It was springtime but you wouldn’t know it. Heat in the city had grown as had the sunlight, especially grand in our 17th floor Union Square office. Too bad I was stuck in the basement-like warehouses across the East River in Williamsburg. CollegeHumor was in its hay-day, there were too many possibilities alive within the venture, and another came rushing up to me.
“Jo-gun!” Bennett said with signature rasp, “Have I got a deal for you?” I responded to him with misdirection, the way I always respond when he brings a cockamamie idea into the room (which is twice an hour).
“Another rat stakeout?” The vermin were getting brazen, stealing things in broad daylight. We dispatched 12 wharf rats from our surrounds, but there was always more thanks to the ever present crafty in our makeshift film studio.
“No, but we should do that,” he sat down his newly acquired Duluth Pack briefcase on the workbench, I could feel his eyes twinkling with excitement. I finally gave him a moment from mapping tomorrow's PA routes, he jumped at the opening. “What if I told you there is a chance you and I can drive in the vice-presidential motorcade?” he smiled wryly and waited as the offer sunk in.
Let me remind you, Bennett has a lot of ideas. A LOT. He also has no patience for a filter, rather he allows the world's response to his ideas to be the filter. That's partially why I'm here, but also to ride the waves of his insanity-the rush is amazing.
“I would say, I'm qualified. Are you?” he frowned. Bennett’s production life was just hitting its stride and he loved racking up the miles.
“Don't worry about me, all we have to do is pass security clearance,” Bennett said. I nodded not knowing what that meant. It should be said that very few of Bennett’s stated notions see the light of day. This one appeared no different, but there was a hint of reality in his stance. Usually when the idea is ridiculous, he merely wants you to consider it. For the inanity, for the ‘can you believe that?’ factor. This though, this was different.
“Is this legit?” I asked finally shutting my laptop to give the topic full attention.
“Oh yeah,” the floodgates were open. His eyes were electric with intel. “Biden is in town next month. Jesse, dad's old bulldog of an assistant, works events for the DNC. He knows we drive for Production, so…” We did indeed drive the heck out of vans and box trucks. We drive 15 passenger vans all the time. We had just taken the entire office on a sojourn to Medieval Times; 30 twenty-somethings hopped up on fake jousting and pewter mug beer. As nuts as that was, it paled to the madness of my day driving Biden’s people would be.
“This sounds plausible,” I said. It is dangerous to say, ‘yes’, to Bennett Wilson. Once you do, you are never certain where the lines are. One yes, becomes three, three become nine, and before you know it you are knee deep in sawdust making 1,200lb castle doors to affix to your new studio for ‘sound protection.’ Knowing this, I did not give him a, yes. “OK,” is the safest answer to give a Bennett. It's positive yet riddled with doubt. Instead of hook, line, sinker, it means, I will agree to terms, but there is proving required. “Let me know what you need from me,” I said. He smiled and nodded.
“Hey, off topic, what is the best way to get to LaGuardia?”
“Depends. Where are you leaving from and at what time?”
“Midtown. After the shoot in Bryant Park. 6pm.”
“Well, there is no good way to LaGuardia,” I said coyly. Bennett snickered and sipped his coffee. “There is a least-worse way, but…” my phone buzzed, it was PA calling. “One sec.” He knew I’d be stepping to the street as our sunken studio was notorious for dropped calls. My PA had run out of gas in Greenpoint, so I had to scramble a second PA to make a fuel run. By the time I got back inside Bennett was gone from the studio and was elbow deep in one of the dozen projects in the shop. I went about my day and forgot about the interaction until three days later, when Bennett found me at the office in Manhattan.
The entire production team of 26 goofs had been called for an all-hands meeting to discuss our upcoming summer vacation and fall schedule. As our tiny herd shuffled into the conference room, I snuck to the kitchen to score a coffee and a snack.
“Twix for breakfast?” Bennett said, popping out of the elevators.
“Don't judge me,” I gave a smile fully expecting more judgment. “They were out of straws.”
“Drink up now,” he said grabbing a bagel. “You won't have the time for that next Tuesday,” Bennett was grinning ear to ear. His bright eyes danced around the news he was holding.
“What is next Tuesday?” I finished stirring the coffee with my Twix and looked up. Bennett was gape mouthed.
“Next Tuesday we are drivin’ for Biden,” he spoke with expectant eyes. I had totally forgotten the interaction from earlier in the week. “Did you tell Sam, yet?” he asked. No, I hadn't given it another thought.
