The Art of Driving a Stretch Limousine in NYC and on Long Island,NY
First, I will say that never, will I mention any company names, nor customers names I've encountered while performing my occupation as a limousine driver. After spending almost 30 years in the automotive service field, and at the end, being on strike, I said " Enough ". Time to do something different. The time frame I'll be writing about spanned many years.. Met a limo company owner though my dealership workings. Asked him if he needed a driver. He said " have you ever driven a limo before ? " I responded " NO, but I'm sure I could, and do it well. I knew how to " shmooze " the customer. Now, I can drive a car, and pretty good, if I must say, Driving a limo always intrigued me. Just the many different " missions " I've thought about when driving a limo, came to be. Some of those" wanna do's" were weddings, funerals, L I winery tours, NYC tours, celebrity jobs, large business transport, surprise parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, even drove a bar group ( along with a bus and truck ) up to West Point, for the Army football game, along with a great barbecue, It surely wasn't always fun, but it definitely had some interesting moments ( along with some crummy moments of driving in so much less than desirable conditions.. I'll enlighten you, with some of them as we go.
WAKING UP AT 3:30 AM
3:30 AM The alarm rings. I knew it was time to get up, shower, dress ( black suit, white shirt, tie--everyday ). pick up my limo, then proceed to my 1st job of the day. Needed roughly 1 1/2 hrs prior to a 5 AM pick up. When first breaking in, I did many airports jobs. ( JFK, LaGuardia, Newark,). These were either DEPARTURES or ARRIVALS, departures,meaning the client is flying out, includes picking up the client at home, or office, then bringing them to their desired airport and terminal. Oh, I almost forgot. Assuming you picked them up on time, they surely expect you to get them to the airport safely, and in plenty of time. ( all times previously agreed upon ) Think that's simple ?. How about if there is a 3 car pile up on the LIE westbound, as you try to make it to JFK airport from exit 64. Sure ,I know lots of ways to circumvent that, but when EVERYONE is trying to get off the LIE, it's chaos. Time is slowly marching on. Of course under normal circumstances, there is a nominal amount of " fat " left in the total time, to deal with the unusual , but not too much. Finally you arrive at the terminal, unload your passenger/s and their luggage , sometimes including small apartment size pieces of luggage. Most larger stretches,have no R/F seat. This space is used for additional luggage, not able to fit in the trunk. Any pieces that don't, will be riding with you in the cabin. They stretch Lincoln Town Cars to the 25 foot range, sometimes longer, but the trunk for the luggage is the same size as Ford originally built it. I've had the inside cabins of these cars stuffed with passengers and luggage. Now, there is what's known as an ARRIVAL. This included knowing the airport of arrival, airline, arrival time, departure city, plus where your passenger/s will be driven to. A period of calling airlines 800 # for the arrival times is constant prior to its arrival . Now according to the time of day. and the day of the week, the length of time it take you to get to JFK or LaG, or even heaven forbid, a Newark arrival at 7:25 PM having to drive from from Long Island on a hot sunny Friday night, in July. A nightmare . I plan plenty of "fat " in that job. I arrival at the airport to await my arrival with time to spare. Customer did not pay anything extra, I used my own time , but my ride was much less stressful. PRICELESS. As the time of my passengers flight approaches, holding a sign with the customers name, and keeping an eye on the airlines arrival monitor, I wait for the moment of the planes arrival. If I'm not familiar with the passenger from previous arrangements, not quite sure the type of person I'm looking for, Male ? Female ? young ? old ? AND HOW MUCH LUGGAGE. One person is manageable. More than 1 person, then we have to grab a luggage cart, guess who's dragging the luggage. You're right. Me. Now, I need a cart, I'm sure not going to pay 2-3 dollars of my own money for this. SO, I scope out the curb area ( when you take your luggage to the curb, load your car, and leave the empty cart at the curb ) BINGO , so I scoop up this (free of charge, to me) cart, load up my passengers luggage, and off we go to the parking lot. Searching for an empty cart, as you walk into the terminal, is a natural for the seasoned limo driver. Then, if you do not have a use for it, leave it and walk away. I promise, it will remain unattended for a very short time. Driving in rush hour, heading East, be prepared for the long haul. Stop and go 30-50 miles, but safely to the end.
