Monday, June 3, 2013

Steve and His Little Green Limousines

 980 words
Intended for The Index

            Steve Gibson is a renaissance man whose resume is a mile long: author, podcaster, business owner, digital media freelancer, commercial pilot, and school board member. He’s an intellectual. He’s a free-thinker. He’s a seeker. And now, he’s a limo driver.
But Steve doesn’t drive just any limousine: his are smaller and have a distinctly green hue. Steve owns and operates the Little Green Limousine Company. Steve crunches numbers, books clients, picks them up in a white Prius V, and drives them wherever they need to go: Chicago, Detroit, and pretty much anywhere in between. And they ride in style, too. One might think that the term “luxury hybrid” is an oxymoron, but it’s not; a six-foot tall man can sit comfortably in the back seat with plenty of leg- and head-room to spare. The new-car smell is still there.    
            Steve runs his business from his home in Parchment, Michigan in an office down the stairs and past the water heater. It’s a large rectangular room packed with confusing-looking audio equipment from his podcasting days. Steve’s massive, CEO-appropriate desk sits to the right of the door, next to a bookshelf stuffed with books on atheism and skepticism, two of his favorite topics. He just read a book on traffic engineering. “It was fascinating,” he says. There are papers everywhere.
            Steve has the relaxed-yet-serious bearing of someone who has been self-employed for many years. He sports a shaven head with a few days worth of stubble and a green polo bearing the name of his company. He leans back in a tall black swivel chair, speaking deliberately and taking long pauses to make sure he uses the perfect words.
            Steve grew up in this house, and he moved back in when his parents passed away. Steve also inherited his first business from his parents: the financially troubled C.J. Gibson Office Supply Company. Throughout his twenties, Steve rebranded the company as C.J. Gibson Office Direct and fought his way into the black.
            During this time, Steve probably would have laughed at you if you had told him he would be running an environmentally-friendly limo service. He admits to being “late to the table” in accepting global warming. Furthermore, he had “unwavering faith that human ingenuity could outweigh any of the atrocities we commit against the Earth.” He liked Ayn Rand. He was a free-market, individualist kind of guy.
             But during the nineties, Steve began to recognize his own cognitive dissonance. He read Malcolm Gladwell. He questioned his own biases. Slowly, gradually, his worldview changed and became much more complex. Profit became less and less important. He sold Office Direct in 1998 to pursue more meaningful work.
            That meaningful work would happen at 102 North Riverview Drive, across the street from a weather-beaten Marathon Station. There, he and his then-wife Julie ran People Power Productions, a digital media company dedicated to preserving people’s memories for posterity. They made DVD slideshows of photographs for funerals, graduations, and everything in between. They helped people remember. They brought comfort to my family when my grandmother died. They helped people remember. They had a good run, ten years, from 2000 to 2010 when the growth of technology finally rendered his services obsolete. Steve knew it would happen eventually, but he didn’t particularly care. He liked the work. It was meaningful.
            After People Power Productions packed up and left 102 North Riverview vacant, Steve did some thinking and some freelance work. For two years, he kept a vigilant eye out for needs waiting to be filled. When he realized that there was no concierge service targeted towards senior citizens in Kalamazoo, he smelled opportunity. He did research and found that the market had an open spot for him. “There was nothing available besides Town Cars,” he says. “Business people and seniors didn’t feel like they needed a formal limousine.”
            Opportunity in his sight, Steve purchased his first Little Green Limousine in 2012 with an eye towards reducing carbon footprint and cutting costs. Ironically, Steve has found that the higher mile-per-gallon rating of the Prius doesn’t make that much of a difference: “It saves, literally, a couple of bucks per trip.”
            But Steve isn’t necessarily in it for the money. He says that “once you let go of ego and realize that we’re all interdependent, absolute profit is not the ultimate goal.” He views himself as a servant of other people, and he serves happily. He enjoys his customers, and they enjoy him. Many of them forego the Prius’s XM Radio to talk with Steve because, well, he’s an interesting guy. He brings his wealth of knowledge and immense curiosity to the driver’s seat, and he’s had some fantastic talks with his passengers. He learns from them constantly.
That’s not to say that the Little Green Limousine Company isn’t a profitable endeavor. Steve has a metric ton of graphs and charts stored on his computer that show a sharp increase in business over the last year. He also runs his business with an incredibly low overhead because he does everything himself: the website, the logo, and the promotions are all his handiwork. He keeps things lean, and that keeps prices low. In fact, Steve’s business model is working so well that he just added another Prius to his “fleet,” and he’s had to hire three other drivers on a part-time basis to deal with all his bookings, although he still does about eighty percent of the driving.
Steve says he chose to use Priuses because they represent a “more sensitive and practical choice in terms of global impact.” But Steve’s sensitivity and practicality are having a local impact, too; a little over fifty percent of his business comes from repeat customers. People enjoy riding in the Little Green Limousines, and Steve enjoys his customers. For a businessman interested in making a difference as well as a profit, this is success.


