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?"
"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."
While you're at home
watching ER ...
Like a lot of his peers, Jason the Limo Guy—no last names, please—drifted into the business by serendipity. About 18 years ago, a friend with a limo-driving gig asked him to fill an empty shift and Jason, who had been working in sales and financial services, took it on a lark. By the end of his first day on the job, ferrying around a Saturday afternoon wedding party, Jason was hooked. Now an owner-operator, he typically works five or six nights a week. Shifts last about 10 hours. He has resisted the urge to expand his business because he doesn't like the idea of employees. "I can't relinquish the control," he explains. "I don't fuck up. I don't oversleep. I don't go the wrong way. I don't say the wrong thing to some guy's wife." Now 39, Jason is married and lives in Minneapolis. He says he can't imagine any other line of work.
When people ask me, "What's the wildest thing you've ever seen?" I tell them pick a category: sex, drugs, or rock 'n' roll. Or I'll say, What do you mean by "wild?" Chicks fucking chicks? Dudes fucking dudes? Dudes sticking shit up people's asses?
When I was about 22, in 1990, I got dragged into a swingers party. I was naive. I had no idea what was going on, but they kept hinting, you know, "we want to get you involved." I just didn't get it because I was so uptight and rigid. It was one guy, two girls. They were having fun. The girls were going both ways, the guy was getting a little action. He calls up to me, "There's a problem with the stereo. Come back and help me." So I pull over and hop in back and he's fingering one girl, going down on the other, and he has this gloss all over his face. I drove back to his house with a raging hard-on. When we got there, this one girl started crying. I asked, "Why's she crying?" and the guy says, "Because it's her birthday and she wants you to stick it to her and you're not going to give it to her."
So I'm thinking, "You people are fucking beyond belief." And the guy finally says, "Here's the deal: I'm not going to give you a tip unless you come in." I say, "I can't come in. I've got to get the limo back." So I drove to the shop, parked the limo, and raced back. There's a note on the door that says, "Jason, come on in. Make yourself a drink. We're in the hot tub." By now, there's about 12 people because they've called all their friends for a big party. They say, "Come on in. Get naked and join us in the tub." I was shy and awkward, but I got in the tub. The guy's wife says, "Why don't you guys leave for a minute? Jason seems shy." The second time around, I wasn't as shy. People who know me now can't believe I was that uptight. It was a shaping experience. I flash back to it once in a while because I think, "God, I was so innocent."
Some people talk a big game, but they need encouragement. They'll say, "Hey, we're going to hop in here and fuck around. You cool with that?" The guy will say it with a kind of swagger. And I'll say, "Yeah, that's cool. I'm just going to jack off and watch." You know, it's like they're trying to get a rise out of me. Trust me, I'm the last guy you're going to get a rise out of.
Why do people have sex in limos? Well, why do they have sex in their kitchen or on their washer or the dryer? Because it's different than their bedroom. I get some people who are freaks. I had a guy who liked to get whipped with a belt. He was howling like a wolf out of the moon roof. Then he tells [his date], "Hit me with the buckle!" So she hits him with the buckle and makes his ass bleed. Now to me, that's borderline behavior. But I'm not going to say it's weird because it's not my job to judge. It's their deal.
I get swingers. I get orgies. In most people's circles, that's not a normal Tuesday night experience. While you're at home watching ER, I'm watching six people fuck their brains out.
In this business, you get in the middle of a lot of weird shit. But you also get to the point where you know where you want to be and where you don't want to be. Me, I don't want to be in lower Phillips on New Year's Eve at midnight, when people are shooting off guns and thinking it's cool. And if someone calls me and says, "Hey, we're going to roll some house parties in the city for New Year's," I'm not gonna be there. I don't want that. But if someone says, "We're going to dinner at the Oceanaire and then to a party at my buddy's house in Kenwood," then I'm your guy. Eight-hour minimum. One hundred and ten dollars an hour. Let's do the damn thing.
Guys are pretty predictable. They want to say, "Fuck you." They want to watch porno. They want to drink a lot of beer. And guys will say, "Hey Jason, I'm going to have to puke. Pull over." And I've got plenty of time to pull over. They get out. They fucking puke like a champ. I give them a breath mint. They get back in the car and start drinking again. A lot of the time, chicks will puke all over themselves because they're not so used to going out drinking with girlfriends.
