"Lords of the Limousine"

By Danielle Flood
(continued from The Daily News Sunday Magazine page)

The man went inside the terminal to find the young actress. McKee waited in the car until he returned with Miss Farrow and a skycap carrying three large suitcases. The skycap gave McKee a funny look and shrugged his shoulders. McKee picked up the suitcases and put them in the trunk of his car. They were empty. "But of course, as a chauffeur, I don't say anything," McKee said. "I prefer them empty."
Back in front of the aprtment building on Central Park West, Miss Farrow asked McKee if he was available the next morning. He was. He picked her up at 9 a.m. The doorman handed him the three empty suitcases. McKee put them in the trunk. Miss Farrow gave him a list of supermarkets to which she wanted to be driven. They went to D'Agostino's first. She asked him to put one of the empty suitcases in the back seat of the limousine, and then went shopping. She returned with a couple of brown bags full of Duncan Hines cake and frosting mixes, emptied the bags into the suitcases in the back seat. There were all different flavors. 
McKee drove her to a Daitch-Shopwell. She bought more Duncan Hines mixes. For about five hours she bought Duncan Hines mixes and packed them into her suitcases. It turned out, McKee said, that one of the reasons why she had come to New York on this occasion, about three years ago, was to buy these mixes. She couldn't find them in London and the twins she had by conductor Andre Previn loved Duncan Hines mix cakes. 
Miss Farrow paid McKee $14 an hour to ride around in his back seat. It is a seat that has also cushioned Ingrid Bergman, Jim Backus, Darrin McGavin and Joan Fontaine. McKee does a lot of airport work, weddings and more than a dozen funerals a month. He doesn't usually cater to "show-business types." But "everyone has a little of that action," he says.
By "everyone" McKee means the several hundred rental chauffeurs in New York City who either drive their own limousines or those belonging to or leased by a limousine service. And getting "a little of that action" is part of the seesaw lives they lead.
They can make anywhere from $100 a week to $1,000 a week. They deal with good tips and bad tips, fascinating and dull experiences, long and short hours. Most rental chauffeurs share with the private chauffeur -- who works for one person or a large company -- a certain loss of freedom, the freedom that comes with being able to say "I'll be home for dinner." One chauffeur said, "You could go to work on Friday and not get home until Wednesday." Their time is usually dictated by "the back seat."
Sometimes their talents are tested by the back seat. Imagination can pay off in tips as can the ability to adapt to different situations. On a given day the rental chauffeur could be driving: a pimp who has decided to take his six girls shopping on 34th St.; a poodle which has to make a stop at an E. 65th St. animal gourmet shop before its appointment at the beauty parlor; a rock group escaping screaming fans after a Madison Square Garden concert; an out-of-town executive who wants to cruise around 42nd St. and Broadway after a day of office-hopping. One chauffeur explained that most people who hire a limousine for a time pretend that it's their car and the driver is their employee. The rental chauffeur can make or break his customer's fantasy.
Certain props can hasten the way to those few hours of make-believe. Max Peck, 67, of Peck Limousine Service has been chauffeuring for 22 years. He has a tape deck in his car and a special tape he bought at Wally's Stereo Tape City on 11th Ave. It carries dialogue that Max says is popular with business men. It's called "Hired Stud Will Travel."
Sam Beverly, 35, has been in the business about five years. He had one-way windows, mirrored on the exterior, installed on the sides of the back seat area of his dark blue Fleetwood. Ralph Spampinato, in his 40's, who changed his name to Ray Spamp for the convenience of his customers, has had a franchise with Fugazy Continental Corp. for about six months. (Fugazy and Carey Cadillac, the two largest limousine services in the city, sell franchises to chauffeurs who have their own limousines in return for jobs.) Most Fugazy cars are Lincoln Continentals that have been lengthened about three feet and most are equipped with a bar the size of three bread boxes. Spamp supplies his with vodka, creme de menthe, rye and Chivas Regal Scotch.
Cooper's background is particularly helpful to him when he has to adapt to various situations. Taxi or truck-driving is the frequent work experience of chauffeurs in the city. Cooper, of Cooper Rolls-Royce limousine service -- who likes to use Cooper as a first and last name -- was an actor.
