Local man enjoys his road work

Published 5:24 pm Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carriere resident Mike Lee is in his eighth year as a driver for Senators Coaches out of Florence, Ala., and says he loves his job.

“It’s a unique job. You have to have a decent personality and know how to treat people… A majority of our clients are celebrities and millionaires, so you have to keep your distance. When they’re performing, you’re sleeping. When they’re sleeping, you’re performing,” Lee said.

Lee said on a normal tour, the distance between shows is anywhere from 300 to 500 miles.

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“You will leave one show at 2 a.m. and then you have to be in the next town in time to set up and go to work. You close the bus door when you leave one venue, and you don’t open it until you reach the next one… If you aren’t in the mode where you know your responsibilities, you don’t last long. If you get to a show late, it can cost you thousands of dollars in penalties,” Lee said.

Lee keeps his bus at his home when he is not out on a tour, and does not like to take other buses out. Lee has personalized his bus with various items, such as a personal laptop, wireless internet and a GPS unit. He also has turned one of the storage compartments into his own personal clothes closet.

“You have to keep your personal stuff out of sight, because your clients don’t want to see it. If they see it, they get upset,” Lee said.

Lee says the main goal of a driver is to keep the client happy, because 75 percent of business is return business.

“If you’re on a tour, and they don’t like you, you’re fired… There’s never been a tour I couldn’t go back on if I wanted. That’s like this coming year, I’m going to have to decide between a tour with Tool, and a tour with Poison. I’ve driven for them both before, and they’ve both asked for me back,” Lee said. “When you live this close with people, you get to know them. If they really like you, and get along with you, you form a bond with them.”

One example Lee gives of a bond he formed is when he drove for the Australian kids group, The Wiggles.

“Some time after I drove for them, my grandkids went to a Wiggles concert and took signs that read ‘Mike Lee is my grandfather’. The Wiggles stopped their show to talk to my grandkids and ask how I was. My grandkids were amazed that they had remembered me,” Lee said.

Some of the other tours Lee has driven for include Smashmouth, Blue Man Group, Chris Isaak, Metallica (on the Summer Sanitarium tour), the Up In Smoke Tour (including Dr. Dre and Eminem), the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Huey Lewis and the News, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

At the time of the interview last week, he was on his way to pick up Tom Jones for a two week run.

Lee said one of the wildest celebrities he has driven for is Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society.

“We got thrown out of Olive Garden’s, Outback’s, and any other restaurant you can imagine… One time, I was driving him and he saw a church steeple and demanded that I drive to that steeple so he could go to church. It was several hours out of the way, but we drove to that church,” Lee said.

Lee’s schedule depends on for what tour he is driving.

“A normal tour, like Poison, is pretty intense, with shows every day or every other day. Elton John did three shows in a row, and then took off four days. Jimmy Buffett works Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and then takes the rest of the week off. It just depends who I’m driving for,” Lee said.

Lee also said a lot of times his familiy gets to drive out and see the last show of the tour and then will ride home with him on the bus.

Lee says the work is seasonal and he is gone a lot, but he says he spends more time at home than the average person who works five to six days per week.

“I usually am home from Thanksgiving to March, and the time I get to spend at home is quality time. If you think about it, someone who works five or six days per week doesn’t get as much quality time as I do,” Lee said.