Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Have Driven Greatness.

by Dan Cunneen

In 2000, seemingly reaching the apex of my driving career, I was hired by an upscale limousine company in Seattle. During my two-year stint I mostly moved executives. Occasionally I did have some well-known people in my back seat, so I thought I’d share.

(For the epic story about the day I drove WWE star, The Undertaker, click here: Giving Taker a Ride)


Donny Osmond

I was scheduled to pick up Donny Osmond on the evening February 13, but his plane was delayed so he didn’t arrive until after midnight. When he came off the escalator, he greeted me with a very friendly, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Donny was a nice guy. No attitude at all.

There was one odd thing about Donny though. Normally, solitary clients sit in the back, behind the passenger seat. Donny however sat directly behind me. Not only that, he slouched way down in the seat, so his head was a foot or so below the headrest. I had never seen this before. I suspect he had perfected this system over the years to make sure limo drivers wouldn’t make eye contact with him and try to start a conversation (Like, “Hey Donny, did you ever have to kiss your sister on the Donny and Marie Show?”).

He didn’t have to worry about me though. I’m a professional.

Magic Johnson

When I saw the six foot nine inch dude in the baby blue jumpsuit come off the escalator, I knew I had my client. Magic was very down to earth as he shook my hand and said hello. On our way to the Cadillac stretch limo, 4 or 5 people called out his name. Magic was very friendly as he waved and smiled to his fans.

Magic was in Seattle for a meeting at the Starbucks headquarters (he had a partnership with Starbucks opening stores in urban areas around the country). Before his meeting, Magic wanted to visit his two stores in central Seattle, so off we went to Rainer Valley.

He went into the first store and got some coffee (a tall) and on the way out several fans accosted him. Upon his exit from the second store, still more fans followed him to the car. He got in, rolled down his window and signed several autographs before we left.

Dave Matthews

Mr. Matthews arrived alone in a private jet at Boeing field. I think his wife was in medical school in Seattle at the time, so I’m guessing he flew back here in between tour dates to be with her.

After driving Mr. Matthews to a charming, modest home in the Wallingford area of Seattle, he graciously tipped me $20.

A driver’s tip was included in the charge for the service and our clients generally knew this. Consequently, most didn’t tip. It was always a nice surprise when they did. Any tipper is all class in my book.

My brief journey with Dave Matthews was calm and quiet. I got the distinct impression that marijuana might have been responsible for some of that tranquility.

Melissa Etheridge

The raspy-voiced folk rocker was playing a solo acoustic show at the Seattle Center Opera house, so when I picked her up at her hotel all she had was her assistant and her guitar.

My instructions were to drop her off at the venue’s loading dock and then pick her back up after the show. After leaving for some dinner, I returned to wait. I knew the show was finally over when I saw hundreds of lesbians (lipstick and otherwise) leaving the concert hall and returning to their Subarus. It was quite a sight.

The entrance to the loading dock was up a driveway about 40 feet from the street, so the Towncar was visible to passersby. After a few minutes, some fans put two and two together and started to congregate on the sidewalk below. In no time, scores of ladies had gathered to wait for their idol.

When they saw Ms. Etheridge and her assistant rush out and jump in the car, a spontaneous cheer went up from the crowd. After making sure my passengers were settled in, I slowly made my way down the driveway. As we drove toward the throng, the screaming got louder and when we passed by, several of the ladies started pounding on the car! The pounding wasn’t aggressive at all. In fact, it was kind of sweet. Ms. Etheridge opened her window and waved to her fans and took the whole thing in stride. As we drove off, her window went up and she said, “Wow! That was awesome!” It seemed like she really meant it.

Metallica

Metallica was in Seattle for the grand opening of the Experience Music Project, the “interactive” rock & roll museum that was bankrolled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The night before their concert I took the band to the opening night gala.

