We've Got Hollywood Covered

Rapunzel’s Unlikely Detour

Ideally, you want your client, whenever he or she is going out in public, to emerge from your limo (1) clothed and/or (2) waving to their fans.

That seems like a simple job. It’s not. It’s more like docking the space shuttle. One slip-up and it’s all over.

Of all the parts of the craft a great actor has to master, getting out of a limo may be the trickiest. I’ve had clients who won Oscars but who couldn’t get out of my car without losing a diamond cufflink from Harry Winston. Or turning green and face-planting right there in the street. 

Drivers appreciate actors who know how to make us look good. The first time I opened a door for Anne Hathaway, and all those flashbulbs went off, I had my friend and fellow driver Ozzie take some pictures focusing mainly on me (which he got in trouble for; but that’s another story).

To be fair, emerging from a limo is harder than it looks. There’s a lot of pressure. The client is often in unfamiliar footwear — designer stiletto heels or tuxedo slippers. And then — my pet peeve — the flashbulbs are going off in their face. (I urge everyone out there to sign one of the petitions I’ve begun circulating so we can get Proposition 77 on the California ballot, which simply states what we all know: Firing flashbulbs in a person’s face is a violation of the Geneva Convention, just as much as waterboarding.)

Beyond retinal burns from the flashes, a famous celebrity, ducking in and out of a limousine over the years, will develop repetitive motion disorders that cause nerve damage and arthritis. The same wear and tear you’d find on a football lineman.

I saw it first hand this week. One of my clients is a world famous actress who I’ve been driving for years. My code name for her is Rapunzel (drivers have to use these code names for celebrities, the same way President Obama has a code name, “Renegade.”)

The paperwork from her agency said I was taking Rapunzel to Sony. But as I was heading down the 405, and drifting right to catch the ramp for the 10 East, Rapunzel leaned forward and ordered me to exit on Sawtelle.

“There are no studios around here,” I thought to myself, wondering if she was going a little SciFi Channel on me. Besides, I’m not big on getting lost while carrying potential high-value kidnapping targets in my back seat.

Rapunzel told me to stop the car and roll down the windows. It was a funny sight. This glamorous, state of the art limo pulling up to the group of Latino day laborers who always hang around there, between the box stores and the freeway ramps.

In a few seconds, a guy stepped off the curb and approached. And he did not look like one of the guys who stepped off the curb to greet me and Rapunzel when we drove up to the Beverly Hilton for the Golden Globes a few years ago.

But Rapunzel seemed to know him.

“Buenos dias, Pablo,” she said out the window, much to my surprise. “Can you help me today?”

Pablo called out something to his pals in Spanish. And pretty soon it was me driving a world famous actress and four illegal immigrants back up to her house in Brentwood.

I don’t know Spanish, but from what Pablo was describing to the other workers about what they were being hired to do, I got the distinct impression I wasn’t driving to a movie set, I was driving to a marijuana harvest at Rapunzel’s house.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said to me. Her eyes had caught me staring in the rearview mirror.

“I was only thinking my paperwork was wrong,” I said.

“I’m not in the habit of justifying my behavior to my limo drivers,” she said, by now sounding pretty defensive.

“You don’t have to,” I told Rapunzel, “I get it. All the years…all that ducking into the car … Your back’s hurting. So bad you can’t even get out of a limo to work.”

“You understand, don’t you?” she said.

“Sure,” I said, driving through the guard gate and up her drive. I could see, in the enormous side yard facing the canyon, ranks of tall green plants.

I’m usually a stickler about keeping some professional distance between my clients and myself, but I had to ask, “That’s marijuana, isn’t it?”

“I have a prescription,” Rapunzel said. We stood against the car and we watched the laborers fan out past what had to be a half million bucks’ worth of imported stone patio and sculpture and fancy outdoor furniture and a spa and a fire pit, and begin harvesting the crop.

“It’s not just for me,” Rapunzel said. “I sell it to the clinics. To help others deal with the pain. There are a lot of people in Hollywood suffering. This is for all of them. I am sorry if I have to keep up pretenses. I’m sorry if it ruins your paperwork.”

I waved my fee. It was the least I could do.

“Stretch” is the handle of a 25-year-old, L.A.-born driver who hasn't been cited for a single moving violation in the four years he's been behind the wheel in the most demanding limo-driving environment on earth. He's an independent operator whose goal, he says, is "to get people where they need to be" with a priority on security and comfort for his clients in the creative community.