Celebrity Chauffeur

by David Thomas Hawkins

First Place winner, nonfiction, Arlington County Detention Facility/Heard/OAR writing contest, October 2023

These are clients and friends I have driven in Los Angeles.

Lucy Liu                                                         Stevie Wonder

Ashanti                                                            Shaquille O’Neal

Tyra Banks                                                      K-Ci & JoJo

Halle Berry                                                     Mark Cuban

Mary J. Blige                                                  Jim Brown

Pattie LaBelle                                                 James Brown

Yolanda Adams                                               Babyface

Clayola Brown                                                Jamie Foxx

Dorothy Height                                               Tommy Davidson

Lauren Hill                                                      Ronald Isley – Isley Bros.

Betty White                                                     R. Kelly

Sheryl Lee Ralph                                            Denzel Washington

Rosario Dawson                                             Judge Mathis

Vivica Fox                                                      Don King

Kim Fields                                                       Barry White

Lauren Sanchez                                               Tavis Smiley

Debra Lee                                                       Bob Johnson

Sheryl Crow                                                    Danny Bonaduce

Celia Cruz                                                       Clarence Advant

Chaka Khan                                                    Chico Debarge

Kim Coles                                                       Chris Tucker

Shakira                                                            Nate Dogg

Rihanna                                                           Chris Brown

Maxine Waters                                                Muhammad Ali

I drive fancy cars and pick up movie stars!  Rap Stars, Rockstars, NBA All Stars, MLB, NFL and Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Celebrities from all walks of life, from different cultures, races and nationalities.  I have driven over a thousand celebrities.  I am a limo driver, chauffeur/bodyguard from Los Angeles, California, and I have been doing this work for over 30 years.  When I first got this job, I didn’t know I would make a career out of it.  I had no idea I would be exposed to the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, like Robin Leech said.

Somebody showed me a photo of Halle Berry jumping out of a white limousine dressed in a white Gucci gown on the red carpet giving a kiss on the cheek to the limo driver who had opened her door for her.  After looking at that photo, I told myself that is what I want to do!  I have been doing it since the day that limo driver/owner hired me on the spot.  That was on May 4th, 1992.  My first day in LA was two weeks after the Rodney King riots.  There were tanks and soldiers still on the streets of LA, mostly in South Central.  When I got off that Greyhound bus that morning, I had $300 in my wallet, a backpack with miscellaneous items, hygiene kit and clothes and one suitcase with socks, drawers, tee-shirts and a couple of pairs of Levi’s.

The only plan I had was to get something to eat, check into a cheap motel and call the limo driver that got a kiss on the cheek from Halley Berry at the red carpet.  That is George Jones, owner of Ultimate Limos.  He owned one white limousine and leased a small office on Crenshaw Boulevard.  I took a bus from Downtown LA to his office in Torrance, California.  Two hours later, right before noon, I showed up there.  After meeting George with a handshake and a smile.  He said, “Have a seat, fill out this application and hurry up, I’m getting hungry!”  I filled out the top of it, name and date, etc.  “Come on man, let’s go get something to eat, you can finish that later!”

We walked outside to the white limo.  George said, “Go ahead, jump in the back!”  This was my first time in a limo.  Black leather seats, one long J seat and all these lights lining the ceiling and a bar stocked with liquor and sodas.  I sunk into the black Lincoln leather and felt the cushions and padding just mold with my upper torso.  I have never felt so comfortable sitting in a car.

Sitting back there by myself made me feel important, rich, famous—like a celebrity.  I felt like a BOSS!  I was in control, I was a VIP, I was the GodFather, I was out-of-control, especially when my chauffeur boss hit the control panel and everything in the back of the limo came to life!  The stereo system with the bass on blast really set it off and the disco lights sparkling all the colors you could imagine blinking starlights, black leather, music blasting as if I was having my own little party for myself.  Welcome to LA.  This is how we do it!  The boss drove for about 10 minutes and turned into the parking lot of CHURCH’S CHICKEN!  You have got to be kidding, I thought to myself.

Steak, shrimp and lobster was on my mind.  Bust my bubble, there goes the party!  I helped myself to a shot of cognac that was in a crystal decanter housed in the bar area.  I poured my drink into a rock glass after pulling out the napkin.  Here’s to you, boss!  Good health and wealth and to me and my new job as chauffeur/bodyguard for life.  I had no idea what God planned for me.  Driving all those rich and famous people was beyond my expectations.

After devouring, half a bucket of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, apple pie.  The boss had his fill too!  He handed me a three-inch stack of business cards and dropped me off.  “Yo, call me tomorrow, I might have some work for you,” he said.  “Thanks boss,” I said.  Back at my cheap hotel, The Cecil Hotel on 7th and Main in downtown LA, they said there were ghosts running around in there, but I never saw one!

I looked out the window of my 4th floor room facing Main Street and saw there was a big parking lot filled with StarWagons and a movie production crew.  Security was blocking the driveway.  They were two old, retired motorcycle cops with grey mustaches and grey hair and sunglasses.  This is the first time I had seen a movie crew in public.  I thought of a plan that might work.  Maybe they need limousines for the movie?  There was only one way to find out, so I got myself together, grabbed those business cards the boss gave me and went over there.  I approached the motorcycle cops, who were having a conversation between themselves.  I waited for the right time before interrupting them.  “Excuse me, today is my first day in LA and I just got hired at a limo company and I was just wondering if it’s possible y’all need any limousines for the movie?  Oh sorry, I forgot to introduce myself.  I’m David Hawkins.  I just moved to LA today.”  The retired cop said, “Well, David, I know they need some limos for Saturday, I don’t know if they got ‘em yet so let’s call the transportation captain and ask him.”  The retired cop got on his walkie-talkie and told the transpo captain about the limo service.  Next thing I know a golf cart pulls up and a white guy, longhaired potbelly hippie looking dude said, “Are you the guy with the limo service?”  “Yes sir,” I said.  He said, “How much for four limos, twelve hours each on Saturday night?”  I said, “Hmmmm, let’s call my boss and ask him.”  I pulled out my flip phone.  I said, “Hey George, how much for four limos this Saturday night?  Here, I’ll let you talk to him.”  I passed my phone to the transpo captain.  They worked out a deal in less than five minutes!  “Well, David, you just saved me a bunch of money,” the transpo captain said.  He opened his fanny pack, stuffed with cash, and handed me two twenty-dollar bills.  “Thank you very much.  Hey, what’s the name of the movie?  It was Best of the Best Part II.  I made it to Hollywood with a deal for four limousines in a movie on my first day in LA.  What a blessing that was!

Saturday was a few days away.  The boss asked me if I had a black suit.  I told him I did not.  The next day I went to the Salvation Army on 7th street, a few blocks away from the Greyhound bus station.  I bought a black suit for $25—brand new, shirt and tie included.  I got my (Biscuits) Stacey Adams at a shoe store on 6th and Spring for $120 no tax the Chinese Lady said.  This part of downtown in 1992 was a very undesirable place to be, especially at night.  Dope dealers, dope fiends, crackheads and junkies, pimps and prostitutes, gangsters and gangbangers, robbers and jackers, killers and serial killers, criminals and lowlifes and homeless people.  All in one melting pot from Spring Street to Alameda Street.  I’m not trying to have any of that.  The sun had already set and was getting dark faster because of the skyscrapers blocking sunlight. The freaks came out at night, so it was time to take my happy ass to my room before I got into TROUBLE!  Not the fun kind either.  Every time I get into trouble, I disappear for months, years at a time.  Jail or prison, both!  I’m a good guy, I just make bad decisions sometimes.  The worst decision I ever made in my life would take me 30 minutes to explain.

One week before Christmas 1994 I was working at a white limousine service after being recruited from a Chinese limo service who recruited me from Vogue limo.  I had been working at my new job a few days and loved it.  The owner, Jerry Hunter, was a biker.   He rode his Harley Davidson with long hair, bandana, black leather vest, Levis, a potbelly and beard and mustache.  He didn’t look like the owner of a limo service but what does one look like!  Anyway, the new boss gave me a gas card and told me I could take the car home.  I lived in a new high rise on Bunker Hill, 2555 Grand Avenue.  The swankiest apartments on top of the financial district.  A twenty-seven-story luxury high rise apartment with a full gym, saunas, an Olympic-size pool, large jacuzzi, barbecue pits and gas heaters all around the fake grass outside on the recreation area.  Inside was a huge lounge with flatscreen TV’s, sofas, loveseats, a full kitchen and brown marble-top counters where on Sunday’s, brunch is served with everything you like, pancakes, omelets, scrambled eggs, sausage, turkey and bacon.  Just about all the goodies you would find at IHOP buffet style!  Free to the residents and their families!

My apartment was on the 8th floor overlooking the Hollywood Hills, Dodger Stadium, Chinatown, Olvera Street, The Music Center, The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Anmanson Theater and the New Disney Concert Hall.  All set right outside my window.  If you looked straight down the huge recreation area was a creation by itself.  At night the grounds were lit up.  The pool and jacuzzi were also lit up!  The view was spectacular.

The lobby floors were marble brown with inlaid gold veins with a security desk and monitors on the right and two elevators, one on the far left and one on the right next to the mailboxes.  There were double glass doors to the right that lead to the parking garage and double doors to the left that lead to the restaurant Koo-koo-koo’s Chicken Spot.  My favorite was the three-piece chicken meal, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and gravy, large root beer and sweet potato pie.  If I didn’t have that, Chinatown was only a mile away.  I have eaten at ten different Chinese restaurants over there and I do have my favorites picked.  My favorite dish is fillet of fish with black bean sauce, steamed white rice, hot teapot and orange slices.  I also like the fillet of fish with steamed vegetables.  I have a short story about how I met Lucy Liu and how we relate to each other—30 pages—to be continued.

I also worked at the biggest black-owned company in Los Angeles called The Jackson Limousine Service from January 1995-August 2008.  All Jackson’s clients were celebrities and legends.  Some of the most famous people in the world were riding in the backseat of my town car or limo.  I couldn’t believe it was happening.  I have been a big fan of Stevie Wonder since I was a kid and now, I was pulling up to his recording studio on Western Avenue every week in a stretch limousine to give him and his keyboards a ride to the airport or church or home in Calabasas.  His church was Church of God in Christ on Crenshaw Boulevard.  Every time Stevie Wonder, Steveland Morris is his real name, called the office he would ask to send me, and the owner would call me into the office, and he would say, “I have a job for you!”  I would run to the driver’s quarters in the back of the office and change into my Men in Black suit, black Ray Bans and black Stacey Adams shoes!  Mr. Jackson handed me the keys to the white limo and a bottle of champagne and a bucket of ice.  I have done this routine thousands of times for every client of Jackson Limousines.  Word must have gotten around that Jackson has a new limo driver because the office was calling me three or four times every day to pick up the biggest stars in the universe day and night for many years back-to-back.  I eventually moved in because I was in popular demand.

To be continued …?