“I mentioned it, but I'll chat him up again after the meeting,” I couldn’t tell if he knew I was lying. Bennett nodded, unable to hide his toothy grin.
“This is happening,” he said stuffing a half dozen granola bars into his bag. “I need your Social,” he said pulling out a notebook. He flipped to the back page where his full name and social security were already listed. I obliged and wrote down my info. The steaming coffee was pulling me into the workday, but Bennett's request still seemed like a dream. When I finished, he slapped the notebook closed, stuffed it into his bag and moved to the elevators. I smiled and responded to his lark.
“Meeting is on this floor, big conference room,” I said gesturing with my arm load of snacks. Bennett nodded, looking deep into the granite pattern of the tiled wall.
“Which is why, I'm going this way,” he said hinting at the exit.
“All-hands meeting, Ben,” I said, trying not to engage.
“My hands are needed in Brooklyn,” the elevator binged, and the door opened. “We got the electrician coming at 11; I can’t lose another week of work if we miss him,” I thought for a split second I would join him for a breakfast burrito over the Williamsburg bridge. “You'll fill me in,” he shoutspoke while entering the elevator. “Besides, all those plans will change before they get to me.” The doors began to close when he blocked them with his bag. “Tell Sam for real. This going to be fun,” he had an odd smile. The doors shut and the magician disappeared behind the wall of metal. I let out a laugh and assumed the kid was high. Regardless, so was I.
After the meeting I informed Sam as to our plans.
“Presidential motorcade?!” Sam said as he adjusted his chronically dirty glasses.
“Vice presidential motorcade,” I gently corrected. He stared in disbelief as the typhoon that was our production wing of the office swirled around him. Sam's desk was a catchall of whoopee cushions, rubber chickens and silly hats.
“Wait, are you driving Joe Biden?” he asked as he stood. Sam put both hands on his desk attempting to appear larger than his frame would allow.
“No way,” I said with ease. “Just some of the press core. 15 passenger van, just like we did for Medieval Times.”
“Long live the green knight!” Dan, our most effective writer, stood and raised a plastic sword to the sky.
“Nay, the red knight is the true champion,” Streeter arose from his corner desk and approached Dan for dual.
“No swordplay until after the writers meeting,” Sam said sternly knowing it would not affect the attacks. Then he directed his attention to me despite the yawps from the opposite side of our palatial spread. Sam was understanding but also detested confrontation. “It's just, we have a packed calendar over the next few weeks, and we must be on schedule by August.” Ouch, that was a loud, ‘no’. But, whenever Sam blamed the schedule, I knew there was still a way.
“We'll get everything in the can,” I said knowing it was what he needed to hear. Then I realized a surefire way to get him on board, going above him. “If Ricky approves, would you mind?” A look of relief came over Sam.
“If Ricky agrees, I'm all for it,” he said sitting back down. Hallelujah!
“Great, I'll ask now.” Before Sam could change his mind, I made for Ricky’s office. In my attempts to avoid the sword fight that raged, I bumped our art director’s desk and a tray of dildos slipped off.
“Will someone please clean up those Richards,” I yelled as I entered my boss’s office.
Ricky agreed with little issue, and we were off to the races. Bennett and I worked through the weekend building set pieces, lining up personnel, and planning the equipment rentals needed for our day off. The hours raced by, but we finished on time. To celebrate our huge accomplishment Bennett and I split a case a beer and an 1/8 of weed over plates of Brazilian food. I was hungover and bleary eyed the morning Bennett yelled:
“Time to serve our country!” and kicked open my bedroom door. “Coffee is ready, we leave at 0700.”
I said nothing and moved to the bathroom. My skin eased under the hot shower and by the time I had toweled off, I was feeling about 70%. A steaming mug of coffee and a few bites of reheated quesadilla had me up to 90%, I could see the image of the day coming together. So much that I smoked a bat and the remaining pain lifted from my temples. Strain in my eyes floated away as the weed sifted the clogged remains of yesterday off my mind. Feeling 110%, I was staring out at the fire escape when Bennett yelled, “O’600 hours, move out!” I grabbed my least wrinkled collared shirt and made for the door.
“You never would have cut it in the army,” I said putting on my thrift store sport coat.
“I am fine in an army of one,” he said adjusting his sunglasses.
“Where are we going anyway?” I asked as we shuffled down three flights of stairs.
