Photos by Alicia Cory from Shotcha Photography
“I have a jacket in the car. Should I wear that or go without? What do you think?” she asked Alicia, the blog’s photographer, as they discussed the where and what of her forthcoming photos.
She wasn’t what I expected, exactly. Oh, she was professional - dressed smartly with hair and makeup perfectly in place – but she seemed far too young to own a luxury transportation and concierge business that caters to professionals and discreet (nay famous and infamous) clientele who hang in circles far above my middle class life.
Laura is a Rochester native. Her sister's are her best friends – she’s the oldest of three – and she is both a morning and night person because sleep. She lives in southwest Rochester, but has affection for the southeast side of town and she finds Marco Polo to be a pretty fascinating character.
After the photos were finished, we sat down to chat. Drift Dough coffee shop served as the backdrop for our conversation and their chocolate doughnuts with sprinkles were a big hit with my “it’s summer vacation so we go everywhere with mom” kids. The doughnuts lasted all of 2.3 seconds.
“I’m gonna be honest, Laura, you seem fairly young to own the sort of business you own,” I said hoping she heard admiration in my tone.
“I kind of forget that, um, what I look like on the outside is not how I feel about myself on the inside,” she said smiling.
“How old are you?” I dared ask.
“Thirty-two. I come from a very long line of entrepreneurs from farming to technology and transportation. My dad and my grandpa started R&S Transport nearly 30 years ago.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. It all made much more sense now. No wonder she ended up in transportation.
“Yeah. It was a massive family business and when I say massive I mean like a lot of his family was involved, my mom and his mom and nieces and nephews. It became, like a silent brother so to speak.”
The business was sold last summer and her dad now focuses on Kids on the Go, a sister company to R&S Transport.
“Where did you go to college and what did you study?” I asked.
“I went to Columbia College in Chicago which is a liberal fine arts school downtown Chicago in an interdisciplinary degree.” She said as if rehearsed.
“Interdisciplinary...?” My question tailed off.
“Which means you just build your own degree in an arts school which is like 'don't even put me in the box,’” she laughed.
“What were your areas of focus?”
“I was really interested in humanities and anthropology. I pretty much followed one teacher specifically, Louis Silverstein. He taught on death and dying, what does it mean to experience peace and war, and a lot of like really deep heavy complex issues. Like, what's the difference between the mind and brain, soul and spirit? Very deep philosophy, anthropology, humanities topics taught at an art school level that helps you discuss these themes, but then how do you interpret that and perform that and apply that to your art?”
“And, in the real world,” I interjected. Why do I always have to be such a pragmatist?
“And, in the real world!” she exclaimed. “Like, in the real world you don't, necessarily, learn what it means to watch someone die or what it means to be there for a birth. No one ever sits down with you and is like, ‘someday this is gonna happen and these are the themes of what it means to be human.’”
She’s professional and smart.
“On top of that I also studied visual and performing art; anything from figure drawing to painting to screen-printing and working with power tools.
“I had a lot of crazy jobs when I was in Chicago,” Laura reflected. “I worked for the Chicago cubs as a nanny for their home games and learned really quickly how to operate around hero-level athletes.
“And at the same time I also worked at Second City as a hostess and table runner so I learned really quickly what it means to be in front of comedians. Right? And, when alumni came, how to treat them.”
“Second City's a big deal,” I said thinking of all the comedians from SNL that got their start at Second City.
“Yeah. It was really cool. Looking back, it was probably one of the best jobs I ever had. The energy was intense and there's so much vibrancy and uniqueness of people.”
Of course, she encountered people who would be famous.
“The sad thing was I was living in Chicago and I had noooooo idea who Barack Obama was,” she said. “And, um, one day the manager told us someone by the name of Barack Obama was renting the main stage for a fundraiser and anyone who wanted to work it could do so.”
She came in early for her shift and caught the last few minutes of his talk.
“Charisma exuded out of him. I just gushed. Who was this person who makes you feel like you're the only person there?”
He was, of course, elected as President of the United States the following November.
Even more interesting is the fact that when she applied for the job at Second City she didn’t have any idea for what she was applying.
“I saw this brick building and thought it was a museum and it turned out to be a comedy club. My mom couldn't believe I somehow pulled that off. I just needed a job.”
She’s professional, smart, and determined.
“So, that was my Chicago experience,” she continued, “learning how people tick and what their needs are beyond their stated purpose.”
After college, the recession was in full swing. It was tough for anyone to find a job let alone a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies. One thing she did know was that she didn’t want to come back to Rochester.
So, she and one of her closest friends got a working holiday visa and went to New Zealand for a year.
“Wouldn't that have been about the time Lord of the Rings was being filmed?” I asked curiously.
“Yeah! New Zealand looks like what you see in Lord of the Rings. The rivers are aqua marine and mountains stretch all across the middle of the South Island. The north island is lush, green and hilly. People have a different way of life there. They don't overwork themselves. They believe in this like work life balance. It’s a beautiful place.”
It was a fairly drastic shift for Laura; however, going from a city the size of Chicago to a country where she knew no one. Her friend met her now husband the first month they were there, so she felt a bit more alone than she planned.
“We go back frequently. I've been back about four times and it's the most magical place.” Longing was evident in her voice.
“What did you do? How did you earn money?” I asked.
