've been thinking about buying time. Between the kids, the house, the bills, the cooking, the cleaning, and all the rest of it, I seem to arrive at bedtime well short of checking off everything on my list (never mind any R&R). I don't want a nanny, and I can't afford a cleaning lady on a regular basis. But after watching me pull my hair out during an especially hectic week, my husband Patrick suggested I get some kind of help with something. "What about errands?" he asked. "Your time is precious; why not spend a few bucks to avoid spending it in the car with a bunch of screaming children?"
It was while I was in the car -- in the parking lot at Trader Joe's, to be exact -- that I found what Patrick had suggested. A few spaces down was a car advertising Always Busy Errands (619-813-8273, www.alwaysbusyerrands.com). The next day, I met with the errand lady, Evelyn Trivoli, to find out more about her business. "It's important to look like you're always ready to go!" she said. "I'm very organized, with lots of lists," she added. "My car, my cell phone, my computer, and my binder with lists are my most important tools."
Once, Trivoli ran weddings at the Red Lion and the Catamaran. Now, she's made a business (licensed by the city and insured) out of running all over town -- to the dry cleaners, post office, bank, pharmacy, copy shop -- even film drop-off or jewelry repair. One client, who is disabled, sends her to pick up Chinese food or out on donut runs. She does grocery shopping. "Some people e-mail me lists. I have one person who keeps a master list, then deletes what she doesn't need. Older people like me to meet with them, write out their list longhand, and then leave from there." She'll go to two stores to look for a given item, "but at some point it's not worth paying me by the hour to hunt down something tiny. But I'll call the client, and if it's really important, I'll keep going."
Some clients want their groceries delivered right into their pantry and fridge. "I rotate the stock, so that the older stuff is always in front." (Dry cleaning can receive similar treatment. "I put the clothes in the closet -- all the pants together, all the sweaters together, and I organize the shoes while I'm there.") Others meet her at the door. "Many of my older clients have a comfort zone that stops at the front door. I give them their groceries and collect a check."
Sometimes, she provides that comfort zone. "I offer a 'just be there' service. Someone might need the TV repaired. The lady might be in a walker; maybe she can't hear very well. I'm there to help interpret for her, help her sign where she needs to, make sure she doesn't pay for more than she's getting." For less vulnerable customers, Trivoli offers a wait service. "The termite guy is coming to inspect at 8 o'clock. I'll meet him and let the client know how it works out."
Before that, she'll help find the termite guy. "I do a lot of research and referrals. A client wanted his ceiling painted. He said, 'Find me three painters. Meet with them at my house, show them the job, get estimates, and make me a chart. Then give me your thoughts on them.' Then he told me who to hire. Another client needed extensive work on his home and had me find local handy people -- roofers, painters, electricians, and flooring people. I charged him per name. If you said, 'Rent me a hot-air balloon,' I'd contact places in Del Mar and Temecula, find you three names, verify they're in business, get prices, and find their availability. Then I'd make a basic spreadsheet and present it to you." When a client asked for a gift certificate to "a nice coastal restaurant in La Jolla," Trivoli found three names, the client picked one, and Trivoli then got the certificate into a gift bag and the gift bag to the lucky beneficiary.
She's happy as well to use her own judgment. "I had to get a gift for someone's nephew. They told me they wanted to spend $20 and that he liked Spider-Man." She expects to be doing a lot of gift shopping (and gift wrapping) during the holiday season. "I know San Diego really well. Besides that, I can also help with party planning. If you're running an office Christmas party, I can find a venue and a caterer." And she may end up serving as a present herself, in case you know someone who could use a little extra time; Always Busy Errands offers gift certificates in hourly increments. "They're good gifts for new moms in those first weeks when you're at your wits' end."
Though she is based in East County, Trivoli will go anywhere. "I do have either a one-hour or two-hour minimum, depending on how far I'm going," she said. Her rates depend on the activity. "They range between $18 to $25 an hour. If I'm helping someone organize their house or pack, that's in the $18 range. If I'm driving around in traffic with my own car and gasoline, it hovers around $25. I pay for items I purchase on my business credit card, but if I'm spending more than $300, I ask for payment in advance. I send most clients an e-mail invoice that shows the cost for my time and their total expense and the grand total."
Before Trivoli starts working for a client, she offers "a meet and greet. When you're providing services that can be as personal as this, people need to be comfortable. I go and say 'Hi,' then I go away, and people can call me if they want. But I haven't had anybody say, 'No, I need to find someone else.'"