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Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur's Tale of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness on Rodeo Drive (Anglais) Broché – 22 octobre 2013

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Driving the Saudis


The $100 Million Pickup

The drivers were sent to pick up the family and the entourage in the middle of the night. No one was there. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was hushed, practically shut down. I’d been there dozens of times before, but I’d never seen it like that; it was spooky. Even the light seemed different, as if all the exterior fixtures had been gelled and dimmed to create an ominous orange haze.

Everything was quiet but I was not. I was way revved up, like a Ferrari at a race start. I felt as if I was in the middle of a $100 million movie set filming an international thriller. Just as on a movie set, our instructions had been minimal and information was scarce, as well as constantly changing. Everybody was silent as if cameras were rolling, but this wasn’t a film shoot. This was real.

The head security officer said the Saudi royal family wanted their arrival at the airport to be low key, but we had pulled into the airport with at least forty vehicles—Lincoln Navigators, Cadillac Escalades, Porsche Cayennes, bulletproof armored Mercedes-Benz S600s (the big boys), and even a couple of $300,000 Bentleys—all black, with full-on black tinted windows, and we snaked through the horseshoe-shaped airport in a tight convoy as if we owned the place. I’d never driven before in a caravan of so many cars and it was forceful. We had several LAX police escorts, but they didn’t have their bubbles flashing. Even so, we were not low key. We were impressive.

Fausto, the lead driver, waved at us to park along the curb, put our flashers on, and wait. Our windows were open and I could see that many of the other drivers looked as nervous as I felt, their foreheads glistening with beads of perspiration. Our eyes darted about maniacally, trying to follow the torrent of commotion around us; every now and then a driver would wipe sweat off his brow or pull at his collar.

We drivers were told that the Saudi consul and his staff were in attendance to usher the passengers through customs. Since no one spoke to us, we had no idea who was who, but I presumed that the group of men in sharp suits, talking in low tones among themselves just ahead of the convoy at the entrance to the Bradley International Terminal, were from the consul’s office. A cadre of serious-looking Saudi Army officers in khakis came out first and conferred with the consulate staff assigned to greet the family. Several linebacker-sized men in civvies strutted about, stepping away from the gathered men to bark instructions on Nextel radios.

As I looked down our line of sedans, SUVs, and luxury vehicles, my eyes tracked the large assembly of black-suited drivers and armed security personnel attending the family. I was the only woman.

We had started work at noon and then waited around for several hours for the cars to be made available from various Beverly Hills rental agencies. We then made sure they were carefully detailed, inside and out, and provisioned with water—Fiji water only—and assorted snacks and goodies that the Saudis might request. Some of us had a prior list of what we should be buying for the family member we’d be driving, such as Mentos or Ritz crackers, but we had all stocked up on breath mints and tissues.

Most of us had been working nonstop all day prepping the cars and running errands for the family’s security; it didn’t look as if we’d be getting a meal break anytime soon, and it was now late evening. I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, and hopped-up nerves had made my throat sandy from thirst. I had stocked my car with the required designer water, placing the pint-sized bottles in each of the cup holders and several more in the pockets behind the front seats along with crisp current copies of LA Confidential, 90210, and Angeleno magazines. When I saw that most of the other drivers had gotten out of their cars and were making cell phone calls, tugging at their pants, and lighting cigarettes, I retrieved one of the extra bottles from the trunk of my car and choked down a few sips of the fancy water. It was hot, car hot. It tasted like it could be LA River water. I made a mental note to start carrying an iced cooler in the trunk as I’d seen other drivers do.

My stomach churned from hunger. I took another sip of the car-hot water and popped a few Altoids.

I’d never met any members of a royal family before, so I was keen to know what they might be like and to see if they were really all that different from me. Were they smarter? Were they prettier? Were they happier? Would they like me?

It was an unusually warm July evening, and by this time we had been waiting several hours for the family to arrive. I felt as if I was burning up and clammy at the same time. I had so wanted to make a good impression on the royals, and now that seemed lost for good. As I picked up the acrid scent of wet wool wafting up from the inside of my jacket, it was apparent that the eau de toilette I had spritzed on in the morning was now gone, long gone. I had chewed all my lipstick off hours ago, my feet were pink and screaming in the stiff new stacked heels I had just bought for the job, and the silk lining of my black suit was sticking to me like a wet bathing suit. I wriggled around and shook out my legs. I felt like a snake trying to shed its old skin. Every now and then I’d surreptitiously pluck at my suit to put some air between my skin and the lining. I hoped no one noticed.