“Upper East Side. Jesse and his crew are at the Hilton, we'll get the vans there,” his scratchy voice echoed down the hall, eager to be in the light of day.
“Nice. Do we leave the vans at the hotel at the end of the day?”
“Great question,” was all he said as we strode to the elevated subway tracks of the W/N Astoria Blvd stop. Much of the trip was devoted to jokes about potential shootouts we'd be a part of, then devolved into which of us was better suited to drive heir Biden to his appointments. We had no idea what we were in for.
Upon exiting the subway, we were greeted by skyscrapers and the smell of burned coffee. There was a tension about the sidewalk when we arrived at the hotel. A dozen fit men in black suits, sunglasses, and earpieces swarmed the sidewalk. Both sides of the street had been cleared of civilian cars, only vehicles in the motorcade could be seen on the entire block. The black stretch limousine that carried #2 sat in regal display with little flags affixed to the front hood on both sides. Then I saw a second limo of equal esteem.
“They roll with two limos, so assassins never know which one to hit,” Bennett answered without me asking a question. The sun was high, and the full brightness was upon us. I put on my enforcers and tried to assume an air of authority when Jesse collected us for an info dump.
“Here is the schedule, all of this is subject to change,” he said while passing out a few sheets of paper. Jesse's gray suit housed his portly body well, but no stitch could hold in this guy's aura. Already sweating through two shirts he yellspoke to us. “This is Captain Reynolds of the United States Secret Service. What he says, is law today,” I fought my impulses to make an ‘I fought the law,’ joke and managed to hold my tongue.
Captain Reynolds was stern; I assumed he had full body camouflage tattooed under his suit. “Most of you know the deal. For newbies this may come as a shock,” he looked to Bennett and me in our rumpled dress shirts. “When the vehicle in front of you moves, you move. You are to be no more than FOUR FEET from the car in front of you, at all times. That's your buddy. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets between you and your buddy. Should any animal, mineral or vegetable get in between you and your buddy, you are to drive over said object. We'll deal with what remains,” I almost asked the obvious question, but major Reynolds cut in, “Yes, this goes for people, too”.
My stupid brain. I instantly imagined a slow-motion scene with maniacs flying over my windshield as I drove the van through Times Square.
“We leave for the Brooklyn Bridge after breakfast. Standby until then,” the man nodded to himself. “Any questions, ask Jesse,” he said smiling as he disappeared into the hotel. I had so many questions.
“Where do we pee?” was at the top of my concerns.
“You don't,” came the reply for one of the Secret Service. The man did not smile, only looked through me. Jesse smiled and waved him off.
“Ger bent, robo-Josh,” Jesse said. “There is a bathroom in the lobby, use sparingly,” I nodded grateful I would not have pee in a bottle like usual.
“Do we get an earpiece too?” Bennett joked with Jesse. “What's my handle?” Jesse grabbed a call before he could answer.
The crowd of drivers relaxed into leaning stances. A few Secret Service opened the back of a metal gated SUV. Normally its reflective windows let nothing be known, but now we could see a huge gun safe sitting menacingly behind them.
“How many guns do you think are in there?” Bennett spoke with a wry smile as he sipped his coffee.
“At least three apiece,” I said without thinking. “Do you think there are grenades in that safe?” I played along with the Red Dawn atmosphere.
“Oh yeah!” Then it sparked. “But using them in town would be messy. Only for extreme circumstances.”
“Extreme circumstances,” I said nodding. I looked to the 15-passenger vans. Then to the two stretch limos, then the seven black SUVs, then the dozen tinted sedans of various descriptions, then to the 30 odd people attending the scene, all devoted to move one person. “Seems a bit extreme already.”
“I know, right. How much does this cost?”
“This whole, everything,” Bennett said flipping his hand out to the scene.
“Dunno, a bunch. Technically the cost is spread out. Ricky and Josh are out productivity, that is a cost.”
“Donated to the people of New York, and the nation at large.”
“And they were glad to do it.”
“But they won’t write about that in Op-Eds.”
We continued to joke about plausible end-of-times scenarios in which we would be called upon to defend the country. We were arguing about the best ways to choose a flag for the New Republic when major Reynolds appeared at the lobby door. He had a look that said, ‘straighten up’ and a stance that said, ‘this would impress your Momma.’
“Wheels up in 2 minutes,” he said into his earpiece. Light danced on his crisp white shirt as if the fabric could collect the sun and throw it back.