I've had people puke inside the car maybe 11, 12 times over the years. It's a nightmare because there's a sort of synergistic effect. One person pukes, it's like dominos. They start tumbling. So when people get in my limo, I tell them all, "Here's the deal: It's 200 bucks in the car and the grass is free everywhere."
The majority of people I drive are on the downtown circuit. A lot of times, I'll put 15 miles on the car in six hours. And that's only because I'm fucking off, taking a spin, because the passengers are in a bar or restaurant for two hours.
I like to park by the strip clubs. After all these years, I know everyone who works at the clubs, so it's the social hour. I like to talk to the floor guys. I'll tell you this, it certainly doesn't have anything to do with the women. Every year, I go to Vegas for the Super Bowl for a boys' weekend. It's me, a buddy who drives limo, and a bunch of guys who have normal jobs. The guys with normal jobs, all they want to do is sit at a titty bar the whole time. My buddy and I are like, "This is the stupidest thing I've seen in my life. We see naked women all the time."
People like the fact that they can be themselves in front of me. A guy has a patented jackhammer pussy move that he can do in front of me with five, six different women. I play stupid every time. Guys who pay my bills like that—they like the fact that I know their wives and I know their girlfriends.
To stroke people the right way, without feeling like you're demeaning yourself, it's an art, man. For people to sit there and feel totally cool with you, there's just an art to it: You have to know when to be a pig, and when not to be a pig.
Minneapolis is a good place to make a living in the limo business. The rates are pretty high. Reason being, there's not one huge company in town with 500 cars that drives the price down. In Vegas, this car rents for $55 an hour. Here, I solidly get $95—$85 if it's a weeknight and I'm in a good mood. And $120 if it's a two-hour wedding deal on a Saturday evening. Plus the juice [tip]. You gotta take care of the driver. I love the people who say, "My wife wants to give you head for a tip." How 'bout you just give me cash instead?
I had some farm guys in the other night, in town for one of the conventions. Guy says, "Hey, you got any pornos here?" And I go, "Just some homemade. Me and my pregnant wife. It's pretty hot. Want to check that shit out?" As soon as I said it I realized I was dealing with some grain farmers from western Minnesota and I had just gone completely over the top. They looked at me like, "What the fuck?" Now if I had some swingers in here and said the same thing, they'd laugh and think it's funny. Sometimes I don't know when to say when.
You gotta respect the body fluids. I'll help the girls out by the wrist instead of the hand. I was just putting this long coat on—I hadn't worn it all week. You know what I found in the pocket? One rubber glove. What's that from? Probably cleaning some shit up back here. Could be puke. Could be cum. Could be ass smell. You get dudes that haven't showered all day, out drinking on the golf course, then they get some prostitute in here. Their ass fucking reeks, man. You got the dude with the bad ass smell. Or the chicks that have been stripping all night—they got the pussy funk. Am I being too graphic?
Some drivers have their mirrors high so they can see out the back window. I have mine low so I can see what people's legs are doing. Plus you get the panty shots in the summer.
You have to be a little voyeuristic. My wife will joke with me, "You like to watch people fuck, don't you?" And I'm like, "What's not to like?" Dudes do this on the internet all day long and pay good money, too. I get paid to watch people fuck around. How do you not like that? You've got to be honest about it. Some guys will say, "I'm kind of repulsed by that." Well, not me. I'm a dude. I've got blood flow and I'm human. Unless they're ugly, it's fun to watch people have sex. Generally. Why do people watch porno? Well, instead of paying, would you like to have a porno filmed live three feet behind your head? It's not a bad thing.
Every year I say I'm getting closer to my retirement but I really have no idea what I would do. I tell my wife, if she'd get a better job, I'd be a stay-at-home dad. But I think she likes me making the dough. Besides, I don't know what I'd do with myself. People say, "You'd be good in sales." I sold houses and I made more money than I ever did driving limo. But I fucking hated it. I hated every minute of it.
I could just get a job as a greeter at a Wal-Mart, but this pays the bills. I'm pretty good at it. It's pretty easy to do. Why fuck with what seems to work?
Do you give lap dances?
