February 11, 2014

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Driven: Meet DeVille Mollaire

I had just finished a 24-hour whirlwind trip to Atlanta to set up the DamnDog booth at a tradeshow and, after getting a whopping three hours of sleep, had finally landed back in New Orleans. I hightailed it off the plane as fast as I could, hopped in the first cab I saw, and was greeted by a cheerful DeVille, who floored me with his politeness. My lack-of-sleep-induced crankiness suddenly dissipated, and once my eyes grew accustomed to the dark interior of the van, I found myself speechless. This freaking cab was cleaner than my prized Jeep.

“Welcome to New Orleans, Sir,” said DeVille. Before I had the chance to respond, he went on, “Or, should I say ‘welcome home?’”

The two of us started talking, and somehow the conversation progressed towards his profession. He explained the hardships of being a cab driver. There’s the $400 monthly insurance for his taxi, plus the car note each month that has to be paid before he ever sees a dime. There’s the constant hunt for the cheapest gas station (Walmart, apparently) and the expensive gadgets like meters and credit card readers he has to buy to make his van a fare-earning source of revenue. And, of course, there’s having to put up with people who lack respect or basic decency on a daily basis. I imagined how detrimental this last point could be, and immediately felt guilty for the torment I must have caused countless cabbies by being short-tempered and jackassy, due to jetlag’s altering effects.

“But the hours are flexible,” said DeVille with a smile, “So I get to spend time with my little Shih Tzu and think about a future where my son might take the wheel someday, and continue the family business.”

That was a doozy. Anyone who knows DamnDog’s story knows I am no stranger to the idea of continuing a family business. I count myself lucky to have parents who have worked so hard to create something they are so passionate about, and I am proud to be able to participate in their hard work and help grow and continue their dream.

Could someone really feel the same way about… a cab?

Let’s face it, most taxi cab interiors are nasty places featuring sticky ceilings, flickering lights, and uncomfortable, lumpy seats. After an extra cesspool-esque ride, I often feel like I might need some sort of vaccination. But who could blame a cab driver for letting their workplace become so disgusting? Having to deal with obnoxious tourists, inebriated jerks and arrogant assholes all day - not to mention in such cramped confines - could make anyone give up. 

Mollaire's cab, with his name proudly displayed on the front

It’s highly unfortunate that this is the case, DeVille explained to me, especially because cabs play a critical role in the initial impression travelers experience when they first get to a new city. Few forget the literal “white-glove” service each passenger is treated to by Tokyo’s taxi network, and London’s distinguished cars with polite cabbies and booth-style-cabins are a tourist destination in and of themselves. But in cities like New Orleans, Miami, and even L.A., cabs are merely a convenient (while costly) way of getting from here to there. So, when a jetlagged, camera toting-tourist stumbles out of the terminal and into a waiting car, the cab driver has a blank slate. They are the tourist’s first impression of their city.

“I think of it like I’m an ATM,” said DeVille. “I feel like I’ve come into these peoples’ lives for a short time, just to make a small deposit. Just to make their trip a little bit more enjoyable. A little more relaxed. Maybe then they’ll tell their friends they loved our city and the services we provide, and then maybe those friends will visit New Orleans, too!”

DamnDog Haversack Messenger inside New Orleans CabDeVille gives a damn about his ride, and sets an example of how one should care about what they do, no matter what it is, on a daily basis. He knows that every interaction he has with a customer – whether it’s a drunk frat boy fresh off of Bourbon Street in need of a safe ride back to campus, or a cranky businessman (like me) just wanting to get home after a red eye – can be an important one with life changing circumstances.

For DeVille, being a cab driver isn’t just about getting people from point A to B as quickly as possible. It’s about representing his hometown. It’s about forging a career for his kids.

By the end of my 25 minute ride, I’d answered my own question: Hell yeah, someone can be enthusiastic about owning a cab! Hell yeah, they can be proud! DeVille helped fuel my hunch that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it with passion and integrity. That’s what we’re all about here, at DamnDog. That’s exactly what we’re all about.   

Whether it is making quality bags, selling cheese, going to outdoor extremes or driving a cab, we urge you to be driven at what you do on a daily basis. Give a damn! And maybe try to remember that little nugget of wisdom that DeVille gave to me: people come into our lives to make a despot or a withdrawal. Make a deposit. Be an asset. Make the world a little better.