“What are you waiting for?” I turned to see Jesse staring at me. Bennett was already in his van. I almost thought up a lie, but decided it was best to shake the remaining weed out of my eyes and get behind the wheel. I was happy to see Bennett in the van in front of mine. He would be my buddy, four feet from my buddy.
Loading my passengers was uneventful. Once seated in the van I exchanged niceties with the press core and watched the press secretary as she handed off her gaggle of assistants. The professional, yet humane interaction she showed with the underlings was admirable.
We were getting into the specifics of how I got picked for the gig, when the brake lights in front of me flashed awake. One after another, the black cars and SUVs shuddered, eager to attack the roadway. Just then a rumbling of motors swelled behind me, the noise shook my marrow. I thought it was doom come early, an attack. In a split second the thunder was upon us. The block swarmed with a dozen NYPD motorcycle cops, adorned in white helmets and sharp glasses. The Harley-Davidson engines vibrated everything under my flesh. Heralds of Justice, Sentinels of Protection.
Now that Captain Mayhem told me to run people over and we had the NYPD Harley crew, I felt empowered. Empowered to be responsible for precious cargo. As well as, ‘Don't mess this up. Don't mess this up.’
The system was glorious, we were a hive, alive and working in unison. I expected traffic at times, but the crosstown situation was nonexistent. Motorcycle cops were the first wave, leap frogging ahead of each other to halt cars and pedestrians. No less than six patrol cars lit up with sirens and lights setting the stage for the limos. A few black SUVs pulled onto the street, followed by unmarked sedans with the darkest tint you can imagine. Finally, my buddy’s lights started to move, I shifted into gear and hit the gas. Hyper alert, my adrenaline was pumping. My eyes scanned everything, parked cars, people, buildings, streetlights, all while keeping an eye on my buddy. Each distance and measurement were instantly calculated as we gained speed.
“Five feet,” attaché commanded.
“I thought Major Reynolds said four feet?” I asked but kept my eyes forward. He said nothing.
“30 minutes to the Brooklyn Bridge?” I said as we blew through the traffic lights. The attaché smiled.
“Not today. We should be there in eight,” he was wrong, it was more like six.
We turned on to FDR South and to my surprise, there was nary a traveler to be seen on the busiest highway in the city. Both directions of the FDR had been halted by the NYPD. The view was amazing, a straight line of 20 vehicles powering down the coolest street in the country. River to the left, towering city to the right. This feeling of such strength in numbers was invigorating! Is this what all heads of state feel?
I hope the dismount from the FDR looked as majestic as it felt. We surely appeared as a twisting mass of lights and steel and wheels, angels careening back down to the crowded streets. We stashed the vans along the bridge supports as the SUVs dished out important people in expensive suits.
“Who do you have in your van?” Bennett was smiling as he walked up to me. I was still zooming from the exhilaration of the FDR trip.
“Don't know. Daily News and the Times, I think.”
“Cool. I have Biden's press secretary. She says the big event is a dinner tonight at Cipriani. $1,400.00 a plate fundraiser with Sesame Street friends.”
“Wait, didn't Elmo get arrested on pedo charges last year?”
“Yeah, I asked about that. She says that's not the same guy. They have a hundred Elmo's,” We spent the remainder of the speeches goofing on Elmo impersonations.
“Say, how long are we on today?” I asked.
“Till they take off on Air Force One.”
“You mean Air Force two?”
“I don't know, is that how it works?”
“I don't know. You're the guy on the inside.”
The trek North on the FDR was fun, and I was getting the hang of sticking close to Bennett’s bumper. Today was slowly destroying a decade of defensive driving training.
Back at the hotel, we stashed the vans streetside while the dignitaries went up for lunch. I instinctively began walking to the parking meter to fund our stay.
“Free parking today,” Jesse said halting me.
“My bad, force of habit.”
“No sweat,” Jesse said, glistening with sweat. “You two can go hit the buffet lunch and receiving line if you want.”
“To receive drinks?” Bennett asked.
“No,” Jesse scoffed as he turned back. “The VP is receiving; shake his hand. Just be back down here in 30 minutes,” Jesse strolled off to harangue one of the clusters of Secret Service members. Bennett and I shared a look and raced to the elevators.
The meal was elegant and, I'm sure, overpriced. We shoved the food down, swigged the fresh squeezed orange juice and were gleeful to be the last two allowed in the receiving line. More than 200 people, dignitaries, titans of industry, and two schmucks from the Midwest were vying for the vice president's attention. The queue dragged but we were giddy like teenagers and made it fun by razzing anyone in proximity.