As I pulled the Ford F-350 van up to the red carpet entrance, I noticed all the other guests arriving in their eveningwear. Since I was wearing a black suit and tie, I figured that I could easily waltz right in to event unnoticed. So, after dropping off the heavy metal idols (and their drummer), I parked the van and then slipped inside - no questions asked. There was free beer and wine (I didn’t indulge because I was driving) and snacks (I did indulge because I was hungry).

The Frank Gehry designed EMP is a very interesting blob of a building that was supposed to look like a Jimi Hendrix smashed guitar. There were some pretty cool rock-related exhibits and memorabilia inside, but I knew then that it was headed for trouble. In the intervening years part of the space has been turned into a Science Fiction Museum (another of Mr. Allen’s fixations) and many employees have been laid off. My prediction is that within five years the EMP will be a huge indoor putt-putt golf course.

Tenacious D

Comedy-rockers Jack Black and Kyle Gass, along with two handlers, were in Seattle to play a in-studio performance on radio station KNDD. It was an “as directed” job, which meant I was supposed to take them wherever they wanted to go after their show. The first stop was at the radio station. After dropping them off, I went to Tower Records to buy a Weird Al Yankovic CD and came back to wait for the group.

After the performance, the gang wanted to visit Eddie Vedder at Bad Animals recording studio in downtown Seattle. I dropped them off and went to have dinner while they were inside. I picked them back up and on our way back to their hotel, Jack Black relayed a heretofore private conversation he had with Eddie Vedder to his comrades in the van.

As Black told it (and I’m paraphrasing a bit), Vedder was lamenting the fact that by being contracted to a multi-national corporation his band was, as he put it, “In the belly of the Beast.” Jack said that he told Eddie, “You guys made a deal with the devil a long time ago, bro, it’s too late to go back now.”

I took them the Olympic Hotel and they asked me to wait again. After about 45 minutes (by this time it was about 1:30 in the morning), Jack and one his pals came out and asked me to take them to Seattle’s waterfront. When we got there, they pointed to a tour bus that was parked in the corner of the large parking lot and asked me to drop them off there. Before they got out of the van they told me they were going to play video games.

Occasionally on these kinds of jobs I was almost tempted to say something like, “Hey, can I hang out with you guys? I’ve been in bands and I’m cool.” I never did of course because I’m a professional. Besides, they would probably be like, “What’s up with this ass-clown and his cheap-ass suit? He is so not cool.” Quietly lamenting my lot in life, I bade the better dressed and much-cooler-than–I group a good night and drove back to my lonely apartment to listen to my new Weird Al Yankovic record.

Tenacious D were actually pretty nice and their behavior that night closely matched their on-stage personas. Kyle Gass was reserved and quiet, while Jack Black was very boisterous and constantly cracking wise. For example, earlier in the evening Black farted very loudly in the van while he laughed uproariously. Thankfully, he was in back, so I did not smell his gaseous eruption.

Donald Fagen

Steely Dan arrived at Boeing Field in a private jet after midnight, following their show in Portland. Guitarist Walter Becker was with some family members, so the two Steely Dan principals took separate cars to the hotel.

Mr. Fagen and his manager climbed into my Lincoln Towncar for the 10-minute trip to downtown Seattle. Perhaps he was tired, but Mr. Fagen seemed to be a bit glum during the ride.

I was privy to their conversation as we drove.

Steely Dan was promoting a new album - their first studio effort in many years - and their manager had some good news for Fagen. After reminding him that Don Henley’s new record was released at the same time as Steely Dan, the manager said, “You’ll be happy to know that your album debuted higher on the Billboard chart than Henley’s.”

The news about Don Henley’s disc plainly perked Fagen up. “Oh, great!” he replied. This time their steely knives did kill the beast.

As we approached the hotel Fagen noticed that there were several autograph seekers near the lobby entrance. Becker’s car was ahead of ours, so Fagen said, “Slow down and let Walter take care of them.” I gladly obliged.

Dianne Sawyer

During the first few months of George W. Bush’s administration a couple of American pilots were captured after their surveillance plane crashed in Chinese territory. (Wasn’t life so simple then?) After being released, they were debriefed at the Whidbey Island Naval base west of Seattle. Sawyer was headed there to interview them.

