Understanding the 99%

I am perplexed by the current state of our society, culture and country. The Occupy movement makes little sense to me. I am an honest believer in the idea that hard work and dedication does and should lead to rewards. I have no problem when the “haves” enjoy the fruits of their effort. All I care about is that the opportunity is available to all who decide to pursue it, and that the playing field is relatively level.

My decision to leave the corporate world to start Tortuga Charters was a lifestyle choice. I understood that to pursue the things that make me happy, I was going to have to sacrifice my ability to earn a high income.  That was fine with me, I am happy to take my compensation in boating and diving. You just cannot beat the view from my office chair. But the reality is that it is still a business and it takes revenue to run it. We had a disappointing fall after Hurricane Irene made landfall on the Crystal Coast in late August. Not only did we lose the days before and after the storm from high seas, but the wave action stirred the bottom up to the point it was almost a moot effort to scuba dive for months. There was just no visibility.

For the last 3 winters, I have kept the doors open and taken charter bookings through the winter. Winter diving can be fantastic, but the weather is so “iffy” that I never ran more than a couple of trips from December through April. When I learned I could save a couple thousand dollars in insurance premiums if I laid the boat up for the winter, I decided to close the doors for the off season.

While pondering what I could do to stay busy and earn some extra income over the winter, I got the idea that since I am a credentialed USCG Captain and the holder of a federal Transportation Workers Identification Card (know as the TWIC card) that transportation of some sort might be a good match. Through a little research online, I landed a gig driving an executive limosine. It seemed to be a perfect match: I would earn the little bit of extra income I needed to get me the through the off season, and it was flexible enough that I would have the time to do the other things I needed to do to keep Tortuga Charters ready to go as soon as the good weather returned.

What I did not foresee was that it would become an exercise in social and psychological observation. I have been the guy riding in the back seat, and I was not prepared for the change in the social dynamic when I got behind the wheel, or opened the door for a customer. 95% of the customers I drive are mid to upper level managers, flying in or out of RDU Airport for business meetings. Of that group, most are pleasant and respectful and I enjoy their company in the car. Some refuse to take my assistance with their bags, or with the door as if they are uncomfortable with being served. A small minority are condescending and rude, but that exists in the general population and should be expected to encounter in any environment that has you dealing with the public. After my first day I told my wife that there was a big difference between “Captain” and “driver”.

Today I had a different sort of trip. I picked up 3 business people flying in for a meeting in Raleigh. They came in a private jet and I was to take them to their meeting, wait for them and then return them to the airport. Being my first trip like this, I got to TAC Air in the general aviation section of RDU early so that I could ask some questions about what I needed to do. As I pulled up, there was a woman standing outside smoking a cigarette. I rolled down the passenger side window and explained to her that I was new to this process and asked: “Where should I park or stand to pick them up?” She exhaled the smoke in her lungs: “Honey, they are going to want you to drive out on the ramp”. Confused, I asked her what the ramp was. She grinned in a cynical way: “Out by the planes, these people expect to get out of the plane and straight into the car.”

When the plane landed, I was directed to drive to up next to the jet and the threesome exited and stepped on the red mat placed on the tarmac surface right under the door. The two older men got in the back and the third, a man in his early 40′s jumped in the front seat. That caught me off guard, as he was the first person to ride next to me. Luckily, I had talked to dispatch earlier and was informed it was three people instead of the one person listed on the trip ticket. I was able to clear my things off the seat before they arrived.

It immediately became apparent what the hierarchy in the car was: The older fellow in the back on the passenger side was the boss, behind me was the experienced colleague and in the front with me was the younger apprentice. I was the driver, existant but not acknowledged. They immediately began talking about their plans for the meeting. It became apparent that they were in the financial sector, and the meeting was at the NC Department of Treasury. They were here to pitch the state on managing the pension funds. They tossed figures around in the billions and millions with the ease of which I would refer to dollars and cents. I tried to keep my head straight as if I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I briefly smiled at the younger man’s attempt to humor the boss and then quickly realized that was not appropriate. I waited for them at the curb while the 90 minute meeting took place and they returned to the car. The ride back to the airport was the same, but apparently the meeting had not gone as well as they hoped.

When we returned to the terminal where the private jet was waiting, the gates opened and I drove out to the jet and they got out, thanked me briefly and stiffed me for a tip. I was a little pissed. I had done my job impeccably, yet I was so inconsequential to these men that the thought to extend a gratuity never crossed their mind.

The attendent that helped them into the plane turned to me and said “See you man, you take care of yourself.” It dawned on me that he and I were in the same boat, servicing the 1%.

Again, I don’t agree with the Occupy folks, I don’t want to raise taxes “on the wealthiest Americans” because I think they pay way more than their fair share, and I hate all this class warfare that is going on in this country. I understand why Americans are angry, hell I am pissed. But for a brief moment, I understood why the “haves” are constantly villified and had one simple thought: “A little humility, humanity and civility to the 99% from the 1% would go a long way in improving their public image”.

I am just saying.

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