SPECIAL NIGHT OUT TO NYC - BROADWAY SHOW, AND DINNER
A job like this was categorized as a preferred job, It was priced out differently. Usually an hourly charge depending on vehicle, because the total time was unknown. The price could run between 40- 90 dollars an hour, paid by the customer, plus tolls, and tips. Assuming we were driving adults, alcohol, beer, soda, and water, along with ice. Openers, glasses, and napkins accompanied.. Any communication could handled thought front to back intercoms ( more about this later ) You also have CD's , DVD's, and a TV, if you lack entertainment. An array of dazzeling, streaming lights, changing colors every few seconds accompany celebrants. Usually a large group of people ( 6-8 ), entertain themselves,with food and booze, share the costs, and party the night away, almost totally unconcerned with the adjacent traffic, as they should be, The happier they are , the better for me. So first, we head over to Times Square and the theater district. Drop them of in front of the theater, holding the door open and helping each person out, Not an easy move for the passenger, if not done properly ( more later ) . The show will last approx 2 1/2 hr , so i have plenty of time. First I head over to the LANDMARK DINER ( now closed ) on 11th ave ( see photo below ). One of the few diners around with on premise parking--a premium in NYC. Grab a spot right in front of the diner. BUT you either have to back this stretch in or nose it in. No problem, Whip this 23 ft beauty around , using both of my side view mirrors, put it right in between 2 other stretches. Then its time to eat.. One of the primary bonuses of the diner, was it had a BATHROOM. Think its easy drinking lots of coffee, and timing your pit stops? Finish eating, go back to the car. Can't sit on the lot, not enough parking. I leave and try to find a parking spot on the street, that I can hang out in, while I wait to pick my clients up from the show, Picking your passengers back up after the show is over is a unique challenge in itself. You've previously acquired from theater people, the shows ending time. Now , there is NO PARKING ANYWHERE on 44th between 8th Ave and Broadway . Well, there are numerous limos, all aiming to be close to their point of pick-up. Bear in mind, NY's Finest ( who have the toughest job in the world ) stand patrol on this street, for protection of theater goers, and traffic. After pulling up by the curb, I sit and watch my side view mirrors. Always looking for the man. Sometimes, they let you sit, but other times, you hear " MOVE IT " ! Uh Oh, getting close to show ending time, and now I must pull back out onto the road, go through Times Square, completely around the block, and try to go down the street again. Hopefully we all time it right. In the event there is any problem with meeting up, the client has my cell phone number, and I have theirs.
LIMO REFLECTIONS 3RD AVE NYC
Landmark Diner 43rd St and 11th Ave
10 PASS CUSTOM LIMO VAN / 6 PASS STRETCH LIMO
Coming Into Times Square
AWAITING MY PASSENGERS
YOUR WEDDING DAY, CEREMONY, and RECEPTION
That sparkling day hopefully comes once in your life. The beginning starts with me getting dressed in a tuxedo, suspenders and all. The time to pick you up has arrived. I ring your doorbell, and enter. Screaming young woman abound ( bridesmaids, etc ) make up, and hair are the talk. I meet the parents, introduce myself to the bride, await her exit , to enter the limousine on the way to her wedding ceremony. Now, it really becomes ";; showtime ";;. I assist the bride in making her way to limo, while holding her flowing wedding gown. Now, getting into a limousine in a full blown gown on is tricky, and, if not done properly could end up with damage to, or soiling of the dress. Very nicely, I suggest she turn around, and backup, onto the rear seat, bringing her legs in, then swing them around, and into the car. Works easily,.... usually :). What's even more entertaining is helping those young, hot looking young women, exit out of the limo. Ideally, sit down onto the rear seat, then swing your legs around , and exit. BUT NO. They ALL, insist onto trying to step forward, out of the rear door. Well, with their stylish gowns, AND SHORT NECKLINES, step out if you insist, I'll be there to help you....happily. The bride and her Dad, often ride together to the church, a second limo would drive the bridesmaids to the ceremony. Part of the mystique, of the ceremony is that the arriving guests should not see the beautiful bride, before her grand entrance. So, First, I'll