When word came that they’d found Buddy Mueller’s body in his limo at the bottom of Lake Hollywood, every driver felt punched in the gut. Nobody needs reminding that we’re steering through some tough times in America.
Post-Oscar week, business fizzled, not because the celebrities left town, but because the bankers from Northern Trust did.
Who knew bankers liked to party so hard? I was on call for 48 straight hours. One night, a vice-president of human resources from Skokie named Chet orders me to open the moon roof. He wants to spread-eagle on top of the car and let his privates dangle through. He tells me the three young ladies inside will take it from there once we get rolling. He offers me a thick wad of cash to let him do it.
I’m reaching into my pocket for the car keys when I realize what the banker is holding — TARP money.
As politely as I could, I told him no. A limo driver might have zero bank balance these days. But it doesn’t mean he has zero conscience.
Saying “no” to a client is rare. Most of my regular work comes from the creative community. Actors, songwriters, executives – try to police them and you’re only hurting yourself. Because thanks to these people’s artistry, while the U.S. may have fallen behind some other countries in economic sectors like auto-making or healthcare, we still lead the world in awards shows.
Which keeps me rolling.
I was still thinking about Chet from Skokie the next day while vacuuming out the backseat during my final Oscar prep. Some people assume you just get in the car and drive over to the Kodak. What a laugh. They have no idea of the dedication required to be a top limo driver under pressure. Side view mirrors, for example, will sometimes take me over 20 minutes to adjust.
Compared to how the bankers trashed my car, I suppose I should be thankful nothing too bad happened Oscar night. Considering what a mess Sunset Blvd. was later. Why don’t they just close it down and make the Strip one giant post-Oscar party? My worst damage was probably when one of the “Waltzing with Bashir” guys got in and slammed the door shut and started angrily kicking the crap out of the armrest.
I had just finished re-stitching the leather and re-lacquering the tortoiseshell a couple days later when we heard Buddy Mueller had drowned himself and his limo in Lake Hollywood. Suddenly, all the good feeling that comes with making it through the Oscars safely just left me.
Maybe it sounds weird, but that night I watched the President’s State of the Union speech in the backseat of my car. It made me feel better, watching Barack from a duplicate of where he sits when he’s being driven around in Washington. When the President said, “I get it,” it was almost like he heard me saying I don’t want any more drivers doing themselves in. I want the limos to keep rolling in America. I want our country to have the awards season it deserves.
A limo driver can dream.