L.A.s Queen Gofer Girl
The needs of the people of Los Angeles are unending. Dinner reservations must be booked. Prescriptions must be filled. Friends must be shopped for. Cats, medicated. Dogs, groomed. And so, a Gofer Girl’s work is never done. For the employees of the Gofer Girls errand service, “errand” expresses the concept of infinity far better than pi ever could. Beyond shopping, it means courier, clerical, gift wrapping, gift delivery (and, even better this week, gift returns), personal assistance, home assistance, home organizing and pretty much anything (though not everything) you can think of that falls into the category of Making Life Easier.
Recently, I spent a day running errands with Lisa Ristorucci, the CEO and owner of Gofer Girls. Because she is a hands-on kind of person, who doesn’t like being trapped in an office all day, Ristorucci is also the company’s Queen Gofer. Currently, there are nine Gofers in the field. Historically, they have all been women, though Ristorucci recently brought on a guy Gofer, the first in the company’s two-and-a half-year life span. Ristorucci started the company after graduating from UCLA, where she majored in English. At that point, she didn’t know what she was going to do with her life, but she was used to doing errands at the doctor’s office where she worked. Before long, she realized that instead of running errands for someone else’s business, she’d rather run them for her own. In those days, the Gofer Girls LLC was basically her, in her car, driving around town and solving people’s problems — a mobile company of one.
It is a chilly winter morning when I meet Ristorucci. Our first stop is the backyard of a small, fairy-tale-cottage house in Brentwood where a regular client, Catherine, runs a floral-design studio.
“We do the fluffing and deliveries for her business,” Ristorucci says.
“Regular flower deliverymen will just hand you the flowers,” says Catherine, while Ristorucci loads the vases into the van. “But she fluffs them, puffs them, spritzes them and installs them so that when the people walk in, they just see something beautiful. Each week, they get a different arrangement, so it’s a surprise.” She pauses and turns to a second Gofer Girl on this call. “Can you add some water to that one?”
“You just asked me that 30 seconds ago,” says Gofer Girl Kyrie. “I wish we could multiply me so I could do more things.”
Running errands all day can get old fast, but Ristorucci seems to love it. “I like darting around the city,” she confesses, leaning forward over the steering wheel of her Toyota Rav 4. “You never know what you will be doing. One day, we had to put in shelf liner for someone. That errand has never been repeated.”
When she hires gofers, Ristorucci looks for “a good voice and a good face,” by which she means poise and a friendly bedside manner; a trustworthy, straightforward, capable demeanor; and FBI-caliber references. Someone, in other words, who would never, never ever rob, vandalize or ax-murder you or your pets if you left her with the keys to your house. Ristorucci is the pinnacle of all these things. She is also gorgeous. She is small, with an athletic body, creamy skin, full lips and fine, auburn hair that frames her face in bouncy, classic bombshell curls. If you saw her in action, you’d think, “Now there’s a girl with moxie.” Today, she is dressed casually in black knit pants with a black embroidered cotton blouse nipped in at the waist.
“The thing is that we can’t wear a suit, because we’re always getting down and dirty,” she says, adding that she’s stumped right now about uniforms. “I’m thinking maybe a cute James Perse T-shirt, with our logo on it and ‘Just gofer it!’ on the back, with a little blazer on top?”
It’s a tough call, since, mostly, Ristorucci’s errand runners don’t announce to the world that they are Gofer Girls, because some clients might want to pass them off as on-staff assistants. So for now, they dress in a style Ristorucci calls the “Malibu mommy” look: nice sweatpants, cute button-up shirts with a tank top underneath, and often Uggs for footwear. Dressing like a hoochie is verboten. “Some of the girls are really pretty,” she says, “so to show skin on top of that would be taking away from the focus of what we do.” For accessories, each Gofer Girl gets a purple clipboard, a purple pen, and a small plastic pouch to zip in their receipts.
“See how nice she is?” Ristorucci grins, after we’ve swapped out a woman’s dead flowers for fresh ones. “I feel like, what’s that statue with the many arms?”
“Maybe. I’m the home base, and I write very detailed e-mails for the girls to work from.”
Ristorucci’s personal specialty is packaging. “You can send a Gofer Girl around town to get stuff together for people,” she explains. “Like if you have a boyfriend, I can put together a little package for him. If he likes baseball, we can go get him tickets for a ball game, then pick up a six pack of beer, then go to Fred Segal for his favorite cologne. I like to put stuff in something useful, in this case, maybe like a cooler.”
We’ve now arrived at Susie Cakes bakery to pick up a dozen cupcakes for a client of a client. “We’ve done cupcake deliveries to the set of CSI before,” she says, nimbly accepting the bakery box with one hand. “There’s always so much going on there that we never know where to put the cupcakes. You know, do we give them to the producer? Do we put them on the craft-services table?” (Often, Ristorucci explains, filming locations change at the last minute and the contact person on the order isn’t always the person authorized to receive cupcakes.)
On the way to our cupcakes dropoff — a mansion in Malibu — Ristorucci swings into a Public Storage to lock up some paintings for an artist who is moving to Italy. “She does amazing work,” she says, gingerly lifting the canvases one by one. “I think her art is very marketable. I don’t mean in a bad way. Just that it would look great on Starbucks coffee cups or CDs and things like that.”
