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Oscars '98

The Getaway Drivers : There May Be Glitter, but Sometimes the Tips Aren't So Great

March 24, 1998|MICHAEL X. FERRARO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Clippers parking lot has never been so full--of glamour, at least.

Monday night, while the 70th Academy Awards took place half a mile away at the Shrine Auditorium, the driving force behind the glitter congregated at the parking lot of the Sports Arena. Eleven-hundred strong, these show-biz veterans dressed to the nines, avoided the paparazzi and listened intently for . . . SigAlerts? You betcha.

They are the limousine drivers for the Academy Awards, and just as quickly as they appear before the spotlights, dropping off their precious cargo to run the Joan-and-Missy Rivers "who the heck are you wearing?" gantlet, they steal away to the most luxurious lot in the universe, where, like most of the world, they watched the festivities on TV.

"This is like the drivers' Christmas party," explained chauffeur Michael Gleaton, as he relaxed with a complimentary dinner in the arena's Clipper Club, watching the Oscars along with colleagues Randy "Roughhouse" Harris, Lightfoot Woodley and Sean Lewis.

Besides chowing down on a colossal buffet consisting of 140 pounds of chili, 120 pounds of buffalo wings and 1,600 sausages, the drivers are also doing some good tip hunting. Victor Straus noted that he drove David Keith on his maiden Oscar voyage in 1980, when the actor was up for "An Officer and a Gentleman," and pocketed $50 for his efforts. A winning evening for Anthony Hopkins for "The Silence of the Lambs" resulted in a cool $100.

But surprisingly, the Oscars aren't always a golden evening for the drivers. "I'd rather get a dinner run where a guy's trying to impress his woman," grumbled Harris. "These stars think somebody's paying the bill, so they get out and say, 'Good night!' The amenities are provided by the academy through Valet Parking Service, a Los Angeles company that organizes the entire system, which includes two "mission command" posts at the Shrine and Sports Arena.

"Otherwise they'll be hounding around the Shrine waiting for their clients," says Joel Groves, the director of special events for VPS. While Groves ensures order at the Shrine, his cohort Abraham Reyes runs a tight ship at the Sports Arena, which admitted 1,100 limos, 150 town cars and one giant RV, a 1998 Bounder to be exact.

"The cops didn't think we belonged," said Rick Moon with a laugh, the chauffeur for quirky Gus Van Sant, a nominee for best director for "Good Will Hunting." Not hard to believe, since across from the official-looking academy permit on the dashboard was the title of the film and "best director" scrawled in lipstick.

At 5:30 p.m., as he cleaned up the caviar and assorted pre-celebratory beverages, Moon said he thought some of the other drivers were a bit jealous of his super-sized ride, but conceded that on Oscar night, everyone probably dreams of a better gig.

"I wanna know who's driving Minnie Driver," he said.

*

* PARTY ON

For full coverage of the post-Oscar parties please see Life & Style Wednesday.

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