained a smooth pace as we rolled along. We were slinging mud while the passengers cheered me on, and we departed quickly from that disaster of a parking lot.

Last thoughts: Demands of the job

I have since left the industry because I am a single parent, and having a job in an on-call industry just didn't work for me. This coupled with other factors made the job highly unpredictable in nature. After all, each individual assignment is subject to change without notice. Sometimes you would recognize what the job involved the moment you met the client, and on other occasions you wouldn't know where you were going to end up before the night was through.

For example, I picked up a group of eight people one evening and drove them to a nice restaurant for dinner. When they finished, they decided they wanted to go to a liquor store to stock up on libations, and from there decided to head out to a casino that was three hours away. They had reserved the limo for a four-hour block, but having spent three hours of it at dinner before even getting on the road, we were going to be out for much longer than we originally anticipated.

I stayed with them, and that job turned out to be the single most profitable in my career -- as well as the most difficult emotionally. I had to call my babysitter that night and negotiate an overnight stay for my child. Having to leave town, knowing my child was four hours away should an emergency occur, weighed heavily on my mind. By and large I am thankful for the experience: It was a job I enjoyed, and I think my passengers enjoyed the ride, too.

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