Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hermes Meteoric Messengers

Back in the mid-80’s H.B. Lantzsch Inc. made the quick decision to start operating a limousine service. Although I had already migrated from working at their car dealership over to demolition, Dad encouraged me to jump aboard; so I bought a nice suit and joined up with the other drivers. Our fleet included some nice stretch Lincolns, with the cream of the crop being a lengthy white Cadillac. Back then, it was easy to get a chauffeur’s license in Virginia, all you had to do was plop down twenty bucks and you were ready to roll.

At Hermes Limo, we had some interesting clients. That autumn, Eric, our manager, transported the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry over to a local convention. Although they had a glitch with the air conditioner and couldn’t get it to turn off, making Mr. Roddenberry slightly uncomfortable, Gene still made a couple of high-spirited wisecracks about cryogenic freezing and handed Eric a substantial tip.

Usually we provided service for weddings, but those didn’t always go off without a hitch. On one of my first jobs, the directions they gave me were backwards. Item number one had me meeting a wedding party at a Rockville, Maryland church. When I arrived, there already was a matrimonial ceremony in progress, but the names did not match those on my scribbled manifest. After waiting twenty minutes, to see if anybody from the next party would arrive, I called limo headquarters from a church payphone. Eric told me that I had ‘misdirections’ and that I was supposed to pick up the bride’s party from her house! Off from the church on a wing and a prayer, I flew up Georgetown Pike, where lo and behold, a parade halted me in my tire tracks. It was a nice parade and probably everybody was enjoying it, except for me. From my front row position, I seriously considered busting through one of the line gaps, but realized that being caught would probably result in an even later arrival.

A long ten minutes passed until the traffic stoppers set me free. As I wound over to the bride’s house, I caught the tail end of a wedding dress swiftly floating into a cab. I cut them off at the pass, making a last second interception with great aplomb and apology. After repositioning themselves in our limo, the wedding party still had some residual grumbling to express, but the maid of honor soon diffused this by remarking to the bride, “You know that something goes wrong at every wedding and now that this has already happened, you don’t have to worry about that anymore!” This smoothed things out for the rest of our ride and the maid of honor became an instant hero in my tired eyes.

I drove for several other weddings and happy occasions. One time the young couple I was driving sensed that I knew my way around and asked me to choose a scenic route for them to enjoy. This was easy and I directed us down to Mount Vernon for an evening tour up the Potomac; looping the full length of George Washington Parkway past shimmering monument lights reflecting off the river; then past Maryland’s canal water gates and back again over American Legion Bridge for a full figure eight; enjoining various tour-guide commentaries along our merry way.

The most memorable of my trips was when I chauffeured Carl Bernstein. Yes, that Bernstein. I had not planned to drive that evening, but Eric caught me at my girlfriend’s house and promised a substantial bonus. I said that we already had a date set for that evening, but he came up with an ingenious solution; that I could bring Brooke along as a “Driver in Training.”

Brooke and I dressed up as well as we could. We arrived with the limo at the appointed time at Mr. Bernstein’s house. It was a grand residence towards the end of a prestigious looking cul-de-sac over by Alexandria’s Library. Things started well and we were soon enroute to the show with Mr. Bernstein and his wife.

Mr. Bernstein had us pick up a couple of his friends from across town. The four of them were dressed to the hilt and we headed to a benefit show in Washington D.C. When I dropped everyone off at the gate, Mr. Bernstein told us to be back in 3 hours, so we went back to Brooke’s apartment for a rest. At the appointed time, we showed back up, thinking that all we had to do now was bring them back to Alexandria. However, Mr. Bernstein was fired up and wanted to show his friends a grand New York Pizza oriented restaurant in an obscure part of town. I said that this was not on the itinerary, but maybe we could be flexible.

So, we drove over to the steamy N.Y. Pizza place and the four of them entered. This was definitely a rough section of town. On top of that, the hour was late and it was Saturday night. Suspicious characters were all about and one unkempt person suddenly stumbled in from the perimeter, next to our expensive looking limo and began a slurred pitch. The staggering man said that he was selling discount diamonds and to prove his point he was going to etch some markings into our glass windshield.

With about a second to spare, I accelerated off to avoid damage to the limo. Bernstein did not like this and although I merely intended to circle the block before coming back, apparently Carl hailed a cab to follow us. Five minutes later, as we reentered the pizza joint atmosphere, I noticed the cab behind us with a man flailing his hands crazily outside its window as I re-parked. It was Carl and he went into a rant about how I abandoned his party - going on and on…

It was one in the morning and I knew that he would eventually need to draw some new breaths. When he stopped, I asked if he was finished and I explained why I pulled away and redirected the blame towards him and his bad judgment for taking his good friends to this dangerous end of town. Carl did not like this heavy counterpoint-weight and as I began the long drive back to Alexandria, he started lashing out at me. He yelled, saying that I needed to develop a sense of respect towards my superiors and a bunch of other small man complex crap. As I started picturing Dustin Hoffman in his position, Carl bellowed quite loud, “This whole limo thing sucks!” Without hesitation I yelped much louder, “It sure does!!!” Well, that certainly quieted things down for a spell. I don’t think anybody made a peep for the next 40 minutes. Finally, as we wearied of struggling, a few soft murmurings reappeared within the tired group. I turned some light music on the control panel and finally dropped the four of them off at his Alexandria Library house, where Carl surprisingly handed Brooke and I, a forty dollar tip.

After that experience, I did not operate many more limo jobs.

Our last big job was going to be for the annual World Bank meeting in Washington D.C. but Mr. Lantzsch passed away and they pulled the limos back for his funeral ceremony. Thereafter, the business began to fizzle, but I had already decided to stick more to demolition. It's safer.

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