Finally, we reached the man. Tall, svelte, and smiling, Joe Biden has the biggest teeth I've ever seen. Jocular beyond understanding, the man had glad-handed fruitcake after overdone fruitcake and finally Bennett Wilson and Jordan Hall. His eyes twinkled like grandfathers of storied lore. Stars in his gaze danced with secrets they held. Jesse popped in out of nowhere, like a David Copperfield in the Great Wall stunt.
“Sir, these are the local drivers I told you about,” the vice president turned his elevated gaze our way. He looked from Bennett to me to ensure we were ready for a joke.
“Local drivers?” the VP extended a hand to each of our shoulders, like a sitcom father about to share an ancient nugget of wisdom. “Thanks for pitching in today.”
“It's our pleasure, sir,” Bennett said shaking his hand. “Happy to battle traffic on your behalf.”
“Traffic?!” Biden said, smiling like a summer Sunday. “We just had a meeting with Hearst publications, everyone from their team was complaining about the roads. ‘Jeez Joe, you've got to help us with this traffic’. I said, ‘I'd love to help but I just don't see the issue,’” he drew the pair of us in and squeezed my shoulder. “Since I became vice president, traffic really cleared up for me!” his teeth gleamed behind his practiced smile.
Heavy chuckling from behind clued us into his joke, Ben and I laughed accordingly. We snagged pics, a generous gift of time from a man that has zero available minutes. We floated back to the elevators excited to tell our people of the interaction.
The high off our brush with Biden finally wore off once we texted our friends. The afternoon stretched on, and an unscheduled nap was put in the VP’s schedule. It was not labeled but the Secret Service man I bummed a cigarette from dished the intel.
“He goes down for a catnap every day, can’t make it past three.”
“Tough to disagree with that. Given his schedule.”
“Right? I like a daily nap, and I don't have the problems he has.”
Nap time came and went, dinner was the last thing on the schedule. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Turns out driving in a motorcade is a lot like film production. Detailed planning, everything primed to work in concert, then wait. Finally, Major Reynolds showed himself at the door of the hotel and surmised the surrounding buildings. He did not say a word but soon the sidewalk was lit with action. Another 15 minutes and everyone was loaded. Once again, the thunder of the NYPD motorcycle crew descended upon us, calling the rest of the motors to hum to life. Leapfrogging white helmets pushed out and began to halt the cross-street traffic as we bulldozed 5th Ave.
On a good day, evening rush hour lasts from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM, but I couldn't feel any of it. The swell of people on the sidewalks was stunning. Normally packed with bodies, but now that flow across the roadway was halted the mobs of onlookers swelled. Necks arched to catch a glimpse of the power before them. We landed at Cipriani in minutes and stashed all the vans at the rear entrance on 41st St.
“Did you see that guy get tackled?” Bennett’s excited rasp caught me quickly.
“On 53rd, by the church,” he said gesticulating. “Like, five secret service tackled some idiot. Carol said it happens more often than you’d think in NYC.
“Helluva town,” I said.
“Hell. Of. A. Town,” he confirmed.
“Now what?” I asked looking up to the detailed masonry that held the former bank.
“Wait,” he said. “Then LaGuardia.”
“Cool. What route?”
“Don't know. I'm following taillights.”
“Copy, taillights,” I said agreeing and put the thought out of my head. The sunset to the West was taking form and I realized I had scant food since the receiving line. Recalling I had snagged a banana from the lunch buffet, I scarfed it while nighttime enveloped the city. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.
Boredom was setting in; darkness consumed the sky but was losing the battle with light pollution. Sparkling its best in response, the city lit its windows and headlights. I was yawning hard when Jesse popped up at my driver side window.
“Hey, wanna check out backstage?” he asked with a smile.
“Only if I get to meet Big Bird?” I said excitedly. Jesse moved toward the building, Ben and I followed. We pushed past stares from the Secret Service at the door, when you are with Jesse you get a free pass, apparently. I love service entrances. Laypeople fail to recognize celebrities most often use service entrances to avoid paparazzi.
Cipriani, housed in a former bank, was rife with stonework and maze-like stairways. We clomped our way up a flight of marble, sounds of laughter and clapping grew loud as we entered the main hall. Dozens of elegant tables glittered and clinked in the festive atmosphere. Smells of rich meats and expensive perfume permeated the air. Well-draped platforming was sectioned off by velvet ropes. There was a long table across the dais with the VP sitting center talking to Elmo.