make sure the bride is comfortable. Then leaving the car running for A/C in the summer, heat when it's cold, I sit and wait till the BRIDE is ready to exit my car. When that moment occurs, I assist her in disembarking the limo, and escort her to the BRIDES room. Leaving the bride with her maidens, I step off onto the next part of this "mission".The aislerunnert be placed. Straight, and taut to avoid trips or falls, then taped. Some runners have have gone longer than 65 ft, Now as the priest approaches , and the wedding party readies itself, being prompted hopefully by a wedding planner, but in a pinch, I gave the ladies, their cues. Walk slowly, hold your flowers midway, SMILE,";; wait till I tell you to go";; . Here comes the BRIDE. She prepares to walk down the aisle with Dad, while either myself, or another accompanying limo driver, will flare out the BRIDES dress, as she walks down. We close the doors, then beginning almost an hour of down time until MR and MRS exit the church, smiling, hand in hand. As guests queue up for the greeting line, I will fold up, and collect the used runner, to discard. Ready to throw bird seed, ( no more rice ) , blow bubbles at the newlyweds. After I open a bottle of champagne to toast the bride and groom, we load up the car, and off to the affair we go. Everyone is thrilled, the hard part is over, now it's party time. Bottles of beer and champagne are cracking open, as the wedding party cruises with the radio blasting. Sometimes, if the ride is long enough, and some alcohol is consumed . The celebrants start to get a bit boisterous. with the stereo blasting, they'll never hear me. Wanna bet ? CLICK - I shut off ALL power to the rear of the car. Rest assure, I got their attention now. We finally arrive at the catering hall, and the entire wedding party disembark, Helping with the flowers etc. I wish them good luck. Payments for the job, are usually handled at this time. I loosen my bow-tie and top shirt button, while heading off into the sunset. All is well that ends well. No accidents injuries, or fights. You'd be surprised. Once the wedding job is over, there were times I had an airport arrival next on my schedule, and GUESS WHAT ? The flight is arriving EARLIER than scheduled. UH O, Got to step on it now. Airport is about 1/2 hour away, Plane should be landing in 35 min. WHEW. Still have to park this limo, and walk to the terminal. Hopefully, I'll encounter very little, or no traffic, and make it ON TIME. There is nothing worse than not showing up on time. You might have a very legitimate reason for bring late, but your " limo riding customer " will surely not want to hear it. Hopefully the tip survives.
THE TEENAGE RITUAL - THE HIGH SCHOOL PROM
Smell the fresh air and budding flowers celebrating the coming summer solstice. Along with that comes PROM SEASON at the local high schools. High.school seniors have been aggressively hunting for the biggest, longest, limos they can book for their prom celebrations, since the beginning of the school year. Long Island proms, are usually adrenaline packed, hot looking young ladies abound, extravagant, and hopefully safe along with a good time. Unfortunately , not all prom celebrationsatain that. First, ALL alcoholic beverages are removed from limos used on prom jobs. Now, I know many limousine drivers, who will allow underage passengers to imbibe, I WOULD NOT. There will be no drinking of alcohol during proms in my car, Prior to booking , parents and all participants will sign releases stating no drinking,or use of drugs will occur, Any throwing up within the limo wil incur an additional 300 dollar fee towards clean up of the vehicle. ALL payments due on a limo job are PAID IN FULL prior to departure with the graduates. A good story starts at a prom being held at a Catholic high school in Huntington, NY . I drove up to the high school with 8 prom graduates, A priest greets the limo on the driveway, requesting he be allowed to search inside the car, and trunk for any alcohol. OK by me. The teens agreed, and the search began. He opened backpacks etc., whatever could conceal some contraband. None were found, and the party seekers progressed into the gym. I now had some time to go out and eat, Coming back to the school after eating included a 2nd alcohol inspection of my vehicle. Again, no problems, Parked my car, relaxed for a time till the prom ended. Approx. 