I picked up Ms. Sawyer and her assistant at Sea-Tac airport and took them to a seaplane airport located on Lake Union near downtown Seattle.

Throughout the ride to Seattle, Ms. Sawyer was on the phone to her corporate paymasters asking for a helicopter to take her back from Whidbey Island to Sea-Tac after the interview. (She didn’t want to take the “puddle jumper”.) Whoever she was talking to wasn’t inclined to give her what she wanted.

She struck me as kind of full of herself, so I kinda hoped she didn’t get her helicopter.

Billy Corgan

The Smashing Pumpkins must have been in Seattle for a show, but since I don’t care about the band in the least, I hadn’t heard about it. It was an airport pickup and in those pre-9-11-01 days it was still possible to greet clients at the gate. I guess he was a VIP, so I had to do just that.

The guy positively oozed ass-holiness. (For instance, on the way to the hotel he asked his handler dismissively, “Is Sub Pop still around?”) I’m not sure why he thought he was such hot shit, his band has always sucked and he’s the reason. Who can stand that whiny rat’s voice? I’m guessing not even his mom.

Ryan Adams

The former Whiskytown front-man (and current solo artist) was even worse than Corgan - much worse. I was supposed to pick him up at the Paramount hotel, a four star establishment, at 10:00 in the morning, but he kept his manager (and me of course) waiting for over 40 minutes.

This was unusual.

The moment he climbed into the back seat of the Lincoln Towncar he began to bitterly complain about his hotel room while he simultaneously played his Game-Boy.

His poor manager had to sit there and take the endless bitching throughout the entire 20-minute ride to the airport. I could just imagine the hapless handler thinking, “If only I had finished law school, I wouldn’t have to deal with this insufferable little prick.”

Unidentified Guest of Paul Allen

I was dispatched to the billionaire Microsoft cofounder’s estate on Lake Washington for a last minute pick-up at about 11:00 in the evening.

When I arrived, I stated my business in the intercom and the gate swung open. I pulled the town-car up the window and the guard told me to park the car around the corner and come back to see him.

As I walked back, I noticed that the guardhouse on my right was connected to a large two-story carriage house (basically a 10 car garage). On my left, down a hill toward the lake, stood the residence, I could only see the path to the house and the roof that poked up into the night sky. The full size basketball court that the Portland Trailblazers use to practice when they’re in town was nowhere in sight.

The guard told me it could be awhile before the guest was ready and then he asked me if I would like something to drink. After listing several options I opted for the hot chocolate. He came back a few minutes later, hot chocolate in hand, and told me to follow him upstairs. As we reached the top of the stairs, I saw that the large open room seemed to stretch the length of a half a football field. It was then I realized I was above the 10 car garage.

The room was tastefully decorated in a modern style with hardwood floors, subtle accent lighting and high-end furnishings. We walked further into the space and I noticed several statues of various sizes lining the walls. I spied one sandy colored bust as I passed with a card that read: Greek Warrior 400 B.C. (I had a hunch it wasn’t a reproduction from Pier 1 Imports).

We passed a billiard table and the guard led me to several large black leather couches that were gathered around a large television set. Another guard was draped on a couch watching a movie. The first guard motioned for me to sit down and after a few minutes I realized we were watching “Crazy in Alabama” starring Melanie Griffith.

After sitting through Melanie’s dramatic turns for about 30 minutes, the first guard came back up to tell me that Mr. Allen’s guest would be leaving in the morning and my services were no longer necessary.

I was fine with that. I got two hours pay for watching a Melanie Griffith movie for half an hour and a cup of delicious hot chocolate. I never did find out who his guest was. Maybe Melanie Griffith?

Molly Ivins

The liberal Texas columnist was in the area for a speaking engagement in a town called Puyallup, south of Seattle.

I picked her up the airport and as we were diving I told her I was a fan. (I almost never talked to the cargo, but for some reason I felt compelled in this case.) She graciously replied, “Thanks darlin’” in her sweet lilting Texas accent.

