WE HAD an international bankers conference in Washington last week. Bankers from all over the world attended and they seemed to be doing very well. How do I know this? Their limousines were lined up, bumper to bumper, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
With all the trouble the commercial banks are in, I thought the limo population would have decreased. But it seems to have gone up, not down.
I mentioned it to Sam, who was one of the drivers waiting in front of the Four Seasons.
"I'm surprised to see so many bankers tooling around in their stretch automobiles," I said.
"You can't have a stable banking system without limos," he told me. "This is the most important monetary conference in the world and people are judged by the length of their vehicles."
"So the bank scare has no effect on a banker's transportation."
"It does, but only in this respect: If a distinguished banker is seen in a sedan or, God forbid, driving his own car, word immediately gets out that his bank is in a lot of trouble. Therefore, in order to avoid rumors, those in severe financial distress put all their money into hired limousines. The banker I'm driving for had to lay off 10,000 employees last week, but he still insisted on having television and a telephone in his car."
"That's smart because it means that as long as you keep moving, nobody can guess what kind of shape your institution is in. Do people actually conduct business in the back of their limousines?"
"Yes, they do," Sam said. "That's why I keep a bar back there in case they close a deal and want to drink to it."
"This bothers me. If every banker has a limousine, who rides with whom?"
"That does present a problem. I've had people on their knees in my car who want to borrow money from my client, and I've seen my client float a loan while sitting on the other guy's jump seat. The rule of thumb is that a banker gets a lot more respect if he can stay in his own limousine with a rug over his legs."
"Do bankers get a lot of business done on the telephone?" I asked.
"Some, but you have to remember it costs $2 a minute to call from a limo, and not too many bankers can afford that."
"As a driver you must be the confidant of the person you work for."
Sam smiled, "No banker is a hero to his chauffeur."
"What kind of secrets do you share?"
He whispered, "Things like how near Donald Trump is to jumping off the Trump Tower."
"That's heavy," I said.
"My client's bank made some terrible real estate loans last year."
"He told you that!"
"Yup, just the other day on our way to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where we had hoped to negotiate a bailout."
"That's interesting. Where did you park?"
Sam replied, "The FDIC always provides free limousine parking to bankers who are going down the sewer."
Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist