He makes his living transporting clients to and from Tampa International Airport, but Christopher Culver considers himself more psychologist than driver. • As owner and principal driver for Beyond the Bay Delivery, Culver, 33, meets people every day with whom he'll spend just 30 minutes and never see again. • During that time, they confide in him and welcome him into their personal lives. Some may ask him where the nearest liquor store is, and some may ask to be driven to the hospital to visit a sick family member. • No matter the client's situation, Culver sees each ride in his black Lincoln Town Car as an opportunity to touch someone's life.
How did you get into this business?
I started off in logistics and transportation 10 years ago. I started off with a courier service in Clearwater, and then I went to a courier service in Largo. That service was subject to economic downturn and that service closed. I acquired different businesses that were part of that service and then created my own, which is now Beyond the Bay Delivery. I saw an ad on Craig's List for a Town Car driver. So I called up the guy, and he gave me the rundown. Sure enough, I contracted with him for a year. I got my own car and now I do it all by myself, and I don't have to pay the man anymore, so to speak.
So you own the company, but you're also a driver?
I have to do that. I didn't have to do that when the economy was a little bit better. I could've stayed home and collected money. I'm a hands-on type owner, so I want to have that interaction.
You consider yourself a psychologist of sorts for your clients. What's that like?
People will tell you a lot of different things. I don't know if it's because they know they're never going to see me again, or if they feel comfortable with it. I've never asked, nor will I ever.
What are some other kinds of personal stories clients share with you?
Sometimes you'll get somebody that talks about a relationship. Sometimes a relationship with their daughter or relationship with their son. Sometimes you'll get people that get in that are in-between marriages, or have been married for 20 or 30 years. One of my regulars the other day informed me she had some health issues.
What about you do you think makes those clients want to talk to you and confide in you?
I think a lot of it has to do with that they think they're never going to see me again. They don't want to be rude, they want to interact. Maybe those people are nosy, maybe I'm nosy. But at the end of the day, if they don't want to talk about something, they can be quiet and I can, too.
What do you do to prepare yourself when people want to talk about sensitive issues?
It's weird. A person could get in our car Friday and ask to be taken to the hospital or hospice. Say by some miracle you actually get to pick them up again on Monday, and you know something may have happened. You have to approach that situation a bit differently. It's not like you can get in the car and go, "Hey, did he …?" You have to make that ride refocus from the sad feeling to brightening up the ride a little bit. Let's talk about them, or a memory with them.
Why is it important for you to transform the tone of the ride?
I was told a long time ago to never talk about negatives. You never want to bring a negative light into the situation. When a customer gets into the car and asks about the forecast for this week, should I tell them it's going to rain? Should I lie to them and tell them it'll be sunny? No, I'm an honest person. I'll do the Bill Clinton thing. It might rain a little bit, but it'll be sunny in the end.
How do you feel when you are listening to these problems? How do you deal with them?
Do I take it home with me, or do I wonder how this person's doing or that person's doing? Sure, absolutely. But it's just part of the job, it's just part of my personality. You're involved with someone's life, not only taking them to the airport, but making sure they get to the airport alive. It has become your responsibility to make sure they're safe and there are no accidents. I try not to be too emotional with it.
Is this a job you need to be specially equipped for emotionally?
Not necessarily. We have drivers that don't talk at all. I've been that guy. Whether they choose to not get involved because they don't want to deal with the emotional end of it, I don't know.
Why is it so important to you, personally, to interact with the clients?
Some people go back to the whole gratuity thing, but it's not about tipping. It's making sure that I have the satisfaction of getting them from point A to point B safely, effectively, efficiently and on time. I've never lost a customer because of a customer complaint.
What are some other hot discussion topics in your car?
It seems like every week I have a trending topic. Gas prices have obviously been a trending topic. One week it was Trayvon (Martin). One week it was Casey Anthony. One week it's weather, but lately it has been fuel.
So do you make sure you're up to speed on current events to prepare for these conversations?
Absolutely. If there's something I don't know I refer back to the iPad or something like that because I have Wi-Fi in the car. In about every hour or two hours I hit refresh to see if there's something else coming through. I follow on Twitter when it comes to traffic and news and airport related events and things like that. I have to be involved and keep myself involved because if I don't, I feel like I'm outside of the loop.