Tales from the limo: no ‘stretch’ of truth
by Marsha Kay Seff
Aug 15, 2012 | 78933 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Russ Van Huizum, owner of Top Dog Limo Bus in Pacific Beach, prepares to take guests from the Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge off for a day at the Del Mar Racetrack.    
                                                                                                Photos by Marsha Kay Seff I Beach & Bay Press
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Top Dog owner might just have seen it all

Sharing celebrations with happy, upbeat people is the best part of owning a limousine company, according to Russ Van Huizum of Top Dog Limo Bus in Pacific Beach.

But that doesn’t mean life’s celebrations always go as planned.

Van Huizum, who started his first limousine service nearly 25 years ago, has witnessed his share of glitches and disappointments.

There was the groom who decided at the last minute not to get married and refused to take the hired limo to the church. The job of contacting the jilted bride fell to the limo company’s owner.

“She said she was afraid that would happen,” said Van Huizum, recalling the bride’s response.

Then there was the incident where the would-be bride asked the male stripper from her bachelorette party to ride along with the group to the bar to join the bachelor party. The would-be groom later found her and the stripper in flagrante in the back of the limo.

Not surprisingly, the wedding was cancelled.

Van Huizum is firm about not naming names, saying what happens in his limos stays in the limos.

After working two years as a chauffeur, he decided to start his own business. He sold everything he could scrape together to make the $6,000 down payment on a used limo. It was a burgundy-and-silver Cadillac jalopy he financed with the seller. Having sold his real car, the limo doubled as his personal vehicle and he added surfboard racks on top.

“People would laugh when I drove the limo to the beach,” said Van Huizum. “Needless to say, I wasn’t an instant success.”

Actually, the business almost died before it really began, when a bank threatened to repossess the Cadillac. It turned out the seller didn’t have clear title to the vehicle and was months behind in his payments. Not only did Van Huizum lose his original down payment, but the loan officer refused to make a new loan, unfazed by the tears the would-be entrepreneur shed in the middle of the bank.

That’s when Van Huizum finally got lucky. A former bank officer he’d known years back while working as a teller just happened to walk into the bank, recognized him and instructed the employee to make the loan.

It turned out Van Huizum’s benefactor was no less than the president of the bank.

Though the new loan was for more than the original amount, Van Huizum persevered. It was three years until he was able just to make ends meet and longer until he was making a tidy profit. At one point, he built his fleet up to 20 vehicles.

Van Huizum, 52, sold the original company in 2000 and started Top Dog Limo Bus. Today, he has two 36-foot limo buses and a 27-foot stretch Hummer. Amenities include granite-top bars; disco and laser lights; 3,000-watt stereo systems and the ever-popular removable dance poles.

Van Huizum manages the company and does the booking, now only occasionally driving. But fielding the slew of calls has interrupted many a date, he said laughingly.

Competition is stiff in Pacific Beach, but the company’s longevity, reputation and insistence on keeping the vehicles in pristine condition have kept Van Huizum hopping, he said, adding that he now gets half-million-dollar, pre-approved limo loan offers in the mail.

Though people hire his limos for all occasions, Top Dog Limo Bus specializes in corporate parties and weddings.

Though he doesn’t have a liquor license, guests may bring their own alcohol. Some have called the next day to apologize for their behavior.

Jennifer Roy, one of the company’s longtime chauffeurs, said, “You think bartenders are such good therapists? Limo drivers take the cake.”

Van Huizum, who has chauffeured celebrities that included Bob Hope and Muhammad Ali, chuckles about the incidents he’ll never forget.

About 14 years ago, he received a phone call in the middle of the night when one of his chauffeurs got into a fight with an abusive client, who ended up needing stitches. It turned out the client was a new lawyer who had been celebrating passing the bar. He took on the limo company as his first case — and won. Van Huizum fired the chauffeur and was sued again, this time for unlawful termination.

There was also the case of the sabotaged wedding. The frantic bride called asking why her limo hadn’t shown. Van Huizum discovered it had been cancelled, along with the caterer and some of the tuxedos, by one of the groom’s former girlfriends. The company owner scrambled to send out a limo and the wedding went off without any further hitches.

Though the problem cases tend to stand out, Van Huizum is quick to point out that for every bump in the road, his limo business has enjoyed many more happy, positive experiences.

• Top Dog Limo Bus

1103 Emerald St.

(858) 581-3644
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