This was in the spring of 2003, during the run up to the Iraq war. I had been listening to NPR’s live coverage of South Carolina Senator Robert Byrd’s passionate condemnation of the looming invasion. I made another out of character move when I said, “How about that Robert Byrd?”

I instantly regretted the question when Ms. Ivins replied dismissively, “Yeah, he’s still got some life left in him.” I gathered she wasn’t a fan of the senator.

I was sorry I said anything. It wasn’t very professional.

The A-Teens

Formed in Stockholm, Sweden as a teen ABBA cover band, the A Teens were originally called The ABBA Teens, but Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA, asked them to change the name. The group was promoting their sophomore release, “Teen Spirit”, in the U.S. I’m not sure if they played any shows here that year, but I know they didn’t in Seattle. This visit consisted of an in-store appearance at Wal-Mart.

I picked the group (two girls and two boys, average age about 18 and all very attractive, of course), five handlers and gobs of luggage at the airport in a Ford E-350 15 passenger van. We headed to a Wal-Mart that was located about 15 miles north of Seattle in Lynnwood. After I dropped them off, I parked the van and headed inside the store to see what all the fuss was about.

I went in and right away I noticed a long line of teenagers snaking through the aisles of the store. I followed the line to its beginning and found the four band members seated at a table that had been set up on a riser. The group was chatting and laughing with their fans like seasoned pros while they signed product.

Like many men, I am physically attracted to post-pubescent girls and believe me, there were plenty in the Wal-Mart that afternoon. I took in the eye candy for a bit, but the girls got old after awhile. It was the first time I had ever been inside a Wal-Mart, so I decided to check out the rest of the store before leaving to get a bite to eat. Wal-Mart sells some pretty cheap-ass shit.

Quincy Jones

There’s not a lot to say about Q. He was staying at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle and I took him in a Cadillac stretch limousine to his personal jet at Sea-Tac airport. I was instructed to drive out on the tarmac to drop him near his jet.

When I pulled up, I noticed that there was a “Q” in the tail number of his plane. I wondered if that was intentional. I also noticed he had a pretty blonde waiting to him on the stairway of the jet. I’m sure that was very intentional.

Raymond Gilmartin

Raymond Gilmartin was a Microsoft board member. I had picked up this gentleman up before and I must have made a good impression because every time he came back to Seattle, he requested me.

This time I picked him up in a Towncar at Boeing Field for a trip to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ house. The Gates property is well known in the Seattle area and around the world for its sheer size and mysterious modern conveniences. It was to be my first trip there. Though I knew I wasn’t going to be within 20 yards of the front door, let alone inside, I was looking forward to getting inside the compound.

We drove in silence until we approached our destination. Mr. Gilmartin suddenly said aloud (but plainly not to me), “I wonder if Bill is there yet?” We were stopped waiting for a black late model Mercedes Benz coming toward us to make a right turn into the same private cul-de-sac that we were headed into. A moment later he said, “Oh, there he is!”

I looked closer at the driver and, sure enough, it was Bill Gates. It was the Richest Man in the World and I saw him.

I followed Bill into the cul-de-sac and he kept right on going down the driveway past the guards to his house nestled on the shores of Lake Washington. When I approached the gate, the guards stopped me momentarily and asked my business. I said, “I have Mr. Gilmartin in the car.” They immediately let me pass.

I drove down the long tree lined drive and stopped at a turn-around and let my passenger out of the car. Bill was nowhere in sight (I’m guessing he had his own parking spot). As I got back in my car, another car pulled up behind me. It was current Microsoft President Steve Ballmer. Maybe they were getting together for a super-important Zune product development meeting.

Guided By Voices

GBV must have been in Seattle playing a show, but I’m not really sure. I think they were at the end of a tour because they were headed to the airport.

It seemed as though the main man, Robert Pollard, was having some girl trouble. On the way to the airport, their manager was on the phone with what I gathered was Pollard’s ex-wife or lover. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but it sounded like she wanted some money. Mr. Pollard told the manger to tell her it was coming.