“Carol is going to be stoked,” Bennett whispered to Jesse.
“Press secretary?” Jesse asked. “Are you getting chummy?”
“Oh yeah. Her kid is wild about Elmo. She wasn't guaranteed a pic, but looks like she is in luck,” Jesse nodded absently. We hung for another minute before Jesse issued us back up to the street and our waiting vehicles. When we stepped out the door Jesse stopped us.
“This is probably the last time I see you guys. I have to cross some t’s with the event hall once this wraps, I'm heading to Philly afterwards.”
“What?” Bennett exclaimed. “No Air Force One for you?”
“Air Force Two,” Jesse corrected. “And no, I got six summits I'm trying to plan, friggin’ UN flies off at the end of the summer,” he said shaking our hands. “If we need drivers, I'll drop you a line, since you have yet to mess this up. And put that weed away,” Ben and I froze, could he smell it? The Secret Service men in the alcove past paused their conversation.
“You should hold it,” Bennett said reaching a hand into Jesses sportscoat pocket. Proud of his quick thinking, Bennett stepping off the stairs to the sidewalk. I did the same and moved away from the frigid looks of the security. There was an expectant hum about 41st St.
Within 20 minutes the back doors were open, and we could hear applause from inside. In groups of twos and threes the press core began stumbling out of the event and into their respective vans. I liked being the caboose for the civilians, nestled into this bunch of cars that had my back. It was a relief knowing directly behind me were the largest guns in New York City.
A rumble of thunder filled my ears, the NYPD was pulling up and idling on the opposite side of the street. My breath quickened, something about police cherries at night will forever keep me tense. I watched as Bennett’s van filled with press core when Stan, the attaché, opened the passenger side door and hopped into the front seat. A very upfront move.
“Carol is going to be a few minutes longer,” he said looking to a text.
“OK,” I answered. My van was still empty except for one lonely reporter in the way back.
“She is waiting to see Elmo,” he offered. I did not care.
“Ok,” I said again watching the taillights in front of me. After a few minutes police sirens blipped and cherries went wild. The lead motorcycle pulled out; leapfrogging was about to start. I looked to my empty van and my stomach fell out.
“Oh, no,” Stan said responding to a new text. “I was afraid of this.”
“Afraid of what?” I looked to him as motorcycle helmets and cherries zoomed past outside.
“Carol is delayed. We may miss the caravan. Do you know how to get to LaGuardia?” I hope I didn't show it, but my heart sank. For as smart as I think I am, that trip to LaGuardia forever mystified me. Being a ‘Queens boy’, I usually took the M60 bus, but this was no time for jokes.
“Of course,” I lied. “No problem,” my eyes widened. I considered jumping out and abandoning the idling van. Nope, I was committed. I stared forward trying to envision the route. We were facing East on 41st St, we could hit the FDR from here, I think. Or was the UN in between us? Whatever, I was sure I could find a route. There are only two choices to cross that river, bridge, or tunnel. The tunnel was ten blocks South, but then we'd be stuck on the BQE… My unease grew.
“Cool, good to know,” Stan said texting frantically beneath his cool demeanor. I raced through scenarios, should I take the 59th St bridge? No! That would land us in a mess on the Queen side. We’d have to take local route… FCK! I shouted in my head. FDR, I guess? To what? 125th St? Yes. No. Yes. The entrance is from 2nd Ave, I think. Should I just try catching a light wave? I didn't realize I said that last part out loud.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Stan smiled weakly. “She could make it.”
I nodded and continued racing through scenarios when my entire world collapsed. I watched in horror as Bennett’s brake lights switched on. He shifted into gear and pulled into the protection of the caravan. My buddy! Major Reynold’s would be so disappointed. I gasped but tried to cover it up with a focused diaphragmic breath. The line of intimidating cars behind me passed us leaving my white van alone and unprotected.
This is crazy! I thought. Okay, okay, just focus on the route to LaGuardia. The door to the service entrance flew open and a pair of joking reporters began to make their way to the van.
Get in! I shouted in my head. The last of the police escort was filing slowly through the light, we could still connect with them if the chumps would step on it.
“What a dinner!” The chubby one said opening the door.
“Yeah, Cindy will never believe we took a shot of Patron with Elmo!”
“Get in, please,” Stan said sternly. Once the pair was inside the van I shifted into gear.
