By day, Wendy Reges is steeped in crisis and depression, helping others cope with the realities of domestic violence.
By night, wearing a white shirt and a blue blazer, with a cap set smartly on her head, Reges slides behind the wheel of an elegant, Austin Princess for an evening of chauffeuring the famous and near-famous.
Reges, 27, is director of Fairfax County's shelter for battered women, and she knows all about reality.
"It's grim working with domestic violence cases 40 hours a week," she says. "Sometimes it gets to be too much. There are times when you have to try and sit down and count your blessings."
Or you take a drive in another world. For Reges, it's a world of movie producers and movie stars, of rushing a band to a performance or delivering the vice president of MoTown records to dinner.
Reges, who lives in Reston, began driving for Classic Limousine Service this fall. In one of the five company Austins, she rolls off to collect a customer. The hum of the solid Rolls Royce engine is barely audible behind the plush, wood dash as she pulls up to the curb. With her cap tucked neatly under one arm, she holds the back door open for each client -- chin up, eyes straight.
She remembers her first customer vividly.
"She had a bleached blond bouffant hairdo," Reges says, "pink eye shadow, white stockings and a bright flower-patterned gown that was held closed with a safety pin. She spoke with a British accent and the first thing she said when I got to her apartment was, 'A chick driver, oh, what a gas.' And I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into now?'
"She was the manager of a local jazz band. We were to pick the band up in Washington and take them to their job."
After getting the band aboard, Reges piloted the limousine through downtown traffic ("It's like driving a boat," she says). The glass partition was soon opened and she began talking with the musicians.
"They invited me to dinner at Hugo's, their performance and three parties. My chauffeur act was really starting to get blown," Reges says, laughing. "I had to insist that people stay seated until I got out and opened the door for them. It was Wild."
The next morning Reges hopped into her pumpkin-orange Datsun to return the shirt she had borrowed from her brother, the blazer she had gotten from a friend and the chauffeur's cap she had borrowed from her mother. Still, there was one undeniable bit of evidence remaining from the events of the previous night -- a crumpled wad of bills that had been crushed into her palm at the night's end. A $100 tip on a $200 job.
But there have been some less amusing moments as a chauffeur -- like the time Reges had to be rescued. "I had been told to pick up a man at his home, but he had no idea where he wanted to go," Reges said. "We wound up meandering around the area, stopping at a Gino's in Maryland, a phone booth somewhere in the District, heading nowhere in particular.
"He finally decided we ought to head to Springfield to get a six pack of beer, this in a $25-an-hour limousine, when the Austin split a radiator hose. It was just south of Thomas Circle on 14th Street just after midnight."
A crowd gathered around the car as Reges got out to see what the problem was. "There was nothing I could do but call a wrecker," she says. "But I could tell my rider was getting angry.
"Then he began to holler my $25,000 Austin Princess was for sale for $500. I didn't know what to do. People began filtering out onto the sidewalk to look at 'the car for sale.' I was the only thing between them and the Princess. Then some old street dude with a radio strapped to his leg came riding in. He kept coming back and checking on me to see that things were alright."
The car was towed and her father came to collect Reges. "We gave my customer a ride home in my father's Toyota," she says.
For the most part, though, Reges says things go smoothly."I even got to meet Jason Robard's chauffeur on one job," she says. "We were tending our limousines in front of the Publick House on M Street.
"While we traded chauffeur stories, the manager of the restaurant sent a waiter out to serve us coffee on a silver tray. It was a show of solidarity, I think, since the people I'd driven there were real nasty, and the manager sensed that.
"So there we were, leaning against our cars, sipping coffee out of china cups with a waiter coming out every few minutes to ask if there was anything else he would get us."
Reges says she loves the job. "The money is a very small part of my reason for doing it," she says. "It really is an escape for me. If I wasn't out driving I'd be sitting at home eating and watching TV."