A lifelong resident of Sleepy Hollow who lives just down the road in Elmsford (but attests his world remains here in the Villages), Bob Levine knows much about our local lore.
Levine chats eagerly about the traffic bottleneck that used to result from the 3 p.m. GM plant shift-change, various Woody Allen , and the history of the storefront now occupied by the we are sitting outside of.
Levine can go on knowledgeably and passionately about many small-town subjects but he also likes talking about getting out of town.
At a very young age, Levine said he knew the difference between a 727 and a DC-10. He memorized the timetable for the Metro-North trains that his father took to work. Eventually, he worked with his father doing sales and marketing, and booking company travel, for a furniture shipping company in Connecticut. Just before the end of last year, the company was sold. Levine's father retired early but Levine was left jobless.
Finding work is hard enough in this economic climate, but Levine happens to be a little person. He'll never know if his height factored into company's rejections as they could never admit it.
Levine started taking Jenifer Ross up on her generous offer of free work space for “unemployed Mondays” at the . Here he has built a new community and found inspiration from professional seminars and Ross herself.
“Jenifer is a goddess,” Levine said. “She personally taught me how to spread good will, and relax. The minute I walked in there I knew this was something special.”
Ross has become a friend and had entrusted Levine with the minding of the shop last week while she was away. From his regular work station in the co-working center, he planted the seeds for the idea of becoming a travel agent focused on the needs of little people and others with special needs.
Anyone who has clicked through the many screens of Travelocity only to find their flight booked or twice the price, been hit with a surprise fee at baggage check, or waited for hours between changeovers, can appreciate how much harder it all must be for those with physical challenges.
A New York Times article some months ago noted that personalized travel agencies were making a modest comeback. It makes sense as travel becomes harder to negotiate and ever more anonymous, that people might return to a real live agent. Levine is counting on this trend working in his favor.
“There are a lot of questions that the people answering the phones don't know,” Levine said. When he travels, there are issues someone of normal stature would never think of, such as the height of a sink or not being able to reach the elevator buttons. He once stayed in a suite in Las Vegas that had two steps between the bedroom and living room, a small thing that would be impossible for someone in a wheelchair.
Though Levine himself can drive "without a lot of gizmos" – he has a Ford Focus rigged with brake and gas pedal extensions – “renting a car is tough.” And getting through the many circles of hell in an airport would be hard for someone with heavy equipment.
Levine said there are many American Disability Act laws in place that people don't know about. The expertise he can provide to his specialized clientele is personal experience, empathy, and patience as he can ask the questions and wait on hold so people don't have to. “It's time really," he said. "Let me take up my time, not yours.”
He will continue to rent a full day monthly at the W@tercooler, and hourly as need be. He calls the new business home-based, which these days means it can run from wherever he is. He's also open to doing house calls, “within reason.” Though operating independently, Levine books reservations through a host agency out of Dallas, which gives him better buying power and endless training seminars.
At the height of 4'4,” Levine is “pretty tall for a little person” but not tall enough to do everything growing up that kids do. Sports teams aren't usually good for anyone smaller than average, but Levine said he was able to play Little League (namely, The Dad's Club, North Tarrytown).
Then in middle and high school, he discovered wrestling, “the ideal sport for a little person," Levine said. "There are tight weight classes, so you're not being tackled by a 300 pound person or guarded by someone six feet tall or playing in a giant field, you're competing against someone your actual size.”
School dances on the other hand were especially nerve-wracking. “I skipped them for a while," Levine said.
Then he had something of a cultural/personal break-through at Curry College outside Boston – where he not only found a girlfriend, but cool music. Not a fan of '80s pop, Levine said he was thrilled to discover “college alternative” fare like REM, Dave Matthews. He worked as a sportscaster and radio DJ for the school station. Now he volunteers at the and raves about shows he gets to see there on occasion like the Beatles cover band, the B52s, Art Garfunkle.
As creative as he is, Levine has had a harder time coming up with a name for his new venture. So he was kind enough to humor me and let me put it out there for Patch readers to weigh in on.
Let's all brainstorm name ideas for a travel agent specializing in little people and other special needs travelers. (And please note: “Small World Travel,” as catchy as that may be, is off-limits. Levine has been cautioned against that by lawyers wary of Disney retaliation.)
You can contact Bob Levine, home-based travel agent, at (914) 909-6092 or (203) 3950-1983 (cell) and firstname.lastname@example.org.