“No! We have to wait for Carol.”
“But, my buddy...” I mumbled as I watched the line of cars push further out of reach. ‘Four feet’, I said meekly to myself. The back flow of cars, fell in line quickly and hope of an easy transit vanished. I held tight to the steering wheel as I watched the police cars turn north four blocks ahead. OK, at least I know where we are not taking the tunnel. The last of the cherries blipped out of sight and it was only Stan, I, and our collected wits to guide us through.
“Can you drive fast?” Stan asked patiently. Finally, something I did not have to lie about.
“Yes,” I said with full confidence.
Why can't you just book her another flight? I wanted to ask, but I knew better. Just make a turn on 2nd Ave and shoot north. I should know their route by the backfilled traffic. Oh God, the backfill. Stan was doing his best to keep calm too. He made a few brief calls to no avail.
“I'm trying to scramble a private for an escort,” Stan flipped through contacts on his sheet of paper. Just then the door to Cipriani opened, and Carol's full-throated laughter rammed the air. Her giggles carried her down the steps but stopped when she realized I was the only vehicle on the street.
“Where is the motorcade?” she asked haughtily.
“I've been calling you!” Stan yelled as she rounded the headlights with phone in hand.
“I know. I needed that photo,” she waved the image in Stan's face.
“Amazing. Can we go now?”
“Oh, Stan, it's not the end of the world,” Carol hopped in her seat, the scent of Chanel 5 and surf and turf wafted past. “You can get to LaGuardia fast, right?” she eyed me in the rearview mirror. I was filled with the vigor I knew not from which it came, but I did not want to let her down.
“Yep,” I said shifting into gear. “Click it ir ticket!” I said pulling into the lane. I zipped down the parking lane but was immediately stopped at the light.
“What are you doing?” Stan shouted. “Go through!”
“Go! Just honk the horn, they will move.”
“This is illegal,” I mumbled as I nudged out into the oncoming traffic. I beep-beeped the horn with 100 taps.
“Lay on it!” Stan yelled. I was liking this new side of him.
“Bro, I'm not going to kill anyone.”
“Yeah, Stan, keep your cool,” Carol giggled while flipping through her photos. I did as Stan asked and laid on the horn while pushing through the intersection. We broke through and shot up the hill past the UN hotels.
“There,” Stan said pointing out a small gray sedan with a single mobile cherry that was placed on top like an undercover cop.
“They really do that?” I asked.
“They really do that,” Stan said, as if my exuberance pained him. “That's our escort.”
“Oh God, really?” Carroll exclaimed while holding fast to the roll handle above. I zigzagged around cars as fast as the extended van could move. Tight spaces and I get along very well, but my passengers are often unnerved by what they define as ‘near misses’. In actuality, they are experiencing precision maneuvers.
After a few hard blocks we made it to the FDR and its rough pavement. The roadway is nested at river height and as we descended, I could see the motorcade far off to the North. They were a few miles ahead. Dang. Backfill on city streets is one thing but backfill on the city's only highway is a different beast.
“Don't take your foot off the gas, or the horn,” Stan commanded. I did as told, and hugged the bumper of the undercover car, my new buddy. We picked up a cop car and then a second filled in behind me as my world was awash in twerps and colors bouncing off every side and window. Horns blazing, we picked up speed and bumped along the shoulder of the inside lane, where refuse collects. My huge van needed some extra space, I could feel the glass bottles pop as I rolled one wheel onto the curb for half a mile.
We rounded the bend at 98th to see the motorcade put distance between us. They were rounding the 125th St. on-ramp and would be to the Triboro in less than a minute. They felt eons away, out of grasp.
“We are going local,” Stan said as the cars in front of us zoomed to a left exit. We barged back onto street traffic and charged up 2nd Ave. Gas, brake, horn. Gas, gas, horn. Brake, gas, gas, horn, horn, horn. Chatter in the van was light, the passengers had found the best places to secure themselves while we swerved.
Streetlights whipped by and we had a dozen near misses. Every nanosecond I drove I felt I could fly. Horns blaring, cherries whirling, I rocketed to 125th and prayed for no traffic. Fail. The backflow was harsh on the bridge, but you'll be happy to know there is always more room than you think. The escort wedged its way up the shoulder of the ramp, nudging over the rows of cars. Game of inches, this is. We zigzagged until the elegant lights and soft blue lines of the Triboro bridge emerged.
“RFK bridge,” Stan shouted over clenched teeth.
