Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Getting around town

Caught in a downpour outside Pierluigi restaurant in Rome. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018. It started out sunny, very hot and humid yesterday, with temps in the high 80s and Real Feel around 100. Around two, you could see a very dark, heavy blue-grey cloud approaching in the western sky. Within a half hour it was upon us, and around 2:30 it started to rain. Then it poured, and then it was torrential for a good hour. By 4:30, the temp had dropped almost 20 degrees and it was still raining. Thankfully. It turns out it was pouring in Rome, too.

Getting around New York. The city is summer quiet. Moving around you see more of it, reminding you of why it is so special. My main mode of transportation is auto or subway. The subways are a hike from my far eastern avenue, although they’re accessible by crosstown bus. But they’re useless time-wise to me if I have to be somewhere. I love the new Q line, however. It’s a six-minute walk from my apartment. It’s bright and airy, new and beautifully maintained. And clean. It even has Chuck Close portraits sparsely but evenly placed along its white tile walls. And I really love it because it’s an 8 minute ride from 83rd and Second Avenue to 57th and Seventh Avenue, with an exit on 55th and 7th, just a quick two blocks from Michael’s restaurant.
Lou Reed & Chuck Close portraits at the 86th St. stop (photo courtesy The MTA)
I take cabs if I can’t drive someplace myself. I don’t use any of the “new” cabs (i.e. Uber, Juno, etc.), but prefer the yellow taxis. They’re faster and I get to chat with a fellow New Yorker from all over the globe and hear about interesting, often productive, men and (some) women from all walks of life, taking in New York New York.

Whenever time allows and it makes sense, I drive my little black Mini-Cooper convertible with the brown top because it’s my mini-taste of luxury in New York. This is my treasure, my luxury. Every time I see it in the street (waiting for me), I get that little jolt of excitement, like I did as a kid coming downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing the Radio Flyer sled was under the tree.
My prized transportation, small, fast, efficient and very comfortable even for four dogs.
However, if I could afford it (and I can’t), when making my evening rounds, I’d hire a limo for the convenience. I know people who have their own car and driver, and a lot who hire a service if they’re going out for the evening or making a special jaunt if even to the airport. It is a convenience, and an ordinary one in the city

There is a limousine service that has long fascinated me (and my curiosity) — Abt Limousine Service. The first time I saw the red Cadillac (their trademark) with the license plate ABT 1, etc., I’d been curious. I thought it might be a reference to the American Ballet Theatre (known to many as ABT). Or might it be an individual with those initials. Then one night a friend who regularly uses their services sent it to fetch me for an evening we were sharing.

Their Irish born mother Deborah C. Abt who, when her husband died prematurely in 1967, saved the business with her sons at the wheel while she would work the phones.
It was started in 1948 by a man named George Abt, and 70 years later it’s flourishing. The original George Abt — his son and grandson carry his name — died at 55 in 1967. His Irish born wife Deborah who had long worked the phones for him (from home) and kept the business records took over, and with her two sons, George and Walter continued the business.

This was an authentic Mom and Pop; but in New York City where no matter how much mom and pop there is, you’re at the center of the world where you better know what you’re doing if you want to survive. Mother Deborah took the cars, built up a relationship with the clientele, and kept her boys busy. It turned out to be a fortuitous time for the limousine business. The Depression and then the Second World War changed the “domestics” business forever. Many who had the means had had their own drivers and cars. By the late 1940s it was more practical (financially as well) to “rent.”

Today the business continues, owned by the two brothers, now semi-retired. From the early days, because of their personal interest in horses, the brothers Abt cornered the business with the clientele, horse owners, who came to New York every year for the Belmont Stakes. From all over America, they still book their time well in advance with ABT. It was once said that you couldn’t get a job driving for ABT if you didn’t like horses.

The brothers Abt, Walter and George Sr., sons of the founder, also named George Abt.
Most of the cars are Cadillac sedans, a dark mauvy red. The first few times I saw them I thought it was someone’s personal car and driver because it looks that way. ABT drivers wear business suits and ties. If you didn’t know you could think they were someone’s executive assistant or personal security man.

Several years ago, one came to pick me up, ordered by a woman friend of mine with whom I was going to the theatre. It’s like riding in your personal chauffeur driven car.

I should add that my father was a private chauffeur here in New York when he was a young man in the 1920s and '30s before I was born. He was very proud of his work, the cars he drove and his bosses. He loved it and would talk about it as an adventure. The idea of a limousine to this kid was about the people who drove and who rode. Being in an ABT car evokes all that for me because it is comfortable, perfectly appointed and delivered, and it is naturally done for you. There’s almost a sense of the “private club” in terms of clientele.

The red color of the cars originated in the 1960s when Cadillac came out with a maroon and encouraged the Abts to acquire them to give them a bit of a sophisticated edge over the regular black. A few years later, Cadillac pulled the color and came up with the “red” in use now.
George Abt Jr. standing by one of the firm's 7 red Cadillacs. Their fleet also includes a maroon Mercedes and Jaguar, 1 silver Mercedes, and 3 Escalades.
The fleet consists of seven red Cadillacs, maroon Jaguar and Mercedes, an ivory Mercedes and three Escalades. The red is popular because clients “can see it” day or night in a sea of shiny black when emerging from theater, the opera, a gala, restaurant, or a big dinner party.

Back in May one night I went with a friend to the opening of the documentary “Always At the Carlyle” at the Paris Theater. She sent her car — an ABT Cadillac to pick me up. The driver, George Abt Jr., now the main man in the company (his wife Pauline and sister Patricia and are in charge of the phones and the books in the same way his grandmother was; George insists the business could not exist without Pauline and Patricia). I learned that this very refined private limousine service was basically a Mom-N-Pop organization, 70 years young.
George inspecting DPC in his Mini Cooper.
That night of the “Carlyle” premiere, I was driven home by George and got into a conversation about his work, explaining that as a child I was made familiar with it through my father. I was curious to learn what it was like for him. George’s experience and my father’s experience were similar. They love their work. Humanity is humanity.

Seven decades later, ABT is now on their second and even third generation of clients. Those who are driven to and from the office daily; women running errands around town, or off to a lunch or event; children ferried to school every day (one client has four being delivered to their schools daily). There are Racetrack Horse owner clients. And those who need to be driven to their aeries Hamptons, or to Newport, or Maine. When you’re in their care, you almost feel like a secure child.

Abt Limousine Service

Contact DPC here.