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Memoir of a royals’ driver may be great holiday gift
The Bookworm Sez
Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson
c.2012, Free Press
$25/$28.99 Canada
209 pages

Other drivers should know better.

First of all, they should learn to use a turn signal. Then, they need to be taught to stop tailgating, hang up the phone, slow down, speed up or just get out of the way. Grrr.

Other drivers should learn that they’re not the most important person on the road. Or maybe they are, as you’ll see in the new book Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson.

Hollywood did not love Jayne Amelia Larson as much as she loved it. That was the blunt truth. For more than 10 years, through many movie-making endeavors with a few small successes, Larson finally had to admit the time had come for her to find a job to pay the bills.

Chauffeuring, she heard, was fun and interesting, so she applied for a position at “an exclusive high-end limo company” that catered to film stars, rock bands and elite studio execs.  It was interesting … and then came the Saudis.

The screening process to become a royal driver was odd and the timeline changed often. Several times, Larson thought the job had slipped through her fingers. Eventually, though, she was hired – the only woman in the lineup of drivers for Princess Zaahira (supposedly a favorite wife), her family and staff, as needed.
It sounded like a glamorous job, but Larson quickly learned the opposite. While male chauffeurs were allowed to wear casual clothing, she was instructed to wear long sleeves and long pants, despite L.A.’s summertime heat.

She was on call 24/7 for seven weeks and had to keep her limo fully gassed at all times. She was to follow instructions to the letter, even if broke the law.

Yet, despite the annoyances, Larson found a silver lining in a flock of Muslim servant girls whom she ferried to errands and eventually befriended. Irritated at the Princess’ multi-million-dollar designer-clothing budget, Larson reveled in the servants’ love of the Dollar Store.

But despite the appreciation she got from seeing her life through servants’ eyes, there was big disappointment awaiting Larson at the end of the road.

What would it be like to snag a once-in-a-lifetime job, the kind of which would give you stories to tell for the rest of your life? Read Driving the Saudis and be careful what you wish for.

In a manner that reminded me of under-one’s-breath muttering, author Jayne Amelia Larson does a good amount of grousing. She’s obviously amazed and a little appalled at the behavior she observes, and she tries to share that sense of outrage.

But this is not just a memoir about a great job with a bad spin. Look closer and you’ll see that Larson has also sprinkled in tiny joys: friendship, small gratitudes, new delights, duty and love.
Yes, there’s opinionating here, but this book also contains a good story. That’s why I couldn’t put it down, and that’s why I think you’ll enjoy it, too. If you’re tired of the same old reading fare, Driving the Saudis is something you’ll like better.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Readers with questions or comments may write to Terri in care of this publication.
11/29/2012