10:30 PM arrives, as do my prom passengers. Prom's over, where to next ? The next point of prom craziness was to include a boat ride out of Manhattan. Ok, great and we're off. Minutes later,a young lady requested we stop at 7-11 for a disposable camera, she forgot hers. Sure I said, no problem. Bringing a stretch limo anywhere in the vicinity of a 7-11, is always crap-shoot. Not much room in the parking lots, and plenty of traffic. So, I let the graduates exit the limo to run to the store. one young lady comes walking out with 2 suitcases of Budweiser beer. I said to her " where are you going with that ? She says " I'm bringing them into the car. "OH NO YOUR NOT" I said. She said yes I am, and I repeated " no you are not " She said " what should I do with it ? I stated ,you have 2 choices, You can leave them both on the curb over there, or you can try to get your money back, because you're not bringing them into the car. She returned them. Case closed. Another prom included driving a group of prom- goers out to Southampton Long Island for a weekend of debauchery, after their senior prom. They all rent a large house for the weekend, That always blew me away. I'll tell you this. I have 2 daughters, both of whom, went to their HS proms. Sorry ,no teenage daughter of mine, was going out to the Hampton's for the weekend with her boyfriend, and partying. How about the time , my " mission " , Long island high school prom. turned unusual. Picked up my graduates , and then headed into the NYC's World Trade Center for the schools' prom. Obviously this was the spring of 2001, unbeknownst to all, that would be one of the last proms held there. Shortly after leaving for NYC, I was informed 2 of the graduates in my car, had paid their monetary share for the limo, but were forbidden by the high school to attend the prom. Oh good. Now what. These two can't exit my car and go to the prom, so it seems I'm stuck with these country folk " in the big city. Well, after dropping off those that were attending the prom, I asked , " Where are the two of you going now ? " The young mans response was " can we go to a bodega, and buy some beer ? " Yo, this is downtown Manhattan, not Central Islip. NO BODEGAS HERE ! They eventually found a deli, used fake ID, and bought some beer. Sorry you're not drinking it in the car, nor am I responsible for you. Go sit in a park or lot , and drink your beer.. And so they did.
YOUR FINAL RIDE - THE FUNERAL
I never actually drove the deceased ( driven by a hearse ), but I have participated in a variety of ways. The limo being driven by myself, ALMOST always a black stretch, transported the grieving family members. I driven in over 20 funerals, only 1 of them using a white limosuine. Funerals are handled in different ways. On a Jewish funeral, the family was picked up, driven to the funeral chapel, where services are held for the deceased. When completed, the body is loaded into the hearse, family members, into my car, along with additional limos if necessary. When all cars are loaded, the funeral procession, beginning with the hearse, head off to wherever the burial will be performed. On a Christian funeral, my job is sometimes more involved. The pick up of family members remains the same, bringing them to the funeral home. Services, and viewing then occur. The body is then brought to the church. Now, if the family has elected to have the parlor handle the movement of the body, from the hearse to the inside of the church. Here is where I perform a second position. Making more money to perform this duty, I now assume the "undertaking" of a pallbearer. Carrying the body is not always easy. Sometimes it weighed 2-300 lbs,You had to make sure the casket doesn't drop. Going up steps was always tricky, especially in inclement weather, but fortunately never had any mishaps. Once in the church, the casket was placed on a rolling cart. This allowed the casket / body to be moved toward the pulpit area easily, slowly rolled by 6 pallbearers. When the services are over, the process is reversed, and the casket goes back into the hearse. The procession to the burial site now begins. Throughout the many years, I've been involved in many funerals. Although all solomn, some more interesting ihan others, such as the funerals for police officers. Usually 4-8 officers on Harley motorcycles, fly by you. light and sirens wailing. providing traffic control, for a smooth ride without stopping, from the church to the cemetary. Interesting way to drive. You can travel many miles in a short period of time. I must say the most heart wrenching funeral I was a part of, involved an 18 month old baby, who drowned in a backyard pool. The worst. All part of a day in the life of a limo driver.
