Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young partygoers rave over new Hummer limo

'It's unbelievable. It's awesome. It rocks. Woo-hoo'

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A van was blocking the circular driveway at the Stamford Marriott in Connecticut as the bridegroom, Colin Arsenault, and his groomsmen climbed aboard the 28-foot-long, 22-passenger Hummer H2 limousine that would carry them to the wedding in Fairfield. "No problem," someone said. "Just drive over it."

The marriage of the H2, the country's most popular urban assault vehicle, and the formal limousine has taken the livery business by storm, especially for young partygoers steeped in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and desert war footage.

Although in limo form it gets less than eight miles to the gallon and is a particularly ripe target for environmentalists' anti-SUV ire (including the Sierra Club's new site at www.hummerdinger.com), it is the urban ride of choice for sports heroes, rappers, movie stars and the suburban teenagers who see them as trendsetters.

In the 2002 movie "Juwanna Mann," a Hummer limo represented the height of automotive achievement for a pro basketball player. R. Kelly's video for the remix of "Ignition" featured a party taking place inside a stretch Hummer.

Jason Kirschner, who has a Hummer in his fleet at New York Limousine in Island Park, N.Y., has had his own brush with celebrity. "I got a call about the Hummer from some people representing the group Kiss," he said. "But they ended up renting a limo with a hot tub instead."

Celebrations in stretch Hummers, with their capacity for so many partygoers, have occasionally gotten out of hand. In April, Cincinnati police investigated a shooting inside an H2 limousine carrying 18 people to a birthday party. In 2002, three people were wounded in Los Angeles in another birthday melee involving a stretch Hummer.

Renting a Hummer limo can cost $150 an hour or more, compared with $85 an hour for a traditional eight-passenger limo, according to Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation magazine. But for red-letter events like weddings and bachelor parties, the price is no barrier. Tom Mazza, the director of the National Limousine Association and an author of "Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine" (Society of Automotive Engineers, 2002), said Hummers are "a symbol" to young people who see celebrities using them. "The kids can strut their stuff and feel big and powerful," he added.

Arsenault, 28, and his bride, Jennifer Sliva, 27, had different reasons for wanting a Hummer. "We didn't want a traditional limo or party bus," she said. "We thought it would be hilarious and fun."

The couple, both financial analysts who live in Boston, rented their H2 from Michael's Limousine Service in Greenwich, Conn. The owner, Michael Vitte, said he had two more H2's on order, one of which will be Kiss-friendly, with a hot tub in the back.

The long, long white Hummer carrying Arsenault and his party was definitely not military issue. Given its 200-inch stretch -- that's 16-plus feet added between the axles -- this unlikely vehicle could not navigate a tall speed bump, let alone an off-road challenge. As compensation, there were luxury amenities, including a flat-screen monitor and a DVD player, a high-end stereo, lava lamps, a fake fireplace, mirrored ceilings, strobe and laser lights, a bar and even a smoke machine.

"Can you turn on the smoke?" asked Ryan Kane, 28, one of the celebrators.

"Sorry, it needs to be recharged," replied Fred Kuang, 32, who has been driving the stretch Hummer since April.

The groomsmen absorbed this information good-naturedly and turned to the Budweiser and Sam Adams Light they had brought aboard, opening the bottles with a seat-belt buckle.

A request to play Grand Theft Auto on the Sony PlayStation was also thwarted. "The games were all stolen during prom season," Kuang said.

The Hummer H2 is far more civilized than the untamed H1, and the limousine version was relatively quiet. Expansion joints on Interstate 95 produced only a muted thrumming.

Kane volunteered that Arsenault and Sliva dated all through a long separation, he in Boston and she in California. "That's dedication," he said, "That's true love."

The H2 glided to the curb in front of St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church in downtown Fairfield, its vast white bulk attracting a horde of photographers. "Don't open the doors yet," the groomsmen cried. "We're pounding beers back here."

James Checo, the sales manager of Royal Coach by Victor in Orange, Calif., said that the company can't stretch enough Hummers to keep up with demand. "It's the hottest new toy," he said. "We've done 40 of them. It started as a Southern California and New York thing, but now it's moving into the smaller towns and the Midwest."

Some say the stretch Hummer first appeared in Las Vegas. Scott Petway, who owns Travelnice.com, which operates a 20-passenger Hummer in Las Vegas, said there are eight to 10 stretch H2's there, usually used by would-be high rollers.

After dropping the groomsmen at the church, the big white Hummer H2 ventured to suburban Fairfield to pick up the bride and bridesmaids. The streets were narrow, forcing Kuang to think twice before taking some turns. "I once had to back it up three miles," he said.

Neighbours in shorts stood open-mouthed on their lawns when the H2 finally arrived. It drew enthusiastic responses from the bride and her attendants: "It's unbelievable. It's awesome. It rocks. Woo-hoo."

--New York Times News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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