  1. I already told this to Charlotte, Trevor, but great great great work here. First and foremost I think you ought to adjust your target publication because this is far beyond an index piece. I know literally almost nothing about journalistic publishing but I could see this piece getting published in big places.

    You have an incredible knack for this style of writing.

    The reporting was thorough and concise and your personal style/ humor shone through without being unprofessional. I also think you accomplished something great here in that you shared with us the story of an individual through the story of his business. I love that.

    One choice that I might make if I were you would be some deeper reporting (have you done any? just curious.) I think there is opportunity for another level to this piece if you just poke around a bit more. observe him with other humans etc. Not necessarily necessary, just a thought.

    Can't wait to discuss,


  2. This piece is close and pretty well polished, Trevor. You could get away with not changing it too much. I have two suggestions and an observation:

    First, Steve has changed over time. He went from reading and agreeing with Ayn Rand to caring more about building community and a different type of fulfillment than his bottom line. That change is quite profound; it's noticeable in the piece, but it isn't emphasized. And while the owner of the hybrid taxi business is a quaint and enjoyable profile, the businessman who has changed his ideology over time is a compelling story with wider implications. I wonder if it's possible to transition the focus of your piece accordingly?

    Second, Steve appears to be your only source in the profile. So while it's a good story with a pleasant trajectory, you should watch out for the being his PR department. Is there conflict in his life? Could the Franklin outline possibly be of use? I thought the Ayn Rand/Malcolm Gladwell bit could be compelling conflict, but there may be something better that has more to do with his everyday life.

    Third, Steve seems to contradict himself regarding his business. He chooses hybrid cars because they're better for the planet, but then acknowledges that he consumes almost as much as he would otherwise. It seems to me that he actually chooses hybrid cars to brand his business, fill a niche in the market, and get a leg up on the competition.

    Good luck. I look forward to workshop.


  3. Trevor,

    This was a very nice, concise, and interesting piece about a small, unique business. I have never heard of Little Green Limousine Company but now I would love to check them out. I think that you did a very good job of showing Steve's career development and how he ended up running this niche business.

    I would have liked to hear more about Steve personally though. I feel like I didn't get much of his personality except from the semi-obscure writer references. I agree with Woody, that this definitely goes beyond the scope of an Index article though, but I don't think that changes the way you should structure your writing, just alter the intended publication.

    Some more quotes would have helped move the piece along and given more character to Steve, so maybe start there when you do your final draft. This was a very strong first draft and I think you are close to a good piece.

  4. As usual, your voice is clear and humorous throughout this piece. You paint Steve in a way that makes me feel like I know weird and cool details about his life, which makes the piece stand apart.

    First, just a technical comment: you start several sentences near the beginning of the piece with Steve’s name, and I’d love to see you introduce him in another way or from a story or such, instead of just. Steve did a. Steve likes b.

    I’d also love to see some additional takes on Steve, especially in regards to the changes that he seems to have gone through since the beginning of his company. How does his community see him? What are stories or examples of his interactions with customers? Incorporate some outside voices to give us a full view of his story.

    See you in class.

  5. Hey Trevor,

    I think what you have here is a really solid first draft. You always find stories about the quirkiest things going on here in Kalamazoo and they always seem to work for you.

    I have to agree with Colin that this could definitely be in bigger places than the Index. Perhaps due to the local nature of the story, you could have the Kalamazoo Gazette or MLive as your target publication.

    I personally would like to know more about his change of heart on environmental issues. As he changed a lot as a person? I want to know more about his new world view.

    Along with this information, it would be good to talk to some more people in his life. These could be family members or the drivers that he hires on the side.

    Great start so far! I can't wait to talk more in class!

  6. Wow, its so cool to know about this guy! he sounds awesome. At first I was imagining green like lime green limousines driving down 94. But its cool to hear about his environmentalism.
    I think you do a nice job of laying everything down here and packing it nicely into a somewhat chronological, and somewhat based on observation order.
    I think this piece would b stronger if there were more quotes- it felt like a lot of you describing him after a while. Maybe consider starting the paragraphs with some quotes as transitions. Other than that I think some editing will move things around and make it better , but its really quite good already. Great topic! And yeah, you can for sure rethink the target publication. Maybe something environmental.

  7. This is so quirky, Trevor. Your voice is clear and this is engaging and funny.

    You do a good job outlining the incongruent pieces of this man. I'd like a little bit more of a pointed statement about what these contradictions are adding up to. That'll come from re-structuring a little? Maybe structure the piece around a "but"?

    Right on.