"I was in 'The Man in the Glass Booth,' 'The Hostage' off-Broadway, and 'Zorba the Greek.' I tore the cartilage in my right knee when I was doing 'Zorba.' I couldn't work. But I had a Rolls. A "Regal Red" Silver Cloud. 1969. People I knew started asking me to take them places. Then I took out an ad in New York Magazine."
"At first it was devastating. My car was very personal to me. I felt like I was renting out my apartment." Cooper tossed his head, closed his eyes. His mop of light brown curls reframed his large-featured face. He resettled his 6-2, 230-pound frame on the couch in his 10-by-12 foot office in the Greenwich Village garage he rents. "This was about three years ago," said Cooper, 32. "My first job was two homosexuals who wanted to be taken to a Bette Midler concert. I said it was a two-hour minimum and they gave me $40. It took 15 minutes. They just wanted to be seen getting out of a Rolls at the concert."
Cooper's phone rang. It sat on the coffee table beside an oversized book, "The Story of the Rolls Royce," and a yellow legal pad. A dozen variously-sized champagne glasses, covered with dust, were on the concrete floor at the edge of a worn carpet. Cooper later explained that he charges $10 extra for "champagne service" -- a bottle of "good New York State champagne, Chateau Robert," served in the back seat. Cooper answered the phone. 
"Cooper Rolls Royce." His voice change, became more nasal. His diction became more pronounced.  "The Sheraton LaGuardia. In an hour. Thirty-five dollars an hour. And may I ask how long you'll be needing it? Fine. And may I ask what is your name please? Mrs. S. Fine. Mr. S., on this short notice I have a Silver Wraith available. Are you familiar with Rolls? It's a 1954. I bought it from Swiss royalty. Fine." Cooper hung up.
Swiss royalty. What Swiss royalty. Cooper ignored the question. "Now sometimes you get calls from people who have strange fantasies. You go out to pick them up and there's no one there." He called the desk clerk at the Sheraton-LaGuardia. Mr. S. was registerd. Cooper left the garage that houses his four Rollses and went around the corner to his apartment where he changed into a suit that matched the interior of the Silver Wraith. That was Saturday. 
On Sunday Cooper was fixing a hose inhis Mediterranean blue and gray Silver Cloud. He had covered the body of the car in the area he was working with about 20 rags so it would be protected from scratches. Timothy White, a 25-year-old former cab driver who chauffeurs for Cooper (at about $5 an hour plus tips) dropped by and talked about unusual jobs he's had. Once he drove "Miss Bare America" from a reception hall next to Sardi's to the Beacon Theater where she was to appear in a show. "She was wearing pasties and a G-string in midtown traffic n the Wraith. And it was noon, lotta people on the street. I didn't know whether I should look at her or not." (He did.)
White said he was faced with a similar unsure feeling once when he was driving a couple from Philadelphia to New York. "This yellow Volkswagon kept drawing up beside me on the New Jersey Turnpike. The people in the wagon kept looking into the back seat of my car. Then I heard the funny sounds. They were going at it in the back seat. Day time. New Jersey Turnpike. Making Love." White laughed. (Love-making in the back of a limousine, Rolls or not, is not an everyday occurence, but it is not freakish either, several chauffeurs said.)
White asked Cooper what he had done the day before. "Took this business man from Vermont and his girl shopping for a fur coat. Then she wanted boots. So I took them to a place I know on Eighth Ave. Then we went to Keneret (a restaurant in Greenwich Village serving Middle-Eastern food)." White looked up. "You mean to say that I missed a meal at Keneret?"
Chauffeurs get free meals sometimes, free seats at the theatre. They get invited for drinks with their customers. But much of their time is spent waiting in their cars. "You get paid for sitting," Ray Mulholland of Diplomat Limousine Service reports happily. 
They sit all over town. They line up at night in front of Lincoln Center, and at Manhattan theaters and restauratns. They read, fill in crossord puzzles, talk to each other, sleep. For some, who have small TV sets that can be plugged into a limousine lighter socket, life is a football game on a Sunday afternoon on Park Ave. They sit for hours in front of Bergdorf Goodman, Bonwit Teller, Bloomingdale's, in front of small boutiques, in front of hotels.