The drivers had been told to wear black suits to the airport but thereafter could dress in more casual clothes. I was instructed to make sure that my arms and legs were completely covered at all times and that my neckline was never low cut or revealing, but the male drivers could dress more freely and were permitted to wear polo shirts and shorts. I did not have to cover my hair. I was relieved when I was told that; I have copious amounts of curly dark-blond hair, and wrestling it into some kind of contained state can be something akin to an extreme sport, especially in the blazing California summer weather, when it’s particularly unruly. Fingers, toes, even a champagne cork or two have been known to get stuck in it. Tearing a rotator cuff trying to get it under control after a wild night is not out of the question.

The family had actually arrived a short while before at a fixed base operation (FBO), a half-mile south of LAX, in their private plane. FBO is aviation parlance for a private airport. If you’re Oprah in her Gulf-stream G500 that seats eight, then you land at one of the FBOs operating out of the cozy Santa Monica private airport 10 miles north up the road. If you’re John Travolta in his Boeing 707, or a head of state, or members of the Saudi royal family, then you must land at FBOs such as the ones near LAX, where the big jet planes come in on the 2- and 3-mile-long runways that can accommodate them. Jets cover a lot of distance taking off and even more on landing.

I’d been inside this FBO’s plush reception area before on several past jobs when waiting for clients. It was a first-class lounge, and I knew it offered warm saucer-sized chocolate chip cookies, cool drinks, and refreshing ionized conditioned air, but it was off-limits on this pickup. Clearly no one wanted us to be comfortable.

All the drivers had waited in the heavily secured FBO parking lot lined up at attention and watched through a 16-foot-high chain-link and barbed-wired fence as the Saudi royal family’s plane descended. The jet’s tail had the distinctive gold and blue logo—crossed scimitars above a date palm tree—that I knew to belong to Saudi Arabian Airlines, owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Just as the jet’s engines shut down, several luxury coach buses pulled up and parked at the base of the air stairs truck on the tarmac. The passengers exiting the plane piled in them and then drove off across the airport tarmac in the direction of the Bradley International Terminal at LAX within view of us one-half mile northwest of the FBO.

We drivers looked at each other in confusion, then we looked around for Fausto to tell us what to do but he had disappeared with the family in the first coach. We didn’t know whether we should wait or follow him and the passengers to the Bradley Terminal via surface streets. We thought that we’d be picking up the Saudis at the FBO and driving them back to the hotel, but they had taken off in the buses instead of in our cars. No one had said that this might be a possibility. We had no idea what to do.

After a few tense moments, one of the royal family’s security personnel shouted at us to get moving. We jumped in our cars and took off, jockeying to get in position to exit as quickly as we could, but we didn’t know where we were supposed to go. Just as we were leaving the gated parking lot, another security guy pulled us back. “No! Wait here! Stay in your cars! Just be ready!” he said. So we waited, engines running. Several of the first cars out had to be tracked down and brought back in line. Everyone was rattled.

Ten minutes later we were told to get on the move again and then abruptly stopped a second time. Now we were totally confused. We were supposed to be a smooth, efficient, and highly professional group, but this pickup was completely disorganized and chaotic; it was a mess. I chewed at a hangnail on my thumb until it bled and then sat on my hands to stop the carnage. I haven’t chewed on my nails since I was nine, and I didn’t want to start again.

I come from a big family—my immediate circle includes ten children, fifteen grandchildren, with perhaps more on the way, and two great-grandchildren with the statistical probability of at least ten more—and I am accustomed to chaos. Thanksgiving is bedlam, Christmas is pandemonium, weddings are free-for-alls and funerals are a bust, especially if there’s a dispute about how or where cremated ashes are to be scattered. I grew up in a cacophony of passionate voices demanding this, commandeering that, negotiating whatever and everything—all at top volume and top speed, often in the middle of the night and through the night. One of my brothers built a 16-foot canoe by hand in his bedroom when he was sixteen, realized it wouldn’t fit through the door, hauled it out the window after removing the window frame, and then had the balls to take it down the Raritan River in New Jersey—so I’ve had a deep and lasting relationship with chaos. Even so, this was unsettling.

Finally, I released my hands and called my chauffeur friend Sami on my cell phone. He was driving one of the Lincoln Navigators in the line ahead of me. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“They’re going through customs at Bradley,” he said. “It never takes long.”

“Are you kidding? That could take hours,” I said.

“Not for them, chica,” he said.