THE " HOURLY "
As jobs are dispatched to drivers, " hourly " are highly desired due to the amount of money the driver can make, Usually would last 6-10 hours and possibly more, If you as a driver were personable, helpful. courteous, and most important, knew directions, you were desired. Repeat clients would request you as their driver, and reward you quite impressively for your duty. Over the years, i acquired a nice group of people as part of my "fan club" . One "hourly" I often looked forward to, was an elderly woman, who enjoyed gambling, played $5 slots BIG. So big in fact, everything she did was COMP'D. Being comp'd meant any item, including rooms, meals, transportation, and more, wil be paid in its' entirety by the casino. The day would begin approx. 10:30 AM from Long Island. I would pick my client up, and we would head off to Atlantic City, NJ. When we entered the Garden State Parkway, it would be time to stop at one of the rest stops. Breakfast was paid for by my customer. After a bathroom stop, we head off to Atlantic City. A couple of hours later , about 1 PM, we arrive at Caesars Palace. We park the limo and proceed to the " premier check -in ", where all wants, and needs for the high rollers are handled. Now here comes another perk. My client is comp'd 2 (two) separate rooms. One for her, AND one for me. She will go to her room, rest , and then go down to the casino, to pull the slot machine's arm. How nice is that, and I'm getting paid for this too. I can sit in my room, takes nap. a shower, whatever. There was a bit of a problem. I heard the blackjack tables calling my name, all the way up on the 9th floor. Amazing ! So I would eventually go down to the casino, and play some blackjack. Sometimes,, it was my day, other times, somebody else's day, but a good time regardless. It gets better. My customer and I agreed to meet at 6 PM. for dinner. Dinner was at one of Caesars Palaces fine restaurants, again comp'd to my customer. I ate great. Shrimp cocktails, lobster bisque, large lobster tails, dessert, and coffee. What could be bad ? After dinner , we again separated, she my client, going back to her slots machines. If the weather was nice, I might take a walk on the Atlantic City boardwalk, or if I was winning, maybe even continue gambling. If my customer was winning , we would end up leaving AC about Midnight , heading home to LI. Total job could last 15-16 hours. Long day, but nice.
Another interesting client I had on a regular basis, enjoyed going into NYC from LI, and dining at a particular Italian restaurant up in the 50's, on the west side. I would drop him, his wife, and some friends off for dinner there. My goal was to try to park my stretch limo as close as I can to the front of the restaurant. Why ? While sitting in my car, listening to the radio, reading the paper, one of the waiters would appear at my R/F window asking me what I would like for dinner. No difficulty eating in the car. Having done that plenty of times. Out comes silverware wrapped in a cloth napkin, this particular evening, shrimp scampi, warm bread, and a soda. t Always thinking of their driver. Can't let him go hungry. Going to be a long night. After dinner, we head off to any one of the favored clubs, my client has. The drop off and waiting, is repeated. The customer, his wife and friends enjoy themselves, their stay usually lasting many hours. Finally heading home safely, feeling good. Appreciation for my attentiveness, is shown.
When Things Go Wrong
Sometimes, a job such as a simple pick-up, and drop off, does not go smoothly. An example , was a job involving a pick-up of a Long Island businessman, and transport him to NYC. The route to the city involved transversing the East River via the Midtown Tunnel. Traveling at 35 MPH , due to heavy traffic through the 2 lane tunnel. I encountered a metal brace in the right lane, which apparently had fallen off a vehicle ahead of me. Unable to go right, or I hit the tunnel wall, and unable to go left, due to the other cars in right next to me. BOOM, there goes the L/F tire to shreds. What to do ? Can't stop and change the tire in the tunnel. Have to dive the Lincoln Town Car at 25 MPH, bumping along for 3/4's of the tunnel till the end. Finally out in sunlight . Where to change a tire, which I was prepared to do. Great , at the end , was Tunnel Authority Emergency Rig. Pulled right in front of the massive vehicle, and proceeded to jack up my car, and change the tire. Needless to say the customer, had to endure this incident along with me. I quickly changed the flat and was putting the damaged tire in the trunk. Now before I continue, it needs to be stated the law in NYC MIDTOWN TUNNEL is , you CANNOT change a flat tire, or perform any work on your car, on tunnel roads. Now, I'm already done , when a Port Authority Patrol car pulls up, and the officer states from within his car, " Get back into your car " I said officer, I'm already finished , ready to leave. He says " GET BACK IN YOUR CAR " . and then radios for a tow truck, to tow my car off the road . The tow truck comes, backs up to my car , and again I repeat t the driver, " its already fixed " . At least the tow driver had some sense, and said " Go ahead, drive it away. Another blip in the world of a limo driver.