I’m in the limousine business, right? I’m the Executive Editor of Limousine & Chauffeur Magazine so, of course, my friend Sara would think of me when some of her actor acquaintances wanted a free limousine ride to a performance they were giving at a theater in Los Angeles. The date in question was the final weekend of the busy preseason for limousine operators and I figured the chances of a free ride were minimal, but the job would only take about an hour so I agreed to at least try leaning on a few of my friends in the industry.
It worked. Attila Fenyes not only offered the use of a stretch-limousine, but was willing to let me drive it myself so that I could see how the limousine business looks from the driver’s seat. I told Sara and her friends that we were ready to roll.
The plan was to pick Sara up at her place around 6:30 pm, and then meet the actors behind the theater after their sound check. This would be about 7 pm and people would then be line up in front of the theater waiting to buy tickets for the show. I was to drive the cast around to the front of the theater and open the door so they could make a big entrance in front of the crowd. It sounded simple.
I was eager to get my run-through of the Lincoln limousine on the evening of the run. “This is my first time driving a limo. Tell me everything I need to know about the car,” I said to Attila. “There really isn’t much to it,” he replied as we quickly went over the various knobs, buttons, and switches in the front and rear compartments. It looked easy enough, and I knew that the passengers would only be in the car for about five minutes. Still, though, I wanted this first run to go smoothly and hoped that my brief introduction would suffice. It nearly did.
Sliding the driver’s seat back as far as it would go. I hit the road. Unfortunately, I was running late and had to call Sara and tell her I didn’t have time to pick her up if I was going to get to the theater on time. I would have to meet her at the theater. “Very unprofessional,” I thought to myself. Not only was I behind schedule, I was also going to have to stop for gas.
After getting gas and calling Sara from a pay phone, I cautiously rolled the long vehicle back on the road and turned on my small tape recorder. “This is Joe Chauffeur heading east on Roscoe Boulevard,” I dictated to the recorder, “and I’m going to have to hurry in order to get to the theater on time. This is something that should never happen to a professional chauffeur,” I tend to be late under normal circumstances and I should have known to allow more time before this run to check the car out and get myself ready. Feeling that things were not off to a great start, I was glad that my job was not hanging on a perfect run.
“I’m in the center of three lanes on a busy street,” I told the reorder, “and cars are passing on both sides. There’s fairly heavy traffic and people are cutting in front of me even though I’m going at a reasonable speed. Drivers must automatically assume that limousines move slowly. Now I’m changing lanes and preparing to get on the freeway. Cars are still cutting me off. This is unbelievable.”
“I’m going 55 on the free-way now,” remarks the tape, “and it feels very slow in this big car. There’s a big blind spot on each side, and cars are still passing me on both sides,” Background noises document my search for the partition switch. It’s nowhere to be found. I change lanes, hoping that nobody is crouching in my blind spot. My legs are brushing against the steering wheel even though the seat is all the back. “This car must have a fat partition,” I complain to the tape recorder.
As a few miles passed, it began to feel more natural maneuvering the car through traffic. It seemed to have an adequate amount of power for freeway cruising, but there were one or two mechanical grunts as I climbed up over the Cahuenga Pass and then began coasting down into Hollywood. There was still no sign of the partition switch.
I arrived at the theater almost immediately after leaving the freeway. It was a little past 7p.m. and I was late enough to get fined or fired by a good percentage of services but, fortunately, there was no one for my passengers to complain to. A line of people stretched around the theater and I noticed a few curious glances toward my passenger compartment. Some of them must have wondered why a limo was going behind the theater.
With a mixture of pride and anxiety, I spotted my six rakishly dressed passengers who were obviously relieved that their limo had arrived.
As relatively unknown actors, they were excited about performing and as soon as I opened the door, adrenalin carried them quickly into the back of the limo. There was a chattering of voices in the car as we turned around, drove back to the corner next to the theater, and waited for a break in traffic in order to make our grand entrance.
As I had feared, there was no place to park in front of the theater so I hoped for a graceful stop in the slow lane and a quick exit before traffic had a chance to get congested Seeing the large crowd waiting for the show vivified my passengers even more and they seemed ready to burst out of the car. “Wait for me to open the door,” I instructed.
Our moment arrived and we rolled elegantly in front of the crowd. Stepping firmly on the parking brake, I walked around the car and uncorked the merry players who waved to the somewhat puzzled gathering and skipped into the theater. “That was easy enough,” I thought to myself and got back behind the wheel as cars began to approach from behind. Slipping the car in gear and pressing lightly on the accelerator, I reached for the parking brake release and realized that something was wrong. Instead of a brake release handle, I only felt a few wires under the dash. I fingered the wires and, thinking maybe the handle had been jury-rigged, considered pulling on them but then thought better of it. The car wouldn’t move and traffic began to accumulate behind me as people watched from the sidewalk.
Looking across the buttons, lights, and switches on the busy dash, there was no sign of the brake release, I swore to myself, picked up the two-way radio, and called the base. “This is Scott to Attila.” “Go ahead Scott.” “Attila I can’t figure out how to release the parking brake.” Watching traffic continue to build behind me, I heard his reply fade into static. “I didn’t hear you,” I said, “Would you repeat that? Again he started to reply and I was distracted as Sara opened the door on the passenger side of the car. Attila’s voice was smothered by Sara’s greeting and the rising sound of traffic building behind me.
“Where is everybody?” she asked. “They’re already in the theater,” I replied. “I’m sorry I was too late to pick you up. I had to get gas and there was a lot of traffic, mumble, mumble.” “That’s okay,” she assured me as I continued to look for the brake release.
“Are you sure you can’t stay for the show?” she asked. “Yeah,” I answered, “I have to take the limo back and then I have some other plans for tonight. I have to get the brake off first, though. It’s stuck.” She looked unconcerned, “I talked to Todd about getting you in to see their show some night since you drove them tonight, and he said it would be no problem,” she told me. “He said you can even stay for both shows if you want,” “That’ll be nice,” I said anxiously, “I’ve got to get out of here. I’ll see you later, okay?” “Okay. Bye.”
“This is Scott to Attila,” “Go ahead Scott,” “Attila I still didn’t hear you. Can you repeat it one more time?” “Run the shift lever, through the gears and the parking brake goes off automatically,” he said I did that quickly and felt the brake pop off. A greatly relieved chauffeur sped away from the theater and jumped on the freeway.
“This is Scott to Attila.” “Go ahead Scott.” “I’m on my way back now and should be there in about fifteen minutes. It’s all over now. I caused a little traffic jam but it all worked out okay.” “That’s the name of the game,” Attila assured me. Because I had not been trained as thoroughly as he trains his own chauffeurs, we were both glad the run was coming to a safe end, and that I had not tried this experiment with paying clients.
I turned on the tape recorder again. “This is Joe Chauffeur to tape. The passengers have been dropped off and I’m cruising quietly on the freeway...getting philosophic about the good life. Here I am in Los Angeles, capital of high living and entertainment, cruising in a limousine and feeling pretty cool. I realize that there is a considerable amount about chauffeuring that I don’t know, but it seems like this could be a pretty nice way to make a living.” I leaned back, switched on the stereo, and let five liters of Lincoln muscle carry me home.