Just then, another security guy came tearing out of the FBO waving his arms frantically like a semaphore signalman on an acid trip. “Go! Go! Go to Bradley!” he yelled. After a few unsure moments, we gunned our cars and raced to LAX up the road. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

"Larson reveals herself to be an articulate and observant writer. She balances colorful tales of excess with musings on women’s roles, and accounts of bad behavior with consideration of the reasons behind it... There’s plenty of fascinating insider info, too, about the job, her charges (Saudi and otherwise), and Los Angeles." (Publishers Weekly)

No one, including the author herself, escapes Larson's witty scrutiny. Sharp-eyed and humane.” (Kirkus)

"[This] book has a Lives of the Rich and Famous feel about it, but it’s not all about the money and the people who spent it (sometimes in utterly staggering quantities). In addition to the money, there’s some sentiment here, too, as the author comes to know these people, who seem to come from another world, and learns they aren’t so different, after all." (Booklist)

“Driving the Saudis is an entertaining, fast-paced read. As someone who has traveled with the Saudi royal family, I can confirm that Jayne Larson provides an amazingly accurate account. So if you want to take a ride with royalty without leaving the comfort of home, read this book.” (Jean Sasson New York Times bestselling author Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia)

"Jayne Amelia Larson spent seven weeks with the .001% and returned with an astonishingly rich story to tell. Honest, compassionate, and deeply entertaining, Driving the Saudis is the story of a woman trying to support her dreams, make a few bucks, and keep a gaggle of pampered princesses happy without losing her mind (or her perspective) in the process." (Suzanne Morrison author of Yoga Bitch)

"Unlike most snappy memoirs about working as a temporary chauffeur for some of the richest people in the world, Driving the Saudis not only contains hilarious detail and horrifying excesses, but also serious social insight and moments of pure heartbreak. In her compulsively readable story, Larson has created memorable portraits of two cultures: theirs and ours." —Jim Krusoe, Parsifal

"A stolen glimpse into the world's most important and intriguing family. A wonderful book, wonderfully written." (Robert Baer author of New York Times bestselling Sleeping with the Devil and The Company We Keep)

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x99f6dec4) étoiles sur 5 209 commentaires
77 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9a203810) étoiles sur 5 Chauffeur Conducts a Crash Course in Culture Clash 16 octobre 2012
Par takingadayoff - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
For seven intense weeks, Jayne Amelia Larson chauffeured members of the Saudi royal family and their entourage around Beverly Hills. Working as an actor and film producer had left Larson in debt and she needed money fast. She started moonlighting as a chauffeur and then the Saudi gig came up, with promises of a big payout. Larson put in many sixteen hour days with few breaks. She was only in it for the money, she kept reminding herself. And that was appropriate, since the Saudis seemed to be even more about money than Americans are.

Larson immediately noticed the pecking order among the servants, in which a nanny outranks a maid, and nearly everyone outranks a driver, especially if she's a woman. Many of the royals barely acknowledged her, while others were polite, but never forgot or let Larson forget, their relative status. Still, it seemed ironic that the Saudi women should see her as an underling - in their own country, they were not allowed to vote, drive, go out without being fully covered or without a male relative as escort. In America, at least they could dress as they liked. The Saudi women spent their days in America shopping and getting plastic surgery.

Driving the Saudis started slow, and I thought it was going to be a name-dropping, brand-name studded tale of the rich and fabulous, but it quickly turned into a more complex narrative. Larson's job interview consisted of little more than determining if she was "a Jew." She was surprised to discover that all the servants had their passports confiscated by their employers, to preclude their leaving, which meant they were effectively slaves. She just kept reminding herself, it's only for seven weeks and I'm only doing it for the money.

Larson connected most with the nannies and servants - when she introduced them to the 99¢ Only Store, they were ecstatic. They enjoyed examining the various items and stocked up on things they thought they could use. Occasionally they misidentified an item, such as when Larson pointed out that the case of Spam they had loaded into their cart was made of pork. "Oh, no! This is forbidden. We must not to enjoy the Spam!"

Larson portrays the Saudi royals as a diverse bunch. Some had been well-educated - she talked philosophy with a young woman who had been going to college at UC Berkeley (Larson had earned two Ivy League degrees) and they were well-traveled. Some were spoiled and shallow, others were polite and diplomatic. The servants were also a mixed bag, some snubbing her, others helping her and showing concern over her apparent lack of a husband.

Larson found that extreme wealth kept pesky rules about speed limits and indentured servitude from affecting the Saudis. At the end of the exhausting assignment, she also discovered that even as an American, she was affected by their medieval beliefs about the status of women. And that she, to her surprise, and like most of us at some time in our lives, was not above trading dignity for the promise of money.
24 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9a203960) étoiles sur 5 Observations With Empathy 18 octobre 2012
Par Ozmatoo - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
While seeking to offset the financial plight faced by many "starving actors", author and playwright, Jayne Amelia Larson, chose a temporary chauffeuring job that might have buried the average person under the weight of culture shock and sudden demotion to the role of "second class" human being.