“No one calls it that,” I yelled. The chest shaking ‘woop woop’ of the cop cars had the whole of the roadway shaking. By some miracle cars were shifting out of the way, but the back up at the toll plaza was killing our vibe.
“There!” Stan pointed to a closed toll lane.
“But the stanchion?” I asked while careening left.
“Drive through it!” he yelled while stomping on his imaginary pedal. “They are made of foam.”
“Just drive!” I did as he requested and gained speed as we swerved to enter the shoot of the toll plaza. Picturing the 80’s actions movies of shattered roadblocks, I gunned it, we must have been running 80 mph when we zoomed through.
“Well, I'll be...” I muttered as the crossbeam folded back against my van’s headlights. I felt home free. Another two miles and we'd be on the Grand Central Parkway and then...
“Follow that squad car!” Stan gestured wildly to the side. “Hard left, hard left!” I've not squealed my tires since I was 18, and certainly never under the auspicious eye of the NYPD, but the call of the wild took over. I channeled Mario Kart as we jumped from lane to lane, careening across northern Queens. 80mph, 90mph, 100mph?
“You should drive for us all the time,” Carol shouted with a smile. “Shouldn't he, Stan?” With reluctance, Stan answered.
“I'll reserve judgement till we see the plane.”
How dare he doubt me. I shut out the noise and kept one hand firmly pressed on the horn and the other held tight to the steering wheel. Rich smells of sea air mingled with Carol’s Cipriani glow as we neared LaGuardia.
Traffic was building ahead. “That roadblock is for us,” Stan said gesturing to the traffic, “but we just need to get there,” Stan said pointing across me. Instantly, I swerved the van over the curb and up the grass embankment to rumble past the waiting cars and onto the frontage road.
“Ask forgiveness, not permission,” I said as I could feel eyes on me. Dirt spitting, wheels grumbling, we descended onto crumbling pavement as we entered the heavily gated rear entrance to LaGuardia airport. “I didn't know LaGuardia had a rear entrance.” Darkness of trees and scummy water surrounded us as we finally pulled on to the massive expanse of LaGuardia's private terminal. The shining white facade of Air Force Two was sitting in the distance, primed for takeoff. I was pushing 90 mph as I pulled closer to the unawares motorcade. Cop cars fell away as we entered, as did the single cherry undercover car. Buddy lost; buddy found. The motorcade was rounding calmly toward the plane, and I eased off the gas as I pulled safely behind an unmarked SUV to become caboose of the motorcade.
“All the time,” Carrol affirmed as I finally stopped the van. My hands were shaking, no, vibrating. My whole body tingled as I sat and stared at the scene. Flood lights of the runway showed a tungsten orange scene of besuited press core members ambling up to the gangway. Not a care in the world, none of them even knew we were 100 near misses and 4,000 moving violations away from disaster.
I stepped out of the van once my passengers had unloaded and watched as they boarded the plane. Within two minutes the whole scene was empty of cars, the SUV's and sedans moved quickly off.
“You think they got a special garage for gun cars?” Bennett asked walking up.
“Yep,” I said, still tingling. “Probably on Staten Island.” We stood with our two vans and Stan and his briefcase on an empty tarmac and watched the monumental craft take flight. “I guess it's back to the M60 for us.”
“Guess so,” I said as we watched Air Force Two slip into the murky expanse of sky.
“Bulletproof?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” Bennett kept his gaze to the sky.
“Are these bulletproof?” I wrapped on the passenger window of our van.
“’Fraid not. If the motorcade takes live rounds, we are the expendable ones. Like extras from White House Down.”
“I’m no extra.”
“Not today you’re not. Today you saved the American taxpayers $40,000.00.”
“What?! That’s what chartering a plane was going to cost them.”
“Yep, Stan was texting Jenny the whole time. That is one heck of a mess you saved.”
“I clean up all kinds of messes; add this to the list.”
“Speaking of messes,” Stan spoke with loving snark, “I have an expense card, how about a few rounds as a thank you?”
“40K, minus 3 rounds, fair compensation.”
“So, we saved $39,500.”
“You said, mess, didn’t you Stan?” Bennett’s eyes were serious.
“Yes,” he said nodding reluctantly.
“Besides,” Bennett looked to me and smiled. “We need to celebrate the fact I got the answer to my answer.”
“‘What is the best way to LaGuardia from Midtown?’”
I nodded and we spoke at the same time. “Vice presidential motorcade.”
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