Streetcar: Taken for a Ride in a Stretch Limo

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

Isn’t there a point when stretch limousines become buses disguised as limousines?

Recently I noticed one of those vehicles going down Canal Street. Riding in a limousine once meant something special, but that was when a limo was a stately sedan. Nowadays, for every person that can be packed into a vehicle the less special it gets.

At the very back there’s a seat, which can snugly accommodate maybe three people. At the front is the driver, who’s in another time zone. To the left, an uncomfortable, long, padded bench runs along the side. Passengers sitting on it are subject to jostling from centrifugal force when the vehicle makes turns. To the right is the limo’s “wow factor”: a liquor bar, usually outlined with fiber optic lights, designed, I presume, to give a disco look.

Using the bar is a challenge since the vehicle is moving. A bartender would have to sit on the floor with knees in his back to effectively concoct a drink more sophisticated than opening a beer.

As I watched the limo negotiate the turn at N. Carrollton Avenue, I thought about my recent, unanticipated experience inside one of those centipedes on wheels:
Our flight home from Reno, Nev. wasn’t until mid-afternoon. We wanted to see Lake Tahoe, but because of schedules and availability, the only option was to hire a car. It was an extravagance, but way cheaper than traveling back from New Orleans to see the lake. Tahoe was about an hour away. As planned, we could spend a couple of hours there and then be driven to the airport.

We thought we were getting a town car. What showed up was a black stretch limousine. Since there were only two of us we certainly couldn’t complain about legroom. The bar had flasks of hooch, but I wasn’t in the mood. There were leftover Cokes from a previous party. I poured one, not because I necessarily wanted it, but because I had paid for it, I felt compelled to. (Not unlike feeling obligated to go for a second helping at a buffet.)

There must have been 30 feet between us and the driver, who was a young woman dressed in a chauffeur uniform. She tried to be informative, but she spoke softly and her sound waves didn’t always make it to the back.

There were some spots along the lake that we couldn’t visit because the curves to get there were too narrow for the vehicle’s length. Fortunately, there was one overlook that was approachable. As we pulled in we were certainly conspicuous. Among the SUVs, campers, Jeeps and bikes, our limo looked like it had gotten lost on the way to a prom.

Road construction near Tahoe City would slow our progress, so much so that from the front came the barely audible sounds of our driver saying we would have to cut the tour short to get to the airport in time. So our craft turned away from the lake and headed over hills, into valleys, through plains and alongside Carson City to the Reno airport.

I am one of those finicky flyers who hates seeing a stretch limousine or a bus pull up to the departure area at an airport for fear that it’s carrying a load of people who will be crowding my flight. Any concern our arrival may have caused for fellow finicky flyers was relieved when just the two of us climbed out.

At the airport we learned that our flight had been delayed by an hour. So, we just sat and waited.

Too bad we didn’t have the car to show us around.

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