By Christy Dittrick
My friend Miss Margaret likes limos. She doesn’t drink, but she loves a good party and can dance into the wee hours with the best of them. She has extraordinary style. Limos just suit her. She owns two older models: a white, extra-long Lincoln from the mid-1990s and a regular-sized blue Cadillac with three rows of comfy, light blue bench seats, stained only slightly.
My favorite is the white stretch.
It is a gas-guzzling shrine to dated excess. It has a lighted bar featuring built-in racks and nooks that house a collection of once sparkling, now rarely used, decanters, champagne flutes, wine goblets, and highball glasses. Neon rope lighting lines the ceiling and can pulse to music from the radio. There is a small screen TV — on which I have seen nothing except my own reflection — with a gaping hole for extinct VHS tapes. There is even a car phone in the back that connects to the driver up front. Sometimes all the windows work, but sometimes one gets stuck until the mechanic can get it moving again. With our Alabama climate, the upholstery can get a bit musty. In warmer, wet weather the mildew smell can take your breath away in the first seconds after opening the door. You get used to it eventually.
The stretch is so long that driving can be a complicated matter. Tight turns are particularly challenging. But I have seen Miss Margaret maneuver that thing over potholed country roads or through downtown without a problem. She uses the Baptist church parking lot to get going in the right direction. We have gotten stuck a time or two on a raised berm — nothing that lightening the load and backing up hasn’t solved.
She is a fraternity house mom, and she will ferry “her boys” in a limo to and from town so they will be safe on their late-night forays. Once, when a particularly large group wanted to go, she was startled to discover some stowaways in the trunk. She is the fraternity’s official pace car driver for an annual grand prix held in their parking lot. The race cars are homemade three wheeled vehicles constructed by the pledges. After that first lap in the limo, she climbs out onto the balcony to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” to start the race. Miss Margaret is a beloved icon.
We have ridden several times with family and friends to Georgia to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the old cart barn at a lowbrow public golf course. It serves the best fish around on Thursday nights. For my daughter’s 16th birthday, with friends from her boarding school in Connecticut visiting Alabama for the first time, I asked Margaret to drive them to town for sushi, which she graciously did. It was her idea to then get ice cream and cruise the downtown streets letting the girls stand in the back with their heads sticking out the sunroof, waving at college boys on a warm summer night.
On my birthday a few months later, we had a grown-up version of Party in the Car. Miss Margaret, wearing gold lame and cashmere, brought the stretch out to my home in the country, and we filled it with girlfriends dressed in ball gowns, thrift-store treasures, and a hand-me-down Pucci caftan. We drank champagne and munched on delicate hors d’oeuvres, cruising around country roads with our own chauffeur, until we picked up our final, latecomer guest, just arrived from London on the airport shuttle. The look on the shuttle driver’s face — opening the door to the white limo pulled up next to his van, only to find it filled with tipsy, bedazzled, and bejeweled women — was almost as good as my visiting English friend’s bemusement at her warm, if surprising, welcome to the South.
A ride in the limo is always an event, even if it is just the simple bright spot on an otherwise dark day, each person sitting in her own row, contemplating the scenery on a ride to nowhere.
The only time I wasn’t excited to go in the limo was for my Ladies Night, two days before leaving for Memphis for eye-cancer surgeries last fall. It seemed like a bad idea at first. I reluctantly agreed to participate, not wanting to hurt my friends’ feelings. Dressed to the nines in heels and proper dresses, these ladies — many of whom I am used to seeing only in jeans, flannel shirts, and boots — drank champagne in the white stretch on the way to a swank downtown restaurant, where I discovered Oysters Rockefeller, the fact that they go well with multiple glasses of champagne, that smiling is truly better than crying but that you can do both with good friends. Not only was I sent off with love and support in abundance, I will forever cherish the wonderful memory of people staring and wondering who were these people when several elegantly clad ladies, exuding a faint tang of mildew, exited an old stretch limo, a bit reminiscent of clowns leaving the circus car, early on a weekday evening in a restaurant parking lot in the middle of Auburn, Alabama.
One person’s trash is always another’s treasure. I don’t know what the Blue Book value on Miss Margaret’s limos is, but I do know they are priceless. They might be throwaways to many, but, rescued by Miss Margaret, they bring joy and celebration to everyday life. Just like her.
“Happy day!,” as she likes to say.