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Time

Calling All Cars -- and a Long Line of Stretch Limos Too

March 01, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is what one would call a quality problem. And for most of us, a theoretical quality problem. But last week, as rain fell on the Grammy-ed and un-Grammy-ed alike, images of the gridlocked downtown streets conjured a single thought: "Man, I'd hate to try to get a limo today."

Personally, I cannot imagine the series of events that would have to occur to turn that idle thought into a pressing problem, but L.A. being what it is, there were indeed non-Grammy invitees making calls that afternoon, frantic to fill their sudden, emergency limo needs.

"This one lady rings up, a customer of ours, and says 'Can you send somebody?' " recounts Hugh Lewis of Driving Force. "I said, 'Darling, you're absolutely mad.' "

Fortunately, the woman in question was not demanding a stretch limo; she would, if absolutely necessary, settle for a town car.

"In the end, I told her, 'OK, it'll have four wheels and a windshield, and that is all I'm promising.' We try to never turn a customer down," Lewis says.

Not that the woman in question shouldn't have known better.

"Oh, she knew," says Lewis. "Everyone knows on Grammy night, on Oscar night--forget it."

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At the big limo agencies around town, the list of big nights is pretty standard: the Grammys, the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, and, for some, the Cable ACE Awards and the MTV Awards. Most of the big rental firms--Music Express, Diva, BLS, CLS--have relationships with studios or record companies, and most of the work is non-Klieg lighted: picking up executives or "talent" at the airport, shuttling them around to meetings, dinner, the odd premiere. But that doesn't preclude non-industry runs. You want a limo to take you to a charitable gala, a fabulous fete or just to In-N-Out? No problem, just call.

Some agencies, like Music Express, require that you have an account with them or work for a company that does. But with more than 100 limo services in town, procuring even a stretch on short notice is not a problem. On most days.

*

On the big days, forget it. Even now, reservations are being placed for the Oscars on March 26. Calls are coming in from the studios with preliminary head counts that even the largest limo services could not possibly fill on their own. Soon, calls will be going out to smaller limo services up and down the coast.

"The talent all want stretches, and they all want black," says Nancy Fasheh at Diva, which has a fleet of about 90 cars, most of which are not black stretches. "We're in contact with companies as far away as San Diego to San Francisco."

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It is a romantic image, all those limousines purring down the 101, hurtling up the 405, like glittering warriors answering a princely summons, drawn by inevitability, drawn by destiny.

"We bring them in from Oxnard, Antelope Valley," says Lewis. "They have straw in their hair. But on those days, you really need your competition. Because it's not just the stars, it's their makeup person, their hair person, their dresser--they all need cars. On a big night, an individual who needs a car doesn't stand a chance."

And yet they call, some shockingly last minute, knowing they don't stand a chance, asking for it anyway.

"We get calls five minutes after the show starts," says Greg Arcuri of Music Express.

Sounds suspiciously like the ultimate Hollywood status symbol: Book a stretch on Oscar night, at the last minute, and then just ride around.

The power joy ride.

*

Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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