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White-Glove Treatment: Learning to be a Rolls-Royce Chauffeur

Automobile logo Automobile 2015-10-22 The Manufacturer, Steven Cole Smith
White-Glove Treatment: Learning to be a Rolls-Royce Chauffeur

With shame I look down at my shoes, canvas Skechers, gray slip-ons, identical to the pair Ringo Starr, a 75-year-old drummer for a popular rock band in the 1960s, is wearing in a full-page ad for the brand.

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Rather than completely blame my incompetence, Rolls-Royce White Glove chauffeur trainer David Hughes throws me a bone when he suggests my footwear, specifically the thick rubber soles, are partly at fault. The proper footwear for a Rolls-Royce chauffeur, as we all know, is something shiny and black. But the sole, he said, must be leather and no more than a half-inch thick.

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“That gives you the best possible feel for the accelerator and brake pedals,” he says.

We are in Las Vegas, and Rolls-Royce has invited us on a peculiar two-prong program: With a couple of nights at the Wynn Las Vegas, we sniff the rarefied air of those who might get chauffeured around town in one of the dozen Rolls-Royce Phantoms the hotel maintains for the use of its guests. Or some of its guests.

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The other prong of the program: We learn what is required and expected of those who chauffeur those debutantes and dignitaries. There is a lot to it.

So I am on my best behavior as I drive Hughes around town as he sits, uneasily, in the rear seat. That said, it is hard to be uneasy in a new Phantom. With all the cubic yards of leather, it smells like heaven. Or heaven to a carnivore; vegan heaven probably smells like flax or something. It is bank-vault quiet inside, and the seats feel as though they were sculptured with your exact ass in mind.

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There’s a 453-horsepower, 6.7-liter V-12 under the hood, but as I learn when a relieved Hughes is back in the driver’s seat, it’s about 353 horsepower more than you need. This relates directly to my central transgression behind the wheel: “Too jerky. You approach stops too quickly and accelerate away too quickly.”

Really? I’m dumbfounded. I have never approached and accelerated away so gradually, stopped so smoothly, turned with such a broad arc.

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Not enough, I learn. As we near a red light, Hughes begins to slow from our 40 mph top speed so far back that I’m afraid we’ll be rear-ended by a Vegas taxi. He accelerates so gradually it’s almost imperceptible. I’m reminded of those stoned teen years where you start slowing 600 yards before the red light, which turns green, then red, then green, then red again by the time you arrive. How, I wonder, do Rolls-Royce passengers actually get anywhere on time?

I am reminded: The event doesn’t really start until the Phantom passengers arrive.

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Much of what it takes to be a Rolls-Royce chauffeur is Boy Scout-era common sense: Be clean, polite, and don’t argue with the customer. Know when, and when not to, make eye contact with your passenger. (If it’s Diana Ross, never.) And never walk around the front of the car, as it would be disrespectful to the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, which is apparently wired to report back immediately to Rolls-Royce Central if you do.

Hughes says you develop the sort of self-preservationist personality necessary for a long career. You learn to say, perhaps, a noncommittal, “You make an excellent point, sir, and I promise I’ll give it some thought,” as opposed to, “Certainly I’ll vote for you, Mr. Trump, but I must ask you to remove the bumper sticker.”

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More to the point, Hughes admits that a chauffeur’s conduct might be different if he actually works for the rich person who owns the Phantom, as opposed to, say, working for the Wynn, driving one of its cars. If a celebrity was smoking crack in the back seat of a Wynn Rolls-Royce, Hughes said his response would be, “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but the Wynn discourages smoking in the car, so I must ask you to extinguish that.”

If the celebrity wants to smoke crack in his own Rolls-Royce, well, that’s between the chauffer and his maker, and by maker, I mean Rolls-Royce. “I tend to make decisions on how I will proceed based on how I would imagine the police report might read,” Hughes says.

As you would suspect, Hughes is the soul of discretion, but fortunately, other Las Vegas chauffeurs aren’t. We learn that the Wynn Las Vegas is still the top hotel “because it’s so un-cool that it’s cool again. It’s where everybody who is anybody stays.” And we learn that, bar none, NBA players make the worst passengers. “Kids come up from nothing and get paid millions of dollars before they’re old enough to drink, and they instantly forget where they came from.”

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Yes, well. We learned a lot in Las Vegas, and clearly what we learn in Vegas doesn’t really stay in Vegas. Hughes is friendly when we part, but both he and I know my invitation to join the White Glove program will get lost in the mail. I leave the way I came: In the rear seat of a Lincoln Town Car. The ignominy! I feel like a spurned suitor from “The Bachelorette” who didn’t get a rose. It makes me want to walk in front of the Spirit of Ecstasy, but I just can’t.

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