It was Friday the thirteenth, the day before Valentines Day, and DaVette See approached the Red Lion Tavern in Silver Lake with a tingle of nerves running through her body. Her friends couldn’t believe she was doing this. Her husband was worried. He’d gone in separately a few moments before, ordered a beer and sat at the other end of the bar, just to make sure nothing went wrong.
Four hundred miles up the coast, in Oakland, Marissa Rosado anxiously checked her phone. Has it happened yet? Is this going to work? she wondered.
Minutes later, See was on the Red Lion patio, approaching a group of strangers celebrating a birthday. One woman broke free from the group when she saw See. “Marissa!” she exclaimed, “You made it!” The rest of the friends turned, stunned, as See greeted them each by name.
See explained that she’d been experimenting with a new teleportation device to get to L.A. from Oakland so quickly, and that it may have altered her appearance slightly. Rosado is 27 and fair-skinned; See is African American and “old enough to be her mother.”
Back in Oakland, Rosado got a text from her friend Eric, who was at the Red Lion. He asked if she had set this up. Rosado wrote back, What are you talking about? And why are you texting me? I’m right here!
Then, See went up to the birthday girl, Rosado's good friend Holly Langley, presented her with a cupcake from Langley’s favorite bakery, sang her “Happy Birthday,” and said, “I just want you to know that you’re my best friend.” Langley hugged See and thanked her. See grinned widely and breathed a sigh of relief. It had worked.
Last week, the site TaskRabbit — where you can hire people for various personal assistance tasks — launched a social media contest to determine the best task in the country. Riffing on March Madness brackets, the company choose some of the most quirky, surprising or heartwarming tasks that users have come up with, pitting eight U.S. cities against each other.
Contenders included a New York challenge to “Find the guy I met on the plane yesterday,” a Chicago mission to “Wait in line for a rare case of beer” and San Francisco’s adorable request to “Deliver cookies to my (hopefully) future roommates!” TaskRabbit asked the public to vote for their favorite task, tagging their tweets #SweetTask.
L.A.’s featured task, “Impersonate me at a birthday party” was the stunt See and Rosado pulled off in February. The L.A. task got a lot of love but came in second, edged out by Boston — also a birthday-related challenge to “Cover my friend’s office with post-it notes.”
Though TaskRabbit vice president of marketing Jamie Viggiano told says 80 percent of the tasks commissioned through the site are things like handyman work, moving help, errand-running and cleaning, she’s also seeing clients find more creative ways to use the service, particularly in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, where they’ve had the longest presence.
TaskRabbit, which is headquartered in San Francisco, launched in 2008, promoting the concept of “neighbors helping neighbors.” Now, as its grown and expanded to 20 cities, many taskers are using it as a way to make a living — just like Uber and Lyft drivers or AirBnB hosts.
Taskers once had to bid for clients' jobs, creating a race-to-the-bottom culture, but now they can set their own rates for the different types of work they offer. Viggiano says about 15 percent of taskers make $6,000-7,000 a month, mostly through handyman work and by consistently taking one to two jobs every day. The bulk of taskers, though, take jobs nights and weekends to supplement their income.
See, an actor and filmmaker based in Inglewood, mostly finds work in deliveries and personal assistance through TaskRabbit, but every so often gets a gig that makes use of her video editing or acting skills — like Rosado’s task to attend her friend’s birthday party.
Rosado, an assistant video editor, had only used TaskRabbit once to get some help cleaning her house. When her friend Holly’s boyfriend asked if she could make it down to L.A. for the birthday party with only a week’s notice, Rosado hated to disappoint them but knew she couldn’t swing the trip.
“I’d heard about people using TaskRabbit creatively,” she says over the phone. “You’re only limited to your imagination.” She figured there were plenty of actors in L.A., so she’d see if someone would be her proxy. Miranda July’s Somebody app, which launched last fall, works with a similar concept of playful, surprising, intimate encounters—users send messages to friends via strangers impersonating them.
As soon as See saw Rosado’s task pop up on her TaskRabbit app she grabbed it, knowing it was perfect for her. “DaVette’s experience was exactly what I was looking for,” Rosado says. “She had a background in theater, and she loved the idea.” Rosado also liked that See looked completely different than her, which she thought would make things even more fun.
In late February, word got out about the performance and ABC News covered the story. See says a lot of the comments online were critical, insinuating that people in California have too much money to waste. But the whole thing only cost Rosado $40 — a lot cheaper than a plane ticket.
See only charged her for the time she was at the bar, even though she prepared diligently. Rosado sent her messages describing her personality (“sarcastic but a big warm fuzzy when you get to know me”), personal style (“ModCloth meets kindergarten teacher”) and TV character influences (“decent cross between Liz Lemon on 30 Rock and Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec.”)
See combed through her wardrobe for the most accurate outfit (glasses, skinny jeans and tank, oversized cardigan, ballerina flats). Rosado even equipped her with one “solidly embarrassing story that Holly, Marissa, and Fake Marissa will take to their graves,” she says, and sent along a photo with See’s face badly photoshopped over her own.
The cupcake and the song were See’s personal contribution — a bit of improv. That’s the kind of energy See brings to all her tasks. The day after the birthday party, someone hired her to set up a picnic and keep a bonfire going on Dockweiler Beach as a special Valentine’s Day surprise for his girlfriend. See wanted to make it especially romantic, so took extra care with the set up, burying the vase of flowers in the sand so it looked like they were sprouting up from the beach.
“There is a performance element to all tasks,” See says. “I always try to give them a little bit extra.” That’s probably why she gets so much work and earned the label Elite Tasker.
See makes most of her living on TaskRabbit. Gigs like the beach picnic or birthday party don’t earn her as much money as others, but she says they’re still worth it. That's something she and Rosado have in common.
“We want to make fun happen,” See says, “You don’t get to do that so much when you’re an adult.”
Viggiano says that while tech culture has in many ways isolated people, sharing economy apps like TaskRabbit are using tech to bring people together. And while it's easy to argue that the task aided Rosado's absenteeism, Rosado might not have made it anyway — and the gig helped make “I'll be there in spirit” a genuine promise for once. Plus, Rosado says she's found a friend for life in See. And the feeling is mutual.
Jessica Langlois on Twitter:
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: