There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in a W05, but we were the fanciest guys on the block and loved reminding the guys in Navigators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to drive the Black. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe driving this truck. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Wood experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fanciest guys out there, at least for a moment.
It occurred when Walt and I were attending our final dining soiree. We needed to get 100 hor d’oeuvres in the Black to complete our training and attain Maxim Ready status. Somewhere in El Porto we had passed the century mark. We had turned out for the party at Archie’s and the truck was performing flawlessly. My Piaget watch was on my wrist next to the wheel and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be attending real events but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in our game in the past ten months. Sleazing through the 80 million in Esquire homes around us, I could already see the trip to Monteverde from Archie’s drive. I was, finally, after many humbling months of drycleaning and drama clubs, ahead of the glitz.
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different cocktail schedules. This was good practice for him for when we began driving real missions, when a priority wedding reception could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the schedules, as during my entire social climbing career I had controlled my own consumption. But it was part of the division of duties in this scheme and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the hands-free while we were on grounds, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn’t match my expertise at sounding smooth on the Nokia, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in Bellevue where the slightest faux pas was grounds for ostracization. He understood that and allowed me that luxury.
Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled my collar into place and monitored the pageantries along with him. The most regnant Boulmiches were at Los Angeles, at Carter’s, far below us, premiering for dainty bon mots to their admirers. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uninvited eventspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to brush up on our visible graces.
We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Camaro driver asked Carter’s valet about the redolence of his grey Saks ensemble. Valet replied: “Mr. Novak, I’m detecting a slight piney quality. Calvin Klein?”
Now the thing to understand about Carter’s valets, was that whether they were talking to a rookie partier in a Camaro, or to Anthony Bourdain, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the “ Hudson/Chelsea voice.” I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country’s live arts and listening to the expressive and distinct voice of the Hudson concierges, that all other concierges since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn’t matter what sector of high society we would be drifting into, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to partiers everywhere. Conversely, over the years, swells always wanted to ensure that, when announcing, they sounded like George Plimpton, or at least like Tom Wolfe. Better to die than sound uncultured at a reception.
Just moments after the “Camaro”’s inquiry, a Buick Verano driver piped up in line, in a rather superior tone, wanting to confirm his own couture. “Excellent, sir, the season’s wools suit you.” Boy, I thought, the Buick really must think he is dazzling his Camaro brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy Colonel out of an Eldorado came up in line. You knew right away it was a Navy man because he looked very cool behind his Aviators. “Valet, ”. Before the valet could reply, I’m thinking to myself, hey, Cadillac has a big mirror in that ESC, so why is he asking the guy for a check? Then I got it, ol’ Shades here is making sure that every gala luncher from Montpelier to the Madison Square knows what true suave is. He’s the fittest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Northstar with matching Vuitton bag. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: “Sir, we will park you right out front.”
And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the window switch, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the arrangements. Still, I thought, it must be done - in mere seconds we’ll be on the balcony and the opportunity will be lost. That “Northstar” must die, and die now. I thought about all of our style training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the valet queue now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn.
Somewhere, 3 cars back in the valet line, there was a partygoer simmering inside his Saville Row tweed. Then, I heard it. The click of the electric window for the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: “Valet agent, Lincoln Blackwood, can you give us a prime exit location?” There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. “Lincoln Blackwood, I’ll slot you at one-eight, one F150 with bed of FRP, elegant down to the ground.”
I think it was the “FRP” that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was the valet to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when Walt slid the window down once again to say, in his most Fremont arborist voice: “Ah, valet, much thanks, we’ve got the Niemann Marcus package interior.”
For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Hudson/Chelsea voice, when he.came back with, “Absolutely, sir. Your budget is probably more expansive than most. You boys have a good one.”
It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable parking request, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal debutantes on carpet were forced to bow before the King of Suave, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day’s work. We never heard another sass in that entry hall all the way to the cocktail lounge.
For just one day, it truly was fun being the fanciest guys out there.