LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- My business excursion earlier this week to the Limousine Digest Show in Atlantic City, N.J. couldn’t have gone smoother. I had enough leg room on the planes, the middle seat on the return flight was vacant, the hotel was decent with a bayside view, my ground transportation in New Jersey was flawless, and my return flight into LAX landed 55 minutes early. I always enjoy industry conferences where I can meet new people and catch up with industry friends, but I’m always thankful to get back to California, my home for the last 12 years, and see my wife and house again.
After four days on the road, I was almost home when things got a bit batty, in a lively, livery kind of way.
As I stepped off the escalator into the baggage area, I saw more chauffeurs lined up with signs than I ever had this year at LAX. For a Wednesday night in October at LAX, a row of at least 10-15 chauffeurs in just one of the nine terminals made me think, “Is there a recession yet?”
However, I did not see any signs with “Romjue.” I recognized the chauffeur who had picked me up on my LCT East return last month, but he was holding a different last name. I figured my chauffeur must be late since my flight had landed 55 minutes early. So I orbited the luggage carousels, closely looking at the chauffeur signs. After a restroom break, I made one more round and finally saw my name. I am by no means a psychic, but the intense, robotic demeanor of the chauffeur struck a cautious vibe within me. I had to ask him his name after we shook hands, and then we walked to the baggage carousel.
I asked him how long he had worked for Operator X, but he then told me he didn’t, and that he was a farm-out from Operator X. He said he is supposed to tell clients he works for Operator X, but that he doesn’t believe in lying. I asked him then who he really chauffeured for, and he gave me the name of a smaller company in the Los Angeles region.
(I will keep all names of companies and people out of this account since it would just be asking for trouble).
After retrieving my luggage, the chauffeur, who I will simply call, Mad Lax, told me in a rapid-fire recital how he keeps his Town Car stocked with: “. . . fruit bars, energy bars, S'mores, energy drinks, chocolate bars, peanuts, two kinds of Italian bottled water, German bottled water, wine, beer, soda, chips, candy. . . “ I began to look forward to having a free snack and beverage after a five-hour flight. . . but then Mad Lax told me that he had cleaned out the Town Car because he was quitting that night. “I know that’s bad for you because you don’t get anything,” he told me.
After he got in the Town Car and locked the doors, he told me how angry he was at his operator-employer and that I was his last run. He said he is much better than the operators he works for. I looked around the Town Car, and sure enough, no bottled waters, mints, magazines. . .I could only think how Tom Mazza, George Jacobs, and Dawson Rutter would all just roll over in their limos!
For the next 15 minutes, Mad Lax gave me the lowdown on how he is a superior chauffeur with celebrity clients who repeatedly ask for him because he provides – and once again, in rapid fire succession -- : “. . . fruit bars, energy bars, Smores, energy drinks, chocolate bars, peanuts, two kinds of Italian bottled water, German bottled water, wine, beer, soda, chips, candy. . . “
As we headed onto the 105 freeway, Mad Lax sped up past 65 mph and then merged onto the 405. He ripped on his employers, explaining how he is owed hundreds of dollars in pay and has not been reimbursed for gas, car washes, and amenities. He then sped up to about 73 or 74 mph, at times not signaling lane changes. What’s more, he didn’t have accurate directions to my house, so I advised him on the best exit and route to take. He nevertheless turned on a dome light, brought out a Thomas Guide map, and looked at with a magnifying glass – while driving down the damn freeway at night!
He continued to talk in agitated fashion, bragging about his chauffeur services while alternately berating his company. He was so high-strung that he missed our freeway exit, which I pointed out to him. He said the exit was still ahead. I said again that he passed it, and told him to take the next one and I would tell him how to double back to the surface street that would take me home.
I hadn’t yet reached the point where I wanted to pray, but I was getting unsettled. I kept asking questions and maintaining a low-key conversation, as I realized I had no control over this situation and did not want Mad Lax to explode.
As we rode along, I couldn’t help but think about what happened to CBS News anchorman Dan Rather, back in 1986, when he got into a dispute over payment with a cab driver, and the driver just locked the doors and took off. Rather rolled down a window and frantically waved his arms at passers-by while the driver sped through the streets of Manhattan. I got carried away and thought, am I going to be the next Rather? A few months later, Rather stepped out of another cab to walk into CBS headquarters when a man knocked him down, and repeatedly kicked him while saying, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” That became the title to a cult-hit song by the alt-band R.E.M. in 1994. In fact, Rather once sang it on stage with R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe.
But I digress, and I had to turn my attention back to figuring out Mad Lax’s frequency. He then talked about how he has complained to a state labor relations board about his lack of compensation and how he would sue his operator. He told me again he would quit that night, take the next day off, and then look for other jobs. To calm things down, I suggested the name of an operator in the L.A. area he could contact. (I hope this operator forgives me for the referral, but I was just running my mouth at that point). Mad Lax also told me how he can do “19 different jobs professionally.”
Mad Lax then – yet, again – turned on the dome light, grabbed a clipboard, and wrote down the name of the operator I had just mentioned – while driving down the damn Pacific Coast Highway at night! Moments later, I was reassured again about how he really gives good service – get ready, here comes the machine gun chatter – by providing “. . . fruit bars, energy bars, S'mores, energy drinks, chocolate bars, peanuts, two kinds of Italian bottled water, German bottled water, wine, beer, soda, chips, candy. . . “ He jokingly offered me a half-eaten roll of fruity Zingers in the glove compartment that he said he had “forgotten to clean out.”
As we finally neared my home, he apologized for dumping all of his frustrations on me, but then reminded me, “Oh well, you’re my last run.” I directed him to a small guest lot not too far from my townhome, and told him I could easily walk from there with my four-wheeled roller luggage. He insisted on helping me to my house, but all I could think was, “You are not coming near my house.”
Call me a sucker, call me rattled, but don’t call me Dan Rather. Instead of stiffing him and risking a scene, I tipped him $15. I felt bad for him in a way, and figured the money was worth earning the rights to a bizarre livery tale I could re-tell at limousine conventions for years to come.