Charles Armann was sitting in his limousine in front of the Waldorf-Astoria on a rainy afternoon. He recalled a client of 20 years ago -- Hedy Lamarr. "She had terrible feet. As soon as she got into the car, she took off her shoes. Then she would want to go window-shopping on Fifth Avenue from the car. Her feet were so terrible. So I would go down the avenue about 15 miles an hour. She would say, 'You're going too fast. I can't see.' I would end up going give miles an hour. There was no pleasing that woman."
On the same day, Louis Rosenberg was waiting outside Gloucester House on E. 50th St., while his passengers at an early supper. Since 1959, he has worked as a private and a rental chauffeur. Once he delivered a Rolls Royce to Red Skelton in Palm Springs and Skelton hired him for a few months. "But I hardly ever saw him. He had six Rollses and liked to drive them himself."  
Herb Greene is a pseudonym for a chauffeur who was waiting for a job on this rainy day in front of the St. Regis Hotel on E. 55th at Fifth. Someone, perhaps a tourist, might come out and ask him for a limousine. "Tourists, several chauffeurs said, want to see Harlem first. Then Central Park, Little Italy or Chinatown. Maybe someone famous would agree to pay Greene $15 an hour. It has been more than a year since Greene ended his 18-year stint as a Lincoln-Mercury car salesman in Huntington, L.I. He doesn't like these hours but chauffeuring is easier onhis nerves, and he likes the work. So far his favorite passenger is Evel Knievel. "Knievel put in a lot of socializing. He's very extroverted. Likes to sign autographs for children. Doesn't put on airs."
Not all rental chauffeurs wait in front of hotels when their regular accounts aren't calling. Some who own their own limousines cruise the streets of Mahattan -- particularly when it rains or snows -- even though this is illegal. (The City Taxi and Limousine Commission says only medallion cabs can pick up passengers from the street. In January, the commission quoted the street price of a medallion -- 11,787 are in current issue -- at $32,000. Chauffeurs who own or lease limousines need only pay the commission $20 for a limousine driver's license, renwable every two years, and $150 a year for a limousine vehicle license.)
Carey Cadillac, like Fugazy and many small limousine services, has a garage in Long Island City, nearer the airports. It is a garage that can hold maybe 100 cars. Carey chauffeurs generally wait there. Pete Smith's garage, which holds about nine cars, is on 56th St., behind Carnegie Hall. His chauffeurs wait there.
Their hats line the varnished pine-paneled walls of the 12-by-6 foot dispatcher's office. There are a couple of chairs in there, a map of Ireland and a sign, written on yellow legal paper: "Whoever gets a parking ticket from now on turn it in. Do not destory it. We will go through the trip tickets and who ever was driving that car that date will be charged for the fine. 10-30-75." There are some playing cares, and when several of the boys are in, there can get to be quite a din. But it gets quiet when the phone rings. For these men, who do not own limousines, who make between $2.70 and $3 an hour, it's not just getting the calls that's important. It's the kind of calls they get that counts. None of them wants to drive Abe, a midtown bank president. Abe, a regular, does not tip.
Poor people, pimps, business executives and the late Aristotle Onassis have usually been the best tippers. "Who knows? You might have a slow week and then get a nice long call," chauffeur Guy Galante said. Or the chauffeur might meet a new personality, have a wierd experience. 
Several chauffeurs said Elizabeth Taylor doesn't talk to them. "She's a stuffed shirt," said Max Peck, who said he drove her once. "But Burton's okay." Galante drove Richard Burton to the theater once. "He asked if I wanted to see the show. But I didn't feel like it." Galante enjoyed driving Ingmar Bergman for four days. "Very personable guy. Made sure you had lunch. He sat up front with me, gave me $100 to buy him a portable radio. He likes to listen to portable radios with the ear plug. Fascinating man. Gave me a $200 tip in an envelope with my name on it. It said "Thank you."
COPYRIGHT 1976 Danielle Flood

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