“I worked for free accommodations in hostels or at music festivals for free camp sites. We picked grapes for a season. That was nuts. I have so much appreciation for the labor industry and where my food comes from.
“When you're desperate you'll figure out a way to make ends meet,” she continued. I learned a lot. It was hard work and I put in a lot of hours.”
When I asked what her biggest takeaway was from that year she responded by describing the relationships she built during that time.
“People I met there 11 years ago are still friends and live all around the world. So now I have this global network of friends that has allowed me to see the world. It's a global adventure buddy system.”
“New Zealand was the right choice for you?”
“Yeah,” she said with satisfaction, “and I'd recommend it to anyone.”
She’s professional, smart, determined, and adventurous.
“What happened after New Zealand? Where did you go?”
“I got back from New Zealand and instantly started working for my dad at R&S Transport.”
“You came back when you said you weren't gonna come back?” I hardly blame her. Rochester is a great place to live in my humble opinion.
“Yeah,” she laughed awkwardly. “It was actually some of the darkest years I had. I'm laughing, but it's not funny. I mean, you go from the heartbeat of Chicago to this new country and back again to this place you once knew, but now feels so different.” She spoke with just a hint of sadness.
Things were so different because friends had moved. Others were now married with kids. But, her dad had an opening at R&S Transport in Marketing and Community Outreach, so she did that for a few years.
“Then, dad had the opportunity to take his business into another umbrella company. That umbrella company no longer exists but it was there for a period of about 2-3 years. There were all different lines of transportation services: shuttles, taxies, black car and on a larger scale.
“I learned a lot during those days. Actually, I think that's the most ambitious I've felt because I was learning so fast how other lines of transportation work and how it compares and contracts with what I'd been raised in. So, that's kind of where Chamberlain started, I guess you can say. The umbrella company seized to exist and everyone went their own ways pretty much.”
And, no one wanted the black car service portion of the business, so Laura took it.
"Though I didn't really mean to,” she said smiling. “I wanted to go back to New Zealand, but I’ll have to wait on that one.”
That was three years ago. Chamberlain started with transportation and the concierge service was a natural extension since she and her employees serve as first points of contact with those traveling to and visiting Rochester.
She’s professional, smart, determined, adventurous, and ambitious.
“What makes a person passionate about transportation?” I asked. And, folks, she really is passionate about what she is doing.
"That's such a great question, because I didn't grow up loving trucks and cars and I’m not necessarily passionate about point A to point B. What excites me the most is the out of the box problem solving. The word no motivates me.”
But, it’s more than that for Laura. It’s about people.
“Growing up I don't think my family knew they were doing this, but watching how people with specific mobility needs get to every appointment and how the level of care given to each person matters taught me a lot. That could be anything from trying to not hit the bump on the side of the road because the person just a spine infusion surgery. Or, they're going to dialysis three times a week and what does that look like.
“I grew up in this level of compassion and care for every individual because we all put our pants on the same way. Right?”
She’s professional, smart, determined, ambitious, and compassionate.
The Story of the Adidas Leisure Suit
“What is the greatest gift anyone has given you?” I seem to ask this question a lot, and maybe I should find a new question, but the answers, for the most part, tell me a lot about people. Laura was no exception.
“It was my birthday last month and I have a themed birthday party every year,” she grinned.
“Sweeeet!” I exclaimed. I love it when people have fun. “What was this year's theme?”
“This year's theme was Adidas,” she said unapologetically.
“Like shoes?” I clarified.
“I've done a sci-fi party, a Wes Anderson film party, a 70's party, a Marie Antoinette party, Duck Dynasty party...something, whatever catches my eye.”
“So, Adidas...” I said bringing us back around.
“I like the way their clothes feel and I found this knock-off Adidas outfit in Thailand and ended up wearing it the whole time I was there.”
“You didn't even have an authentic Adidas outfit?” I laughed at the irony.
“No, it was the only comfortable thing I had. I convinced my friends to get these same, like, track suits. I told them, ‘you can be sexy in Adidas pants, you know.’
“But, what was the best gift?” I asked returning to my original question.
“I think the best gift I got was...well, I'm also a huge cat fan. Like, I love cats. A lot. I don't have any, but I have a lot of friends who have cats and I just love 'em.
“So, a close friend of mine gave me a card that was signed by his cats and I think that was like the sweetest thing. Another friend gave me 3 Adidas boxes that he collected from childhood and I thought that was really cool.”
(Above photos courtesy of Laura)
What does it say about a person who's happy to get boxes and a card signed by cats as birthday gifts?
“I wear Asics,” I said forlorn that I wasn’t in the Adidas club.
“Hey, that's okay,” she said.
What's the next theme gonna be?
“I don't know. I’ll probably decide the month before.”
She’s professional, smart, determined, ambitious, compassionate, and fun.
We wrapped up our conversation by traveling through various questions. I found out Laura often gets parking tickets, has tattoos on both her arms and knows how to be absolutely discreet about the famous and infamous clientele with whom she works. Don’t even ask her, she won’t tell you.
I gathered up my kids and all their stuff and we headed for the parking lot. As we drove away I found myself thankful that all we hear about “millennials” being a bunch of entitled slackers doesn’t seem to be true. At least not in Laura’s case. She has enough of the best qualities that strengthen the fabric of community.
She’s professional, smart, determined, ambitious, compassionate, and fun.
I’ve mentioned that already, right?