Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Process Writing for the Thing I Wrote About Little Green Limousine

I'm actually pretty happy with how this piece turned out. I was very nervous because my two of my other story ideas didn't pan out and I was totally floundering. I was running out of time, and I decided to interview Steve because I've known him for awhile. Full disclosure: I'm friends with both of his kids, and I've chatted with him about a wide variety of subjects in the past. I think the piece still managed to be pretty impartial despite all that.

This piece was much easier to write than the other ones (perhaps because I know Steve so well). At times it degenerated into a game of "How Many Times Can Trevor Misspell the Word Limousine?" (answer: too many), but it flowed out pretty smoothly.  In reading the comments, I'm a little disappointed that I didn't articulate my theme in a clearer manner. This piece is about Steve's transformation as a businessman, and I wish I had gotten that transformation across better. Any suggestions in this area would be much appreciated.

I have done some additional reporting since Monday. I interviewed K College's Provost (a repeat customer) and I talked to one of the other drivers, a guy named Dale. Dale has two(!) master's degrees and was a big honcho in the Health Department in Kalamazoo. Fascinating guy. I plan on incorporating the stuff i got from them into my next draft.

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.