Premiere Transportation is accustomed to winning votes for its luxurious conversion coaches and efficient, discreet service. But when Barack Obama elected Premiere to supply his campaign buses, it was a landslide victory for the company.
Premiere, based in Franklin, Tennessee, has served the national campaigns of John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Dole, along with many state candidates. Celebrities aplenty have ridden with Premiere, including Bill Clinton during his wife's campaign, but the Obama tour took the campaign experience to a new level.
"It was one of the most organized groups I've ever worked with," says Ken Fitzpatrick, vice president of the 12-year-old company. Premiere used most of its nine-coach, all-MCI fleet for the campaign, at times sending multiple coaches all over the country to keep up with the campaign plane.
Obama mostly rode on converted E4500s, and sometimes on D4500s, all named after presidents. The Grant, Eisenhower, and Truman, all pictured on Premiere's website, were used most heavily. Inside, the coaches are all similarly outfitted with elegant seating, granite-clad galleys and all the high-tech bells and whistles, including several high-end televisions with satellite.
The coaches look similar from the outside as well — simple and sleek. And because Obama chose not to use a wrap, the all-black coaches seamlessly blended into the motorcades.
Four drivers, chosen for their experience and personality, did most of the driving for the Obama campaign. Fitzpatrick did a little driving himself, something he alternately terms "fun quality control," "a blast" and "hard work," choosing to navigate one of the coaches during the heady weekend following Obama's nomination acceptance speech in Denver.
Driving in a motorcade is very different than driving the average charter. There is no traffic, because the authorities have closed the roads in advance of the procession. A lot of the job entails simply following the car ahead, but doing it in a smooth yet defensive manner even as dozens of police vehicles swirl about — Fitzpatrick says the E4500's steerable tag axle is especially handy for such situations. And the Secret Service is always in charge. "Those guys are really amazing," says Fitzpatrick. "They're very detailed, they work quite hard and they are fully focused on their job. It makes you proud to be an American."
Of Obama, he says, "He was very nice, very pleasant and familiar. He seemed to enjoy busing, and the drivers were very fond of him."
Discretion is a big part of Fitzpatrick's job. He generally confirms only what big media outlets like Newsweek Magazine and the Wall Street Journal have reported. Probably the biggest on-bus event was when Obama called Joe Biden to offer him the vice presidential spot on the ticket.
Noticing what the candidates like without seeming nosy is also part of the job. Fitzpatrick will allow that Obama most definitely had a favorite spot on the coach — the black leather swivel recliner. Fitzpatrick eventually embroidered Obama's name on the upholstery. Fitzpatrick will say that Obama sometimes watched televised sports, fruit was more popular than candy onboard ("They were very healthy eaters," allows Fitzpatrick), and Obama daughters Sasha and Malia occupied themselves with the card game Uno while aboard.
Asked if there was a lot of hand sanitizer aboard, Fitzpatrick says yes, stressing how important it is to a campaign for the candidate and his team to not succumb to cold or flu.
Certainly there were a lot of hands to shake. Obama drew record crowds at many of his stops. "It's kind of an adrenaline rush to feel like the world is watching where you are," says Fitzpatrick. "It's exciting knowing you're serving someone who could become the most powerful person in world."
Fitzpatrick also feels like it's a validation of the caliber of his company, which also does a lot of specialty corporate world. "It's not like taking teenagers to the prom. These are people [candidates] who know elegance and the finer things in life. To get compliments from them is very satisfying."
Fitzpatrick has a theory as to why Obama and other candidates continue to use buses so frequently. "The buses are a safe, quiet place for them to regroup and rest. In the midst of all this excitement, it's their one place where they don't hear the outside world and can come out ready and refreshed at the next stop."
Fitzpatrick is too diplomatic to reveal any party affiliations, but he is excited for his client. Says Fitzpatrick, "You're always happy to see your client succeed."
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