K im Pratt's first experience driving limo was as mellow as they come: a family celebration for a Mexican girl on her Quinceañera—her 15th birthday. It was, Pratt recalls wistfully, a "sweet occasion"—an afternoon ride through south Minneapolis. First a church visit, then a reception. In the seven years since, Pratt has driven for three different party bus and limo companies. For the most part, the spectacles to which she has borne witness have not been nearly as sweet as her debut. Still, Pratt says she enjoys the work for its variety and flexibility. Brassy and easygoing, Pratt likes a good laugh. She gets plenty of them from her customers and fellow drivers. An international studies major at the University of St. Thomas, Pratt frequently brings school work on rides. While her customers are getting drunk at strip clubs, she sits in the limo and quietly pores over her required reading, dreaming of the day she can live in a foreign land.
I get a lot of interesting comments because I am a woman and there aren't a lot of women in this business. When I started, I refused to do bachelor parties. I was worried about safety issues. After I did a couple, I realized I could handle it. I always tell the guys, "Look, I've been in the business for six years. Be yourselves and have a good time." As the liquor goes down, I'll usually get some comments. I'll take guys to KOD [the King of Diamonds strip club] and pretty soon they'll say things like, "Hey Kim, why don't we just pay you? Do you give lap dances?" I do carry mace. I've never had to use it, but I can turn pretty stern if I notice that things are getting out of hand. I'll cut the power off to the back of the limousine and say, "Knock it off or we're done."
You never know who you're picking up. One time, I picked up this group in Woodbury—two married couples and a couple who were out on their first date. I drove them in a 10-seater to a concert at the Target Center. Peter Frampton, I think. Anyway, they seemed like your average kind of people, nothing out of the ordinary. It seemed like they were just out to have a good time and a few beers. But by the time they got out of the concert, they were all really, really lit. I don't know what they were doing, but they're baked. So we're going down the road. Next thing I know, the shirts are coming off and the girls are hanging their boobs out the windows. I remember there were girls kissing girls and then, all of a sudden, the girl on the first date was messing around with one of the husbands. Apparently she was sucking on his toes. Next thing, I hear the wife say something really nasty to the single girl. By the time I got them out of the car, everybody was really pissed off at each other. I tell you, I really thought the wives were going to beat up on the single girl.
I usually let the passengers decide whether the partition is up or down. If I start to feel uncomfortable, I put it up. I worked for this one company that had party buses, and there was no divider between me and the customers. A lot of times when I did these bachelor parties, I'd have guys trying to kiss me when I was driving. I had one guy get down on his hands and knees and he's trying to lick my ear lobes. I'm like, "Knock it off!" I try to be nice about it—nice but firm. If they don't get it, then I get angry.
I once picked this guy up in St. Paul and took him to a bar in Cottage Grove. It was his 21st birthday and he'd been partying all day with his friends. About 8:30, he tried to leave the bar with a drink in his hand, so the bouncer tried to stop him. Apparently, when the bouncer grabbed his drink, the guy just turned around and punched him. You know, he didn't realize it was a bouncer. When the rest of the guys got back in the bus, I said, "Hey, where's the birthday boy?" They're like, "He's in jail." And the party just kept rolling.
In this business, you get good at picking out the drug people. It's not always the stereotype. A lot of people think it's all about the inner city, but I gotta tell you: People from the suburbs are doing a lot of the heavy stuff these days too. One night I was dropping off a bachelor party in Maple Grove when I caught a whiff of this funny burning smell. I started looking around, thinking, "Is my car on fire?" When we got to Maple Grove, two of the guys were getting it on in the back seat and another one of the guys was passed out. As his friends were helping him get out, the guy dropped a curlicue pipe. I don't know if it was for meth or crack, but it really creeped me out. They were really aggressive, insisting that I stay with them. One of the guys offered me 20 bucks if I showed him my boobs. I said, "First of all it's going to cost you more than 20 bucks, and second of all, no." By the time I got out of there, I really felt like I needed a shower.
Drivers share stories all the time. One driver told me how he once had a group of about 10 guys who had picked up a hooker. All of a sudden, she started screaming and there was this huge fight, so the driver headed straight to the police station. By the time he got there, they'd smashed out the bar.
Another driver I know once picked up a couple, took them to dinner, and drove them around for a few hours. At the end of the night, when the girl got out of the car, she didn't have any shoes on. She tells the driver, "Hey, we have a little problem here." Driver goes in back and it turns out the girl's heels were stuck to the ceiling.
