I do not generally travel by limousine. When the long sleek cars drive by in the mad tangle of traffic I peer curiously at the tinted windows with the rest of the masses, hoping for an elusive glimpse of fame and wealth, Madonna going to the Grammy’s perhaps, or Bono on his way to his Upper East Side apartment. They are emblems of luxury, of expensive dinners with men and women in black-tie and satin, vehicles of film premieres and the opera-house, transportation of a world that glimmers and glistens behind the shiny paint and chrome.
So when my friend and I flew over the bright night-time labyrinth of Manhattan and touched down at JFK it was not of limousines but of buses and subways that we thought. It was late, and we had another plane to catch the next morning so we discussed efficient coffee strategies. We would go to Greenwich Village, find ourselves a cozy nook and cappuccino the night away. If we found ourselves in desperate need of sleep (an unlikely situation) we would wend our way to her aunt and uncle’s house in Bay Ridge.
But my friend’s New York relatives had other ideas. A bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins surprised us at the arrival lounge with signs and embraces, loudly ecstatic to see us. As they chattered on, my notion of an intimateevening at a hip coffee house dissipated into visions of trivial-but-well-meaning inquisitions and the relentless noise of small children. I had almost resigned myself to the thought when they suddenly took our luggage from us and pushed us onto the sidewalk outside. “Don’t worry about your bags,” one aunt called to us, “just have a good time! Go on!” I looked at my friend in utter bewilderment, and she was equally confused. Then we saw it. Long, sleek, shining white. Like a leopard, like a slice of moonlight. A stretch limo sat purring before us. An uncle practically pushed us inside, shouting gleefully, “Have fun!” The door slammed behind us, and we were off.
New York was ours. We sailed along into Manhattan, nearly speechless with the weight of the surprise, drinking champagne and marveling at the sparkling, colored lights sprinkled on the interior walls and ceiling of the car. We turned the radio to high volume and watched the small television for the sheer novelty of it, though it was soon turned off as we peered out the windows, craning our heads to take in the magnificence of New York dressed in her Christmas finery, reclining on the deep leather seats to see the dramatic scenery of the city.
We stopped at Rockefeller Center and paid homage to the gargantuan Christmas tree, buying roses from a street vender to celebrate the unexpected occasion. Then we instructed Oscar, our pliant and affable driver, to go on to Times Square. We laughed at ourselves there, piling out of our elegant limousine in jeans and trainers to use the bathroom in McDonald’s, while camera-clad tourists gaped and wondered who we were. The champagne exhausted, we sipped Jack Daniel’s and Coke, sped by the Seaport, and eventually ended up at Patty’s 24-Hour Gourmet Diner where we ravenously consumed vegetarian quiche and stuffed portobello mushrooms. (Oscar waited patiently for us outside, relaxing behind the wheel, the big vehicle humming with subdued power.)
At long last our one night stand with the white limousine drew to aclose. We crept regretfully along a quiet street toward my friend’s aunt and uncle’s house, lingering just a few moments longer in the depths of our luxury, savoring the feel of extravagance. Then we bid Oscar a fond farewell and shivered on the front steps in the frosty air, roses in hand, pleasantly light-headed and thoroughly fatigued. As we gazed at it longingly and lovingly, the car glinted provocatively in the moonlight and slid smoothly off back towards Manhattan, graceful and quiet through the rising winter mist.