Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sleepless in Seattle While Driving the Stars- Part I

In the 1990s, when I was in my twenties, I was still trying to find the right fit for my writing career. 

A very amusing way of saying, I was in-between jobs and basically doing my catering gig to stay afloat [May 26, 2011].
My good friend Cindy heard my SOS and threw me a life line.
Cindy, who worked in the television industry, was between shows and had been hired to be the transportation coordinator for a celebrity charity event.
She asked if I would be interested in working this event with her. 
The fund-raiser – which consisted of a golf tournament, comedy night and silent auction – had been started by Richard Karn who played Al on the television show “Home Improvement.” 

The event raised money for cancer in memory of Karn’s mother who succumbed to the epidemic.
It wasn’t really a hard sell since the charity golf tournament was in Seattle (a place I had always wanted to visit), we got to work with celebrities (I was still fresh off the Jersey turnip truck and easily impressed), and a pay check that had four zeros (I was broke as hell).
So a night or so before we were to leave, Cindy phoned to let me know that she had actually been picked up for a television show and would not be able to work the event with me.
I was definitely disappointed and very apprehensive, but I have always had the “I CAN DO” attitude so I figured I would get through it.
I was so excited to arrive into Sea-Tac airport and a driver was standing there holding a sign that said “Richard Karn Star Days.”
I felt so important.
I was transported to the Sheraton Seattle, which was a sky scraper and very impressive.  I reported up to the production office high above the streets of downtown Seattle and that is when I started to have second thoughts.
My first order of business was to rent a fleet of mini-vans which would transport the guests – some of which were celebrities – from the airport to the hotel to the golf course and back to the airport at the end of the week.
The producer of the event told me that there were about 20 mini-vans waiting for me at the rental car company.
I looked him in the eye, as confident as ever, and asked just how was I – one lonely person – supposed to rent and pick up 20 mini vans.  I do believe his eyes bulged a bit when he realized that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. 

Samuel L. Jackson & Tracy
With a sigh, he let me know that I had a list of “UNPAID” volunteers who have signed up to drive the guests around during this week.

Part of my responsibility was to make sure that we had enough drivers. Did I mention unpaid drivers?  Some of them were very diligent; however, some of them were absolutely unreliable.  I found this out on day one.
Luckily, I was assigned a few volunteers who had worked this event before and I was extremely grateful for them.  With a small group, we set out to the rental car company – which was only a few blocks away – and began the task of renting each car three by three.
Once that was done, I felt a bit accomplished as I walked back from the parking structure with all the vehicles parked legally.  Now I just had to get my head around the rest of responsibilities.
The first was the schedule.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to have to beg, plead and threaten to get these volunteers to work for me.  Especially since our hours were from 5am until about 2 or 3am.
I retired to my room about midnight that first night and had pretty much gotten myself staffed for the next day.  Small influxes of guests were going to start to arrive the next day, so it would be a good test run.
The day didn’t necessarily go smoothly but I didn’t have any major issues and was able to get acclimated to coordinating the volunteers, handing out cell phones, providing a little orientation, and just figuring out what I needed to do next.
But nothing had prepared me for the real deal.  I was back at my desk in the production office by 5am the next morning and I can honestly say that the next 48 hours were a blur of tears, anxiety, exhaustion and complete chaos.
I was in charge of coordinating the transportation for so many people that I can’t even recall any significant numbers. 
During those few days, I would only get about 2 or 3 hours of rest a night.
There were the die-hard golfers who wanted to get out to the golf course at dawn for a practice round; and on the opposite end of the spectrum were the partiers who would be out at the bars until 2 or 3 am.
I remember one call in particular.  A young man – in his early 20s – called me to say he was going to be back late.  (I couldn’t leave the office until all of the mini vans had been returned and I had the keys in my possession.)  So you can imagine how unhappy I was about this news.  I asked him what the holdup was and he let me know that Samuel L. Jackson had requested that the volunteer drive him to a strip club.
The young man told me that he had been invited to join him and was contemplating.  I was flabbergasted.  I told the volunteer that he wouldn’t be a volunteer if he went into the club.  As part of his agreement, he wasn’t really allowed to fraternize with the celebrities but, also as a driver, he wasn’t supposed to drink…or even be in a bar for that matter.
At that point, I called Jason crying so hard I had those hiccup sobs.  I’d hardly had any sleep since I had arrived and was certainly suffering from sleep deprivation.
Tracy & Patrick Warburton
I sobbed into the phone that I just wanted to leave.  I didn’t even care about the money.  I asked him what he thought would happen if I just changed my flight and went home tomorrow. 

My husband just said all the right things.  He told me to just hang in there as I only had two days left; he let me completely take it all out on him over the phone. He knew I would never bail and just needed to rant and rave.

Later, Jason told me that it had seemed like I was drunk.  I told him that I had barely left my make-shift desk in the production office most of that week.  Food was brought in so I didn’t even have to leave except to go to the restroom.  A glass of wine actually might have helped me, but I truly didn’t even have the time.
I can honestly say that this was certainly one of those times to appropriately use the clich√©, “What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.”
After the night that I lost it, things actually started to get better.  I was told that I could attend the big fund-raising event.  It was fun to go and schmooze with the celebrities.  Most people knew of me, but had never met me so it was really nice to put the voice with the face.
Lastly, the production company said they were very happy with me so that made me feel good.  It’s one thing to work hard and not be appreciated so it was really very nice to get so many compliments.
Actually, they liked me so much that they invited me back the following year and I was crazy enough to go back.

Stay tuned for Part II on Thursday!

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