These days, limos are not only for the elite. It's something that your average person uses—you know, for special occasions, anniversaries, weddings, birthday parties, graduation, prom, Christmas light tours. Things like that. A lot of drivers bitch about Christmas light tours, but that's one of my favorite things about the job. I enjoy the lights as much as my customers.
The less you know, the less trouble you can get into
A native of north Minneapolis, Don Pukal is the quintessential jack-of-all-trades. He's a licensed private detective ("I do surveillance," he explains, "but none of the husband and wife stuff. That's bad work"), a landlord, and a notary public. But the biggest demand on his time is his work as the owner/manager/principal driver of All Day and All Night Limousine. Pukal, who is 44, got into the business at the invitation of a limo-driving friend who was looking for a partner to defray costs. An enthusiastic car buff, he jumped at the opportunity. "It seemed like a good side job—and a cool way to own a Cadillac," Pukal explains. "I never had one before because they eat too much gas. Now I can write it off on my taxes." Within a matter of months, Pukal bought out his partners. Over the years, he has steadily expanded his fleet. He now has four limos (all Caddies), two sedans, and a stable of part-time drivers.
There was this one guy who used to call me all the time at the last minute. I think he was from Texas. He said he customized motorcycles for a living. One day six or seven years ago, he called me. His wife and him were staying at a hotel out at the Mall. They were out partying and they got in this fight. So we went back to the hotel and he says, "I'm leaving." He wants me to come to the hotel room so I follow him. When we're in the room he picks up the mattress and grabs this clear Ziploc bag, which is full of money.
So we're driving around and he wants to get another hotel room. And I'm like, "Hey, we've got to get another bag to put this money in. You can't just walk around with a clear bag of money." So I stopped at a Super America and picked up a bag you couldn't see through. Then he says, "You hold it." And I'm like, "I don't want to hold it. I don't want anything to do with this." We ended up going back to the hotel where he was staying with his old lady. I was just glad to get out of there. Now I don't really think you're legitimately in the motorcycle business if you're carrying around Ziploc bags full of money. But I didn't really want to know what his business was. That's part of the gig. The less you know, the less trouble you can get into.
I got a four-hundred-buck tip one night. It was a last-minute thing—some guy from out of town who was hanging out at Schiek's. With guys at the stripper clubs it's one of two ways. Either they want to save all their money for the strippers or they throw it around. Anyway, this guy started out wanting a ride back to his hotel, but we kept going back and forth from club to club to the hotel. We went to Schiek's. Déjà Vu. Choice. And the whole time he was throwing money around like it was going out of style. Came at a really good time for me, too.
Sometimes, a customer will say, "Come on in the club with us and we'll buy you a lap dance." That's one of the perks of the job. Some people want to get busy in the back. I put the divider up because I'm not a voyeur. It's a little fantasy for people. They can see out but no one can see in. It happens maybe two, three times a year. You get those streaks. I had two in a row where they were getting some action.
I'd rather do a bachelorette than a bachelor party. Generally, the females are more tidy. You can't make a blanket statement. I had one run, there were Dorito chips all over, cake everywhere, napkins. You couldn't even see the carpet. That was just a bunch of girls going out one night. In my company, the drivers have to clean their own cars.
If they're doing illegal activity, their run is supposed to be over. You use your judgment. If these guys are going to get cranked out of their head, the run's over. If they're more sophisticated about it, you can give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes I get guys who want to pick up prostitutes. "Where can I pick up some hos? Where's the hos around here?" I'm like, "I don't know. I don't do that stuff. If you want to make some arrangements and have me take you there, fine. But I can't set anything up."
I don't care if you're rich, poor, fat, skinny. You get a clean slate when you start. But if you're a jerk, I don't like you. If they don't give you respect, take it. Because you're in charge of the car. I very rarely dump customers. If they're smoking, and you've got to tell them four times to quit, I'll say, "Get out. You're done." It's all there in the contract: If you break the rules, the run's over and no refund. You've got to have some level of decorum and you've got keep people safe. Safety is the main thing. That's a part of business. It's a lot cheaper to pay 500 bucks for a limo than to get a DWI and lose your license. Smart thing to do, both emotionally and financially.