Travels with Lenny

August 18, 1995|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff Writer

Lenny Shapiro spots Broadway star John Glover on a New York street.

You have to talk to my girls, she beseeches Mr. Glover, the Towson State graduate who clinched a Tony for dual roles in "Love! Valour! Compassion!" They're going to be at the "LVC" matinee on Aug. 9, she tells him.

"Oh, my God," he says, "I'm going to be on vacation."

"John, you were going to be on vacation," Lenny says. "Don't let us down. We're from Baltimore, for God's sake!"

No one says no to Lenny, who has coaxed, prodded and coddled everyone from heavy-hitting Broadway producers to purveyors of low-fat snacks to offer their best to Diversions, her deluxe tour company.

On Aug. 9, after the matinee, Mr. Glover, sleek and showered, is on Lenny's bus, chatting charmingly about his portrayal of gay British twins. The "girls" -- mostly middle-aged and older Pikesville women -- are in a polite swoon. Appearances such as Mr. Glover's are one of the perks of traveling with Diversions. But then, perks are what they expect -- from their lives and from Lenny.

With chutzpah, hustle and capital-D drama, Lenny Shapiro delivers. The best seats, the best biscotti, the best accommodations, the best docents, the best travel agents, the best prices, the best star encounters.

Lenny (who is no relation to this reporter) demands the same of herself and her employees, a platoon of energetic women who expect top-notch service in their own lives and likewise provide it to their customers -- many of whom are childhood friends or attend the same synagogue or move in the same social circles.

"I know my stuff. I know my people," says Lenny, a startlingly youthful 62, with a pert hair cut, keenly observant eyes and smooth, untroubled skin.

Although she draws clientele from a broad spectrum, her base is mostly Jewish, well-heeled, and accustomed to comfort. Lenny's customers are her community, her friends, a clubby old-girl network that travels together from Wolf Trap to the Serengeti.

Under Lenny's direction, Diversions organizes some 300 trips a year to New York, Newport, New Orleans, Chicago, the French Riviera, Paris, London, Africa. To Streisand, Pavarotti, Yanni, Bennett, LuPone. To golf getaways, the U.S. Open, antiques markets, blockbuster museum exhibits, tony bridge weekends. To Savannah for a "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" tour and to Virginia hunt country to chase the memory of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

The company employs 15 women on a flex-time basis who research and plan every journey. In addition, 135 volunteers rotate as trip guides.

Many of these women have full-time help at home, Lenny likes to observe. Their husbands are doctors, educators, lawyers, businessmen. But in exchange for a discount and a good time, they'll happily don yellow Diversions smocks, peddle salsa, freshen drinks and clean inevitable pothole spills.

The company is based in Lenny's home, a sprawling split-level in Baltimore County that is now more office than residence.

Party supplies

Fancy cars sit bumper to bumper in the Shapiros' driveway. Inside, every room is crammed with rattan baskets and trays, paper plates, plastic utensils, napkins, cases of juice, mixers, chips, mini-liquor bottles, setups, wet naps, bibs, mints. Scheduling charts paper the walls. Desks are covered with long lists. New York magazine, Variety and other trade publications are scattered throughout.

Wearing a powder-blue and white striped dress, Lenny runs the Monday morning brainstorming and critique session as she once ran her classrooms at Wellwood Elementary and Roland Park Country schools.

How many girls were in here over the weekend having to do some extra work? she asks. Several employees dutifully raise their hands.

They are dressed tastefully in linen, earth tones, golf clothes, sweater sets. They sit attentively, hair well-coiffed, designer bi-focals perched on noses, gold bangles jangling.

Lenny notes an omission on the monthly brochure mailed to Diversions' 2,500 dues-paying members. "Will we ever get it perfect?" she asks.

Imagine Bette Midler as your boss, stretching her syllables and gesticulating emphatically for theatrical effect. Lenny discusses a deadbeat customer, a quirky postage machine, a forthcoming USA Today mention of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis tribute tour and the Mechanic Theatre's new alliance with the Jujamcyn producing company, as if she is up for the lead in the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber gem. Her reading of a "Sunset Boulevard" review is a performance, in and of itself.

The meeting ends with a recitation of motivational proverbs: "Success is more attitude than aptitude" and so on. The employees murmur approvingly and copies are made for all.

"I won't hire any men," says Lenny, the product of all-female schools: Western High School and Goucher College. "I'm afraid they will not take [the business] seriously enough."

Getting the show on the road

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