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No Elves? Harried, Weary Use Messengers for Holiday Aid

December 12, 1985|KATHLEEN DOHENY | Kathleen Doheny is a Burbank free-lance writer

They are the unsung heroes of December. Give them a single phone call and they can begin to trim a hopelessly long holiday "to do" list. They can bail out corporation presidents and others who lack the time but not the cash to shop, make even the most ill-organized of us look less so or answer the phone so no one need miss the holiday office bash.

For some contented customers, life without messenger services is unimaginable, especially during the holidays. "Messenger services make life easier," said Melinda Carey, a secretary at Travlo Productions in Encino.

She uses Gopher It, a Van Nuys-based business and personal messenger service, all year but especially relies on it around the holidays to deliver gifts from her boss, entertainer-impressionist Fred Travalena.

Busiest Time

This week, Gopher It and dozens of other Valley-based messenger services are gearing up for their busiest--and craziest--time of year. From now until the wee hours of the New Year, messenger service owners expect to be in their glory--and not incidentally in the bucks--responding to business and personal holiday requests to pick up or deliver packages, people and nearly everything else imaginable.

"We do three or four times as much business in December as in other months," said Peggy Kerlagon, president of Gopher It. "Business really picks up beginning about Dec. 16," agreed Don Schumann, owner of Errand Boy in North Hollywood. "This week and next are our busiest," echoed Trudi Boyd, co-owner of Le Courier in Burbank.

During the holiday season, customer requests range from the mundane to the unbelievable. Among other things, the services will rush holiday packages to their destinations across town, grocery-shop for holiday parties, retrieve Aunt Molly at the airport for her holiday visit, gift-shop for people too busy to do it themselves, pick up airline tickets for holiday getaways and even run the family pooch to the groomer so he's spiffy for Santa.

Most messenger services share a common philosophy: They will go anywhere and deliver anything within the limits of the law and the regulations set by the Public Utilities Commission. During the holidays that willingness to go the extra mile can bring in some strange and time-consuming requests to complete tasks no one else cares to tackle.

Delivering Live Turkey

Schumann remembered a request of a Christmas past to pick up and deliver a live turkey as a holiday gift. "It was caged, though," Schumann recalled. He believes it was a joke on a friend but like others in the business he has learned not to ask too many questions of customers.

Gene Solomon of Now Commercial Service in Burbank remembered a request to deliver two Christmas puppies to their new homes--one in Chino, the other in Diamond Bar. "We had puppy piles on the floor before we were through," he said, laughing.

Delivering holiday gifts to the stars is common for services such as Le Courier and Q Couriers in Burbank, which deal exclusively with the motion picture industry.

Expensive Presents

"We deliver some very expensive presents, especially jewelry, to TV and movie stars," said Ed Green of Q Couriers. His drivers, accustomed to being greeted by the stars' beefy bodyguards, have learned to display their identification quickly.

Sometimes the sheer quantity of the order demands putting in long hours and logging hundreds of miles. On one assignment, Kerlagon delivered items to San Juan Capistrano, San Pedro and other Southern California locations.

Most recipients are surprised and gracious when a messenger service delivers a package, but not always. Lionel Senker, co-owner of Best Way Messenger Service in Van Nuys, spent several days during the last holiday season attempting to deliver a case of high-quality Champagne.

"When I called to find out a convenient delivery time, the recipient never could think of a convenient time," Senker remembered. "I must have made 25 calls." Finally, Senker took the case back to the giver, suggesting that perhaps the recipient was trying to ignore his benefactor's generosity.

Gratitude Sometimes Lacking

Customers don't always appreciate the efforts of the messenger service, either. "People get impatient around the holidays," said Schumann. "Just because they don't get thanked right away, they think their gift wasn't delivered. We calm them down and tell them we'll get" a delivery time and a recipient's signature, he said.

"People want things delivered five minutes before they make the telephone call," Green said with a laugh.

Many customers are at the panic stage when they call, veteran messenger service workers say. They want their job done the same day or even within hours. For that, they pay varying fees, since not all rates are set by the Public Utilities Commission. As a result, enterprising messenger services are free to increase after-hours and weekend rates, offer selling points such as 15 minutes of free waiting time, and tack on rush charges. Solomon said his company will even be on call Christmas Day. "We'll even deliver guests, but we'll double the rates."

Despite the long hours and sometimes crabby customers, most messenger service workers contend that the benefits of their jobs outweigh the drawbacks, even during the holidays. "You never do the same thing twice," Kerlagon said. And sometimes there are unexpected fringe benefits. "Last year," Kerlagon recalled, "we delivered fruit baskets and ended up staying at a party along with stars, agents and music people."

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