Where the Party Never Stops

Four veteran rent-a-limo drivers tell all

It's a little before 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis, the hour when the usual suspects start to turn out in force. On First Avenue, a cluster of grossly underdressed young women is scurrying down the sidewalk. They come to a halt at the line outside the nightclub Drink, and squeal as the chill winter air hits their exposed skin. This catches the eye of limo driver Marshall Hymes. "You gotta love that," Hymes says.

Hymes has spent the better part of the past decade observing the downtown street life from the vantage point of a limo. He hasn't grown tired of the fleshy spectacle. "You know, I'm a pretty red-blooded guy," he explains. But truth be told, he seems more amused than titillated.

On this night, Hymes is scheduled to pick up a party of 10 at a downtown hotel. It's a 25th birthday celebration for a woman. Beyond that, Hymes doesn't know much. He's hoping it's all women. At precisely 10:00 p.m., he pulls in front of the Ramada Inn at North 10th Street. Hymes casts a skeptical glance toward the corner, where a few vagrants mill about. He decides they don't look too menacing, hops off the party bus, and rolls out a small red carpet in front of the passenger door. "There's not a girl in the world who doesn't think a red carpet is cool," he explains.

A few minutes later his passengers for the night, a gaggle of twentysomethings—both sexes, alas—climbs aboard. A chorus of oohs and aahs erupts when they see the tricked-out ride that is theirs for the next few hours. The exclamation "awe-some!" is uttered no fewer than a dozen times. The interior of a 2005 Ford Krystal is, in fact, quite awesome. There is an enormous flat-screen TV mounted at the back of the bus, a high-end audio system blaring satellite radio, various bar amenities, fiber-optic "accent lighting" on the ceiling, and—most inviting, most luxurious of all—100 acres of curvy black leather couch.

As the bus lurches forward, one of the women—bathed in perfume, wedged into her dress—sticks her head through the partition.

"So are there any rules?" she shouts.

"Give me an example," Hymes answers, going along.

"Well, what about sex?"

"What type?"

"Oral."

"Girl on girl?" Hymes says. "That's okay."

This produces peals of laughter. Hymes, though, is not really joking. Fact is, he doesn't much care what his customers do, with two exceptions: smoking and puking. Especially the latter. If there is a universal credo among limo drivers, it is "Do not puke in the ride." Where taxi drivers fear armed junkies and crackheads, limo drivers fear green-gilled, retching 21-year-olds.

Over the next four hours, no one throws up in the party bus, but Hymes is forced to do more driving than he likes. First he ferries the crew to the north metro suburb of Maplewood, where he stops at a Super America long enough for everyone to pile out and smoke cigarettes. Then he takes them to the bustling new nightclub Myth. After that, it's back to downtown Minneapolis. Then Hymes drives two of the party to Mounds View, where they pick up a case of beer at a bleak, sprawling apartment complex. Then it's back to Minneapolis to hook up with the rest of the gang, and later to another nightclub.

A talent for killing time is a gift in the limo business. It's a downtime gig. While his customers party, Hymes wisecracks with valets, strip club doormen, and his fellow drivers. On this night, Hymes chews the fat for a spell with another driver. Chatting via a crackling radio phone, the other driver informs Hymes that a customer has invited him to an after-hours gathering at her Minnetonka home. He relates this with some zest. Later he calls back to gloat, reporting that he's joined the woman in her hot tub. As proof, he splashes a little water into the phone. "Eat your heart out, buddy," he says before signing off.

Bullshit or true story? Hymes thinks the latter.

At about 1:30 a.m., Hymes takes his party crew on a final run. Destination: Bobby and Steve's Auto World, a gas station/convenience store on Washington Avenue. Apparently the munchies have set in, because the gang storms the place like half-starved Vikings. After returning to the bus with armloads of potato chips, pop, and other snacks, the talk turns rowdy. As Hymes pilots the bus down Seventh Street, the gang decides it's now or never: Flesh must be exposed! In unison, the women press their bare breasts against the window while the guys moon out the other side.

Sadly, there is no one on the desolate streets to take in the spectacle. When the bus rumbles up to Hennepin Avenue, a group of young black men can be seen standing on the corner of a block. Hymes taps the horn. The guys look up, spot breasts, and flash the thumbs-up signal. And then it's over. Hymes pulls in front of the Ramada. The passengers grab their coolers, coats, and digital cameras and wobble off the bus. "You guys got boob marks all over the windows," Hymes tell them as they part ways. "But I still think you were too well-behaved."

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