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An Outside View of Driven Limousine Liberals

August 14, 2000|SHAWN HUBLER

Money changes things. Who knew the party of the common man could be so upstairs-downstairs? All over town this week, hired folk are waiting curbside for stupefyingly wealthy Democrats. A chauffeur named Graytel Deucet was waiting the other night in a silver stretch limo. It was dusk and his hundred-inch Lincoln was backed up into a dirt-path thicket in Rustic Canyon, outside a private reception for Democratic politicians at the home of a very rich man.

There used to be people other than very rich people in Rustic Canyon, but, as noted, money--entertainment and corporate money in this case--changes things. "Rustic," in L.A.-speak, now translates as "lefties rolling in long green." The little creek that splashed sweetly past Deucet's ride ran past houses so big that half of Deucet's block in Inglewood could have fit in some. Crickets chirped. The sound of cocktails and progressive speechifying floated up from behind the eucalyptus. Valets came and went, bossing each other in Spanish. Occasionally someone would send the maid out to hustle some other limo out of their driveway.

Deucet, who now drives privately for a hedge fund manager, had little to say about the irony of common men like him shuttling around in the service of the party that professes to champion them. So far this week, no one has asked his opinion on Social Security or the power of Big Oil. Westside liberals are good tippers, he's noticed, and his current boss is "a very nice person." Otherwise, what he's noticed is that life at the curbside hasn't changed much, regardless of politics. The curbside class waits, and they do it well.

"It's a technique. It's a procedure." The 55-year-old, with neat gray hair, stretched in his seat and rolled down an extra window. Having some stranger lean in to bid good evening wasn't the intrusion some might imagine. On the curbside scene, there are just two kinds of people: those who go to the parties and those who are at someone else's disposal until they are over. Random socializing passes the time.

This not to say there aren't cliques at these parties-outside-the-parties. There is, for example, the subculture of the security detail, milling outside mansions and hotel ballrooms. Coming and going. Socializing. Bossing each other in English.

"You need to check out the Bahamas. Man, that's a vacation," one Secret Service agent advised another, waiting outside a Century Plaza fund-raiser, futzing idly with his earphone.

"Problem is," a uniformed LAPD street cop lectured his partner, waiting outside a congressman's reception, "you do all the work, the credit goes to some other guy."

There's the motorcade subculture--the battalions of California Highway Patrol officers, waiting outside some presidential gig, as they were Saturday night. It makes a guy punchy, hanging for hours, nothing to do but compare semiautomatics, and the Chippies goofed like an army between mock battles in a mock war.

"What's going on?" a woman yelled around midnight, passing their motorcycle-lined command post outside a benefit for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Happy birthday, Mr. President!" the patrolmen giddily guffawed, and, "We're havin' a party!" and "The boss is in town!"


But mostly, it seems, there's the subculture of people like Graytel Deucet--the bodyguards, the guys dispatched by the limo companies, the private chauffeurs. On the night of the Hillary concert, limousines lined the side streets off Mandeville Canyon, men in dark suits idling wearily in them. Some drivers slept, some paid bills, some cleaned the tumblers in the paneled limo coolers, some crawled into the plush back seats to watch "America's Most Wanted" on the staticky little limo TVs.

Some soul-searched. On Arbutus Drive, a buff ex-cop hired for the convention week to escort a wealthy out-of-town family had made it his goal for the evening to see this soiled world anew, through their fortunate eyes.

"Some of these people I drive, they're all happy and laughing, nothing bad ever happened to them, and I think, what must it be like, to be happy like that?" the wistful man sighed.

Everyone curbside, it seemed, had a technique, a procedure. On the night of the party off Sunset, Deucet visited and watched the moon rise. Waiting--and the tips it earned him--had bought the mortgaged home where he and his wife had raised two children. Still, he confided, he "never ever" had been a passenger in the gleaming back of a limo. "I probably would never hire one 'cause I can't afford it anyway."

He reached into his supply cache on the seat beside him and, from under a six-pack of Coca-Cola, pulled the latest twist in his procedure, a hardback book he'd just started--"The New Color of Success: 20 Young Black Millionaires Tell You How They Made It." He smiled, a little sheepishly. There are whole worlds of waiting, downstairs if not upstairs, and just about everyone agrees now that money can change anything.

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