After the manager hung up the phone, the person on the other end of the phone was the subject of much derision inside the van.

Peter Buck

When I was delivering pizza for Piecora’s in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a strange man came in to the restaurant about thirty minutes before closing. The overly friendly gentleman looked to be in his mid-thirties and was sporting long and graying hair. He got a slice and a beer to eat-in and began chatting up the waitress and me. As he continued to over-share and tell us that he was new to the neighborhood, etc., I sensed something familiar about the guy, but I couldn’t place him. It was a couple weeks later when I delivered a pizza to a modest million-dollar neighborhood mansion that I realized the guy that was trying so hard for us to recognize him was R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.

Fast-forward about 5 years later. I picked Peter Buck at the Sea-Tac airport and took him to the same house in the Madison Park area of Seattle. I thought I might tell him I used to be a pizza boy for Piecora’s and then revel in my current prestigious position driving him, but I thought better of it.

Tom Skerritt

Did you know that Tom Skerritt was in Harold and Maude, credited as “M. Boman”? You do now!

Tom Skerritt was really nice and I don’t think he gave a shit if I recognized him or not. Like Dave Matthews, he also tipped me twenty bucks. Classy.

Jack Kemp

The 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee – and former NFL quarterback - was in town visiting his former NFL quarterback and then politically ambitious (and much more conservative) son, Jeff.

I picked up Mr. Kemp at the airport in the late evening and the ride to the Seattle suburb of Redmond was hushed. As we got closer, I heard the unmistakable sound of liquid being poured in the back seat of the Lincoln Towncar and a few seconds later I smelled alcohol. I jerked my head back for a quick look in the back and saw Mr. Kemp topping off a plastic water bottle with a mini bottle of vodka. Maybe his Christian son didn’t approve of his drinking, so he wanted to keep it on the DL.

Kate Mulgrew

The actress who played Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager was another pre 9-11 gate pick-up. On this job I didn’t have to do any driving though. My only task was to meet Ms. Mulgrew and her assistant at the gate and escort them to their Towncar waiting curbside. I suppose she got the VIP treatment because e the show was still in production.

I never was a big Star Trek guy, so I didn’t think she was that big of a deal. She sure had her Katharine Hepburn imitation down pat though. Katharine Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut and her father was a doctor. Mulgrew was born in Dubuque, Iowa and her dad was a contractor, so her highfalutin accent probably was a put-on. When a drunken Spencer Tracy lookalike stumbled after her down the ramp from the plane and Mulgrew cried out, "Spencer! Spencer!", I knew Mulgrew’s Kate Hepburn homage had gone too far.

Ann Wilson

I was a big Heart fan, particularly the Roger Fisher years, so I was uncharacteristically anxious and a bit excited to take Ann Wilson from her home to the airport.

Ms. Wilson lives in the Interlake area of Seattle and I had a hell of a time finding her place. The neighborhood around her property is residential, but her home was on several wooded acres. Once I found the entrance, I took the long driveway to a huge old house with lots of kid’s toys in the yard.

After waiting about 10 minutes, I heard the first notes of the top ten Heart hit from 1985, “What About Love” playing full blast from the open garage. I sat in the car perplexed as the vapory mist from a fog machine started to drift out from the garage. Suddenly Ann Wilson appeared through the hazy cloud and began singing: “I’ve been lonely/I’ve been waiting for you/I’m pretending and that’s all I can do/The love I’m sending/Ain’t making it through to your heart.”

As Ann Wilson slinked her way up to the waiting Towncar, I saw that she was wearing a wireless microphone on her head, confirming that she was actually singing live to the song’s original backing track. After the first verse the music slowly faded out she leaned into the Towncar and whispered in my ear, “What about love? Don’t you want someone to care about you? What about love? Don’t let it slip away.”

Needless to say Ann and I never made it to the airport that day. We have lived in that beautiful old house in Interlaken ever since, hiding our love from the world – until now.

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