There's no turning back with a 9m stretch Hummer limousine
U-turns aren't an option when you're in the hot seat of 15-seater stretch Hummer limousine, so driver David Oliver makes sure he knows exactly where he's going before he sets out on a job.
The nine metre long, 5000 kilo monster vehicles, more at home on the strip in Las Vegas, than on Wellington's notoriously narrow winding streets, are not as intimidating to drive as they seem, he says.
That is, at least once you get used to them.
"The first time I ever drove this car, I thought, 'whoa this is big'. And it wasn't so much the length, it was even looking over the bonnet of the car. It's huge, it's like a big truck."
Unlike a big truck, however, the Hummers have terrible turning circles, Oliver says.
"Even a big truck can do a U-ie. I can't do a U-ie in this car. It's not possible.
"We don't do three point turns, we do 20 point turns in a car like this."
Oliver has been driving the Limo Club's two H2 Hummers, one pink, the other black, and their nine seater Chrysler 300c series stretch limousine around the capital for a year.
A long-time Wellington DJ, Oliver says driving limos keeps him in the entertainment business.
"Entertaining people is what I do here, so I really like it. You meet lots and lots of different people."
Intent on putting clients at ease when they step into the rear lounge of one of the limos, he tells them, 'you can do anything you like, but there's no dancing on the seats'."
It breaks the ice, he says, and allows his passengers to relax and enjoy the ride.
Oliver, who has driven trucks and taxis in the past, says the key to driving the limos is being aware of your surroundings and keeping your wits about you.
"You have to be aware all the time, and I mean all the time of what's around you because you just can't drive it down the street without knowing what is actually down that street. If you are not aware of your surroundings, you will get stuck very easily."
If he's called to a job in an area he's not familiar with, Oliver will often do a recce in his van first. If the client lives in a dead end street, he'll reverse the limo up the street rather than risk having to do a 20 point turn to get back out again.
For the passengers in the back, the journey to a 21st celebration, a birthday party, or a restaurant, may seem unrehearsed. In fact, it's anything but, with Oliver well versed in the best places to stop when there's the inevitable call for a bottle of bubbly or a bathroom stop.
"People often like to stop at a liquor store, so I have my favourite ones that I go to. I know where all the bathrooms are. It's far better to be able to stop in a controlled manner, rather than them saying, 'stop here'."
There's no way of reversing a stretch limo into a parallel park, so Oliver often ends up simply stopping in the road and blocking traffic.
"There's not a lot of places I can park. I have to just stop wherever I stop and that's the end of that. Most people are okay with that, they can see that I'm in a big vehicle. I can't just park up in the gutter."
The Chrysler is the easiest of the stretch limos to drive although it poses its own challenges, sitting only 50mm off the ground when fully loaded, making speed humps a particular challenge.
Oliver has developed his own technique to deal with the problem, approaching on an angle rather than head on.
"It doesn't always work, but it minimises the damage," he smiles.
Oliver has only had one minor mishap while driving a limo, scraping the protective bar on the side of one of the Hummers along a low concrete bollard while chauffeuring for a wedding in Palmerston North.
Out on the road, other drivers give him a wide berth, he says, especially when he's driving a Hummer.
"They are big and they look expensive and they don't want to crash into one, so even if I am a bad driver, which I don't think I am, I don't think someone wants to prang into one of these.
"They don't want to be known as the person that smacked into the Limo."