The Mother of Re-Invention
by Carole P. Roman
All my friends are retiring. If I had stayed with the school system, forty years ago, I probably would have retired at fifty-five and moved to South Florida to Del Boca Vista Phase 23.
I think back to my senior year of high school when I first met my husband. He barely spoke English and worked in a gas station across the street from my dad’s hardware store. I worked in my parent’s store after school. He would have coffee with my parents while I stocked the shelves. My folks invited him for Thanksgiving dinner and he offered to teach me how to drive.
He showed up on our doorstep with a sampler of chocolate candy, a fat plastic pilgrim glued to the top. I peeled it off, put in on my night table and told my grandmother I was going to marry him…not the pilgrim…our guest.
He was everything I wanted in a boyfriend. Charming, mature, and helpful. He was lightyears away from the boys that attended school. He was also different from all the other kids that were attached to the girls in our group.
He didn’t talk sports or any of the other activities the other guys did. He worked long hours, got his hands dirty, and had a certain maturity I didn’t see in my friends.
It wasn’t until we attended a dinner party I realized something had shifted. They were sneering at him. He was not in school to be a lawyer, doctor, or teacher. He had served three years in his country’s army. He was resourceful, diligent, and serious. He didn’t wear a suit to work and I think the college-bound kids looked down on him. He worked in a garage, fixing cars and my crowd of buddies seemed to find this beneath them.
I attended school with these people my entire life. I dressed like them, went to the same movies, liked similar music. You couldn’t tell many of us apart. I found myself making a choice at seventeen. He didn’t fit in, and what’s more, I decided I didn’t want to either. I enjoyed David and decided he was my future, so I reinvented myself.
It was as simple as readjusting my path, opening a new vista, where things took on a different clarity. He wanted to start a limousine business but lacked the communication skills. While my degree was in secondary education, I finished school, married, and took on his back office.
I knew nothing about running a limousine service, neither did he, for that matter. I called one of the largest and most powerful transportation companies in New York, introduced myself and started to ask questions.
I could tell the dispatchers were amused by me. There were no women in the field at that point and though we never met, they patiently taught me how to dispatch.
Dispatching is a lot like a game of chess. You have a certain amount of people to move around and the idea is to place them where they will constantly be “heavy.” So, if your car is traveling to Newark airport, around three o’clock in the afternoon, you try to match it up with a pick-up coming back to the city from that area three hours later. This sounds much simpler than it is. Bookings are made by appointments, and I filled the gaping holes in our dispatch sheets by calling around and looking for jobs that other companies couldn’t handle.
I barely had a driving license myself, had never driven in Manhattan, and yet I found myself moving cars around the city like Bobby Fischer. I shared radio space with most the small cab companies, and they would hear me direct my husband and sometimes my dad who filled in when we got busy. Soon, they all knew me and gave helpful tips when they heard my mistakes. The business grew and within a few years, I had to reinvent myself again.
A company in Los Angeles needed a New York affiliate. Would we be interested? Um…Yeah. Within two years, they went belly up- a bad experience with buses, and we were asked to open up in LA and fill the void. So, with my husband and the kids in the car, I squeezed into pantyhose, ginormous shoulder pads, a power haircut (think Melanie Griffith in Working Girl)and with an attache briefcase I went to business meetings on Melrose Ave. where I wondered if they realized I was an impostor.
I spent most of the meetings afraid they were going to ask me something and laugh at my New Yawk accent. I hid behind the briefcase, feeling like a child wearing my mother’s clothing.
This was a reinvention that made me nuts. I wasn’t hip or sophisticated. I was a housewife selling car service. I had a husband and kids. I made dinner every night. I did laundry and homework.
Most of the other limo guys wore suits. They took people out for drinks. I sat with the secretaries. I waited in the outer offices while the businessmen were ushered in, smirking at me. I was left with the girls…the girls that ordered the cars for their bosses.
So, maybe not such a bad reinvention after all.
We all did homework, laundry, and juggled carpools. We had babysitter and mother-in-law problems. Sometimes we talked about home, and why it wasn’t going so well. Either way, a network began to form. I made it easier for them. I understood their workloads. I thought about what they needed and met their demands before they knew it themselves. We developed a sisterhood. And our business grew. It really grew…a lot.
Reinvention and more reinvention. People working for us. You can’t run it like a mom and pop, anymore. More cars, more cities, more clients. Hey, it’s the nineties, computers are here.
Buy a building, make it two, make room; the kids are coming in. Everybody has to work, but I have less to do. More time on my hands. Reinvention time has come again!
So, when you’ve been a social studies teacher for an hour, a dispatcher who moved people around the city like Napoleon on a battlefield, built a business out of nothing, all while being a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, what do you do????
You write a book.
Wait a minute, there’s more. Marketing and promotion…here I come.
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