Alltour Marketing and Management Support Services to be exact, in-house courier to the Canadian travel Industry. I have no pictures of my time with Alltour as it was more a time to forget rather than embrace. That is not to say that I don’t have some fond memories, gained lifelong friends or endured life changing experiences during my year and a half toiling there. Au contraire. I just never thought to pull out the camera and waste a single frame of film to capture one moment of my time at work. It was that awesome.
I learned how to drive a four wheeled vehicle on public streets as an employee of the company. True, I had a class 5 and 6 (passenger car and motorcycle) drivers license but, due to a clerical error, I never actually took the car drivers test. No parallel parking ordeal for me. I got my motorbike learners license (class 6) converted from a regular car learners (class 5) and when I did my bike test I somehow ended up with a class 5 & 6 endorsement. Bonus.
So it’s 1983 and by this time I had been out of work for 8 months. True, four of those months I had been having the time of my life (to that point) in Australia, but by this juncture I was beginning to get desperate. My old friend and roomate Cory Smith was working for Alltour at the time and gave me the heads up that there was a position open. What the hell, what could possibly go wrong. During my job interview, I was asked if my driving record was clean. I truthfully replied “yes”. I didn’t mention that I didn’t have much of a driving record at all… I needed a job.
My job was to deliver all the brochures, promotional materials, tariff books, tickets and invoices that were generated by or required to operate a retail or corporate travel agency in Vancouver. This is before the Internet so there was a lot of paper to deal with, lots of paper, mostly in envelopes. The company was set up in the early 80’s to service the travel industry during a mail strike and never looked back. My first route covered the West End of Vancouver, North Van to Deep Cove, West Van to Dudarave, across town to YVR with half of Richmond to finish. Every day, like a glorified paper route that was designated as Route E.. Technically I was a “courier” but we did easily 3 times the volume of calls and distance driven as any other vehicle based courier in the city. The main selling point of the service was next day delivery within the GVRD and two days to any of the other major centers we had hubs. Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Hamilton, et al all had Alltour networks in their cities, with next day delivery at prices way cheaper than Canada Post. My “training” consisted of driving the route for three days holding a list of calls with the temporary driver that was filling in for the missing employee I was replacing. The first day I just shadowed the dude from the passenger seat, becoming mildly horrified at what I witnessed the job to entail. At one point we had to make a call at the north end of the Burrard Street bridge. We were heading south on Burrard, toward the bridge from our last call Downtown when Buddy cranks a U-turn across 6 lanes of traffic to the call on the other side of the street. WTF. Needless to say I was a little nervous setting out the next day, at the wheel of a Ford Econoline 150 panel van with no rear windows.
My mentor became a bit apprehensive, once he determined I was a novice car driver (I was a decent motorcycle operator by then in any event), and he offered me some sage advice to improve his chances of seeing the end of the day. The most immediately useful was to use my right foot to press on the brake or throttle (It was an automatic and I was left foot braking to start…) The other sage advice that I still subscribe to when driving in the city was “drive like a taxi” These words of wisdom carried that day and the next and then I was on my own…
My first parallel parking mission occurred at 1130 W. Pender. The fact that I remember the address 35 years later should reflect the momentous occasion that it was. Nailed it BTW. I continued to improve my driving skills for the next two weeks. I started to feel slightly more comfortable behind the wheel. My third Monday dawned with the owner of the company paying the only visit to the warehouse I witnessed in my time there. After saying hi and doing my sort, I headed out the door with my daily deliveries boxed in order with a few loose items on the passenger seat. Not 1/4 mile from the warehouse, while taking a corner, a flight bag in plastic wrap started to slide off the adjacent seat. I reached across to stop it… And cleaned up two parked cars on the curb, pushing one up on the shoulder and ripping the transmission right out of the other.
Calling the warehouse, talking to the RCMP, loading the days mail into another Alltour vehicle and being sent out to complete the days deliveries, I was shitting bricks the whole day. I had lucid visions of being unemployed again and was fully expecting to get the chop once I returned to the shop at the end of the day. Somehow, thanks to my case being pleaded by Mike Crevetes the warehouse manager and Cam Chidley the branch manager, I managed to keep my job. It was subsequently discovered during repair, that the van had been sabotaged with the bolts securing the steering box to the frame being mysteriously missing. Turned out that the previous driver that I replaced, had run afoul of some Bikers (H.A.s) and had had to leave the province in a hurry. Seems that someone had a serious go at messing the fellow up, unfortunately I had the pleasure of reaping the harvest he had sewn.
Thankfully, things settled down into a stable routine after that and I became a professional motor vehicle operator. I had a few more accidents to be sure but none of them were my fault and while I amassed a significant amount of driver demerit points, I managed to keep my license. I learned two other routes over the next year and a half. First, the valley route (Route A) 100 calls and 250km driving a day out through the Fraser Valley to Abbotsford and Mission then back through Pitt meadows and Coquitlam to several calls Downtown. Later was the Downtown Core, Route D, 120 calls in a sixteen square block area. I spent my entire day in loading docks and elevators while evading the meter maids and eating traffic. Good times.
It wasn’t all bad mind you, we had some fun too. On days that mail was light you could roar through your deliveries and have a bit of time to waste at the beach or poolside at the office of some hot corporate travel agents while waiting for your scheduled pick-ups at the end of the day. This was the exception not the rule, however. The norm was 10-12 hour days with no breaks and the constant threat that you could be replaced in three days if you rocked the boat. In the end, too much work for too little pay wore me out and I cast my eye away from the city to the next horizon.
Go North, young man, to Whistler.