There are times when it feels like car journalism must be the best job in the world. And not because of the places we visit, the things we see, or the cars we drive; if you’re enthusiastic about cars, there’s little more enjoyable than writing about them, believe me – and that’s what drives most of us.
But the other day it didn’t feel like I was onto such a winner. I wasn’t on a long, rainy photo shoot, or dealing with a tricky PR, dealer or owner. I wasn’t even under pressure with a deadline. I was in a car, being driven to an airport by a man paid by an agency, on behalf of a car company who I had been visiting with.
The guy’s name was Gary; in order to protect him from rebuke, I won’t mention who he was working for. But he was telling me about some of the things he gets to do, simply as a rent-a-driver. “The hours are flexible,” he said. “I’ve got my own business, but things have been slow recently, so I’m filling in. They ring me up with maybe a day’s notice, they tell me where to be and when, they provide the car, and I always get a minimum of ten hours pay – even if I work only two hours.”
“I used to drive a cab, but that’s not nearly as comfortable a way to make a living,” he went on. “The hours can be seriously long, your customers can be difficult, and the cars are old and dirty. Plus, you’re never sure what you’re gonna make.”
So what was the best job he ever had? “A few years ago, not long after I signed up, I got a job driving around the US for two months, in a brand new Porsche Carrera (that’s 911 to you and me). It was off the hook.”
“The car hadn’t even been launched yet: our job was to take it to a bunch of hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, downtown shopping zones and malls, in every major city. We had to clean it, park it up and leave it for a couple of hours at each one – and we had to time it right, for when these places were busy. So we just used to find a diner nearby, pick a window seat, go get lunch and watch what happened.”
“There were two of us, so you could always rest up from driving if you wanted to. The schedule was pretty flexible. We went to New York, LA, Chicago, ‘Frisco, Washington, Detroit, Boston, Dallas, San Diego, just all over – and there were some great drives on the way. We had all our expenses paid. And the money was good; man, I’ve never had a job that paid better.”
As I heard all this, I remember thinking that there probably isn’t anyone in their right mind who would have turned that job down. I’d heard that car companies did some pretty expensive things in the build-up to a car launch, but nothing like this. Even if you weren’t particularly big on cars, the opportunity to see the US would have been too good to turn down on its own.
So what do you think Gary was doing later that afternoon? “I’ve got a few hours off, so I’m going to pick my kids up from school, and we’re going fishing. Later on, I’ve got a few hours work driving more of you guys around. Maybe three hours.” For which, I guessed, he’d get the usual 10-hour rate.
I, only the other hand, was about to wait in a sweaty terminal building for three hours, before getting a long-haul flight home, on which I had to work. By that I mean write and, ok, that hardly ranks alongside manual labour on the ‘graft’ scale. But it’d definitely be more taxing than pulling snapper out of the bay.
And so, just then, I remember feeling ever-so-slightly jealous of Gary – and I don’t get that very often. If I’m lucky, one day, somebody may just ask me to drive a 911 around the USA. Unless I’m really lucky, though, I doubt they’ll pay me for it.