Ristorucci is full of useful knowledge that she picks up along the way and sometimes shares with her clients when appropriate. For a new-mom client, she suggested doing a saltwater swimming pool instead of a chlorinated one; it’s trendy right now and might be healthier for the baby.
It is dangerously easy to get addicted to being gofered. Commissioning a grocery delivery is the gateway drug. Pretty soon, you’re thinking of the million other things you can, as Ristorucci says, “farm out,” because nothing is better than having a cute, responsible errand runner pick up some scented candles or towels for you at Bed Bath & Beyond. “I go there so much I keep a stack of coupons in my car,” she says.
There’s also a viral element to the gofering. One day, Ristorucci was headed out to Petco for a client’s cats. The next, she was grabbing even more litter for the client’s neighbor’s pets. For situations like these, she has worked out a specially discounted, aptly named “neighbor rate.”
Other missions have included: Helping people find an apartment. Packing. Unpacking. Organizing garages, cars, desks and purses. Trying on makeup for a client. Trying on a dress for a woman who needed something smashing to wear to the Golden Globes. (“I got a taller Gofer to do it. She was 5-foot-9. The dress was a Stella McCartney and she was sad to take it off.”) Waiting in line for Sprinkles cupcakes at the height of the Sprinkles mania (someone even fainted in line while she was waiting). Helping a teacher grade papers when her assistant got sick.
Finding a tough-to-get-ahold-of bottle of Domain Napa Chardonnay, which “took some serious detective work.” Picking up a last-minute cheese plate for someone who’d forgotten to get appetizers for his dinner party. Alphabetizing a collection of CDs. Delivering cups of Pinkberry to a junior high school Korean Club, which was stressful because the frozen yogurt melts fast. Feeding a man’s fish and his frog. And waiting for the cable repair guy.
“I suggest to my clients that they can have us do other things in the house while we wait so they can maximize their time,” Ristorucci says. Any Gofer worth her salt abhors wasting time. When she’s stuck in traffic, for example, Ristorucci listens to books on tape, or learns foreign languages.
Speaking of waiting, not long ago, a client asked her to wait in line for a Pink’s hot dog that he was particularly craving. The line was 45 minutes long. At Lisa’s hourly rate of $35 an hour, one hour minimum, the hot dog cost some forty dollars. “Whoa. Next time it’s Hebrew National from Ralphs for me!” said the client, laughing when he saw the bill.
No job is too small or too weird. A client once asked her to pick up ingredients for a new holiday cocktail he was inventing. It had peppermint schnapps, vodka, Goldschlager, and a dusting of crushed candy canes on the rim of the glass.
“What should we call it?” the client asked.
Ristorucci thought for a moment. “How about ‘Drunken Elf’? Or ‘Wasted Elf’?”
In the afternoon, we go to pick up a dictionary for Robert, a longtime client. Is he a writer? “No, he’s a bad speller,” Ristorucci says. At Barnes & Noble (“Always go to the help desk first, it’s more efficient”), she lays out three dictionaries side by side on the floor and kneels down in front of them. “I don’t know,” she murmurs. “What would you do? I think I’ll get him the Webster’s.”
Robert’s apartment is a small, organized maze of bookshelves brimming with mailing supplies, boxes, file folders, paper clips, rubber bands, et cetera. He and a friend sit behind computers in what should be the living and dining rooms. Both men are shy, and the place has a pleasant, swampy, medicinal smell. Ristorucci waits patiently for Robert to finish his phone call, then hands him the dictionary.
“Let’s see it then,” he says, inspecting it.
“We got you one with tabs down the side,” Ristorucci says triumphantly. Robert turns the book over.
“Thank you, ladies,” he says. Actually, it sounds more like “Thaaankk . . . youu . . . layydees.”
“Robert used to be a day trader,” Ristorucci says afterward. “That’s partly how he became our client. He couldn’t leave his apartment even to go next door to the grocery or he might lose a ton of money. Plus, he had a hard time getting around. Though he’s lost a lot of weight recently. I’m really proud of him. He has a near-genius IQ. And his friend has a genius IQ.”
“How do you know that?” I ask.
“Oh, he told me so.”
Next, we drive to a house in Mandeville Canyon to take two dogs, owned by a husband and wife who are both doctors, out for a grueling one-hour walk. Ristorucci doesn’t even eat lunch while on the go, favoring instead a gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, agave-sweetened, high-fiber high-protein Comfort Bar. Ironically, she is often so busy solving other people’s dilemmas, making their lives more complete and tending to their fish, frogs and dogs, that she has to hire a Gofer Girl to walk her own dog, a purebred Maltese named Fletcher.
In the future, Ristorucci hopes to have networks of Gofers darting around in cities across the country. “I’m probably gonna hit Florida and New York soon.” For a while, a group of guys tried to start a rival company called Gofer Guys.
“It was similar to Rent-a-Husband, you know, that handyman service?” Ristorucci says. “They even copied our Web site and our rate card! But they didn’t last. I mean, are you gonna let some strange boy into your kitchen? No. People like girls ?better.”
Gofer Girls concierge services, (877) 80-GOFER, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.gofergirls.com.
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