In the hands of someone less skilled this tale could have been easily turned into a tabloid style memoir, but instead Larson presents us with a wealth of fascinating anecdotes combined with insightful writing skills.

Clearly, the balance of Jayne Amelia Larson's empathy and intellect over-rides what might have otherwise been a judgmental account, and leaves the reader with a richly layered portrait of a world few of us will ever witness. The end result is a book that's impossible to put down, and an ultimately balanced and satisfying reading experience. --Ozmatoo, (Beverly Hills resident & patron of the .99-cent store)
16 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9a2038d0) étoiles sur 5 Insightful Inside Look at the Royal Family 3 novembre 2012
Par M. H. Bayliss - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I was expecting much more of a low brow People magazine read but was delighted to find the observations (and the writing) much more nuanced and insightful. Sure, it would have been easy just to write a tell-all that dissed the royal Saudi family (I mean, how unflattering could the passage about killing all the Jews be??? And this was after we got to know one of the more sympathetic characters and then we realize anyone from the servants to the Royals feel that once the Jews are dead, there will be peace, Inshallah ?!). Plus we wait the whole book for her big pay off (the $20,000 tip she has been waiting for) and as you might imagine, that doesn't quite happen thanks to the lowly status of working women. The details make this book a pleasure to read - with a keen eye for relationships, cultural mores and foibles, the author takes on a front row center tour of how the Saudi princesses shop (and do they SHOP!), get cosmetic surgery and have the entire US government and police force wrapped around their oil soaked fingers. Read in the context of 9/11, it's a bit shocking that the Crown Vics that take the royals around for 7 weeks have more diplomatic immunity than any ambassador. While the book's contents are outrageous, the author helps us see compassion and the good side of at least some of the people she's charged with protecting. I'm still hung up on the extreme version of anti semitism (I doubt even the most right wing Jews would wish death and destruction upon the entire Arab nation/people thinking that would bring peace!) but again, the author handles even the most bigoted thoughts with grace so you can at least see where they originate. I came away thinking less of the royals than before but very highly of how the author navigates this complex maze of servitude and palace intrigue. A first rate read!
20 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9a2037c8) étoiles sur 5 Learning to take of herself, herself. 30 octobre 2012
Par Amelia Gremelspacher - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Unexpectedly, in catering to the every need of the world's wealthiest family, Jayne Amelia learns to take of herself herself. As a woman, Jayne's chauffeur duties are limited to the women, and to one lone hairdresser. She witnesses a life of untold luxury and at first finds herself striving to be the best driver in a contest that has no winner. Another driver tells her to take care of herself, herself.
Even with this advise, she performs a job of 24 hour on call service for seven weeks at a set price. She is exhausted, losing health and weight and even at less than full speed, the job has taken all her reserves. The finish line is the promised fabulous tip well known to all who cater to the Saudis.
This book avoids being a rich, richer, richest tell all as she gets to know some of her clients better and develops a deeper relatioship to other servants in their employ. SHe comes to see that the servant class lives permanently in the world of exhausted work, even in the sweet smelling luxury suites. She becomes inured to the sheer hysteria of huge amounts of luxury goods bought compulsively and shares the astounding figure that the Saudis consume 75% of couture items world wide.
In the end she sees the endlessly prohibitive existence of even the richest woman of the family and sees the underside of the floating world of consumption.
She does end the book with real affection toward many of her employers and co-workers, but is deeply disenchanted. One wonders what the ramifications are for the women who opened their hearts to her. This book is sure to have been read in Saudi Arabia.
Overall, this is a fascinating book that gives us a peak into a different world. (and if you know me, this is a big commendation in a book.)
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9a203c60) étoiles sur 5 A fun intro into the life of the Saudis 27 octobre 2012
Par Joann Blackburn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
An easy read which I am going to Christmas gift to family members who have been reluctant to learn more about Islam and middle-eastern cultures. As a chauffeur to teen-age Saudi girls visiting Los Angeles, the author uses a "People-magazine-approach" in describing not only her duties and challenges in this work assignment, but her background in the entertainment industry and how she came to need this job; also, the world of "drivers-for-hire". But she is also thoughtful, emphathetic, and in the end retrospective as she notes the class structure of the family and the role of their servants. Long hours, little pay, and confiscation of their passports make them really captive; at least a couple do escape and run away while on this trip. Book appropriate for teens and young adults, as well as older adults who enjoy a fun, quick, thought-provoking read.
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