Silence Is Rule of the Road for Limo Drivers : Chauffeurs: Veterans say they do hear intimate details of celebrity lives, and tabloid bucks can be tempting. But their clients expect confidentiality.
Along with the privilege of serving the Celebrated Classes in Los Angeles comes the obligation: the code of silence.
Whatever goes on in the hairdresser’s chair, the plastic surgeon’s office, on the shrink’s couch--or in the back of a limo--it is supposed to stay there. Under celebrity rules, it might as well be taking place in the confessional.
Doctors are sworn to discretion. Hairdressers may thrive or die on protecting famous clients’ follicle count and root color. And limo drivers, who work in a world where they come to know the difference between a Gucci garment bag and a Louis Vuitton, even though they can’t afford either one.
From the stars they ferry at 3 a.m. for network news shows, to the marquee names they collect from 3 a.m. parties, what happens behind the glass partition on those long, silent drives is supposed to stay silent--even against the temptation of wads of tabloid bucks.
On Tuesday, a young limo driver named Allan Park--a Kenneth Branagh look-alike, in casting director terms--took the stand in the O.J. Simpson preliminary hearing. The things he testified to in court were the things he had been offered bales of cash to reveal weeks ago. He’d turned it down.
“Allan has been so terrific” in the clamorous bidding wars, said his boss, Dale St. John, owner of Town & Country Limousine in Torrance.
St. John said that when the tabloids came knocking, Park asked: “What should we do?” “I said, ‘Alan, if you want to go to the tabloids, that’s a decision you can make on your own.’ My personal feeling on this was, I just don’t want to do it--it just wasn’t because of the business factor, it was a personal ethical thing.”
Some limo companies make it a condition of the job.
“In 14 years we have never dropped a dime on anybody,” boasts Rick Granard, vice president of operations for Fleetwood, one of the elite services in a city with three Yellow Pages of limo listings. “We’ve had 500-dollar bills, thousand-dollar bills waved in front of us.
“A chauffeur is a rabbi, a priest, a confidant, a banker, a psychiatrist, a consultant, everything in one,” said Granard, who once fired a driver who was just too chatty.
Not long before the Simpson case, Fleetwood’s owner, Alan Shanedling, sent a memo to his employees as a reminder: “Please keep your mouth shut both in and out of the cars.”
So who are these limo drivers quoted so liberally and anonymously in the tabloids?
“A lot of flakes, drivers in the business a short time, guys with ponytails or earrings who think it’s cool to get in back with the client and smoke a joint--they want to talk,” Granard said. “They want to be actors, producers. They’re not professional drivers.”
On Tuesday, a few limo drivers waited in their big, clean cars idling in the limo rendezvous at the edge of a runway at Los Angeles Airport.
Perhaps 200 yards away, dozens of cabbies schmoozed and joked.
But the limo drivers, the elite, sat, solitary, each in his own car, doing paperwork, reading, with the air conditioning set at “glacial,” waiting to meet the next CEO or sports star at the airline gate.
One driver, who offered only the name Alex, watched on the little TV in his stretch limo as Bulgaria beat Mexico in the World Cup.
“To be honest,” he said, not taking his eyes off the color set, “100 grand is not gonna do you much good. First of all, you’re gonna lose your job” for squealing to the tabs “and what can you buy for 100 grand?”
“Limo, it’s a job you keep quiet. You do hear what they say. I just keep it with me.”
His biggest ethical dilemma is when to return a history book one client left behind; he began reading almost by accident and now he can’t put the thing down.
One veteran driver whose colleague chauffeured people to Nicole Brown Simpson’s funeral says his firm requires drivers to sign a pledge that they will not divulge anything. Still, he said wistfully, “I can’t believe it if that guy (Park) turned down (a reported) $50,000. For $50,000 I could take off for a year,” and after that, “there’s 50 limo companies in L.A.”
Every time someone quotes an unnamed “limo driver,” that’s a blow to his business, Granard said.
“One driver for a large company in L.A. opened his own service . . . and he went on Montel Williams or ‘Geraldo’ and started talking about clients! How Diana Ross was, how this one was, I couldn’t believe it. It’s nobody’s business. They pay for that confidentiality.”
About a dozen years ago, one of St. John’s drivers had someone in his car who asked the driver, “is so-and-so in town?"--some famous name.
“The driver answered point-blank, yes.” It was the celebrity’s publicist, and she was furious; “She said, ‘Why in the world would you tell me that? It’s supposed to be a secret?’ ”
O.J. Simpson has been a client of Town & Country for more than four years, and St. John was offered big money to talk. Even his neighbors were offered cash for scraps of information. When St. John refused, one tabloid made up quotes from him anyway, he said, and a reputable national magazine said he had talked to a TV tabloid show. His lawyer, he said, is dealing with that.
It’s human nature for drivers to talk among themselves--what client is a nice guy, who isn’t. Out at LAX, one driver remembered that another had chauffeured Simpson and a second former football player some time ago, “and they were talking about (Simpson’s) wife, about getting back together.”
But to sell such tidbits?
Gene Marquart was applying a whisk broom to the velour rear seat of his white stretch limo, and he backed out slowly to answer the question.
Marquart began Allegro Limousine two years ago.
“I think most of us know our position: Keep your necktie tightened, and your hair combed.” And not spill the beans, even for, say, $50,000?
“I just wouldn’t do that. I’m not a prostitute.”
A little smile danced briefly across his face. “But I’d like to have a chance to test my character.”