On Aug. 9, Lenny, her husband Morty and several guides arrive at the Temple Oheb Shalom parking lot at 6 a.m. to stock two rumbling motor coaches with hot coffee, breakfast and mid-morning munchies. Departure is at 7 a.m. sharp. Lenny will ride one bus to New York and take the other home, so everyone gets a piece of her.
Before the bus hits the Beltway, the party's on. Say good morning to your neighbors, commands Gay Greenbaum, lead guide for Bus No. 2.
Like flight attendants in overdrive, Mrs. Greenbaum and two other beaming guides get to work, plying revelers with coffee, muffins, bagels, butter, cream cheese, juice, yogurt, chocolate-covered apricots, pretzels dipped in chocolate, cereal bars, hard candies, breath mints.
Several of Baltimore's most visible movers and shakers are on board today. There's Carole Sibel, fund-raiser extraordinaire for the Baltimore School for the Arts, AIDS services and the Baltimore Zoo. Once upon a time, Ms. Sibel was Lenny's co-counselor at Camp Holiday, where they taught theater arts. Long ago, the two women also performed "Guys and Dolls" on local stages. "People paid to come to see who would die first," Lenny reminisces.
Mary Garfield is on the bus, too. She took her first Diversions trip after her husband, Leon, died last year. The couple ran Lee's Ice Cream together. Aware that Mrs. Garfield was traveling solo, the Diversions guides made sure she had a lunch invitation and didn't feel awkwardly alone. "They watched out for me," Mrs. Garfield says.
And there's Ansela and Michael Dopkin, the Classic Catering People. Mrs. Dopkin remembers an early Diversions excursion to New York. Lenny's customers had already seen "Evita," inspected a body jewelry exhibition and visited a florist when the bus broke down. "Like the Pied Piper," Morty Shapiro led everyone through the streets of Greenwich Village to see a vaunted blues singer, Mrs. Dopkin remembers. She didn't get home until 3 a.m.
Lenny's hyperpromotions and uproarious monologues are as much a part of the Diversions experience as the food, the pampering, the good seats. "Wait until she gets on the bus and starts selling [other trips]," Mrs. Dopkin says eagerly.
Meanwhile, it's time for the trivia quiz. Passengers must identify 30 photos of bearded and mustachioed celebrities and public figures, from Thurgood Marshall to Kurt Cobain. It is a raucous contest, pitting passengers against one another in a mock cut-throat battle. Carole Sibel wins. "She always wins," another passenger grouses good-naturedly.
Around 10:30 a.m., the bus enters the Holland Tunnel to the strains of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" over the intercom. Passengers disembark at Saks Fifth Avenue, the new Barney's, Polo Sport and the Whitney Museum. They are on their own until show time.
Lenny disappears. She has work to do and won't let a reporter tag along. She'll spend the day buying theater tickets for her guides, meeting with Helmsley Hotel representatives, getting better seats for Anne Meara's "After-Play," and checking out a place downtown where you can buy great-looking imitation Chanel and Coach bags.
She cultivates a deliberate air of mystery concerning her reconnaissance. But chances are Lenny will return with stories galore. Like the time she bumped into a Broadway hotshot and talked him into $450,000 worth of orchestra tickets for the first six months of "Miss Saigon's" New York run.
And how she insisted that actress Jennifer Grey not renege on a commitment to speak to a Diversions audience following her performance in "Twilight of the Golds" at the Kennedy Center. Or how she finessed 13 buses to the Barbra Streisand concert at the USAir Arena. And how a Diversions tour group got into the Holocaust Museum before it was open to the public.
She's got contacts, she's got cache, she's got clout -- that's what she wants you to know.
A good idea
Lenny came of age when most young women, if they finished college at all, went on to teach. A business career was not an option, she says. After graduating from Goucher, she won a Ford Foundation fellowship that paved the way to a master's in education at Goucher.
Lenny's urge to organize expeditions struck early. As a sixth-grade teacher at Wellwood in 1959, Lenny organized a three-day trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which was "unheard of in those days," says Ellie Feldman, a Diversions guide who was a student in that pioneering class. The trip became a county-wide school tradition for sixth-graders.
Later she taught English and drama at Roland Park Country School until "every blue uniform began to look alike." Her own children, Tammy and Andrew, left for college in the mid-1970s. She was restless. For a time, she operated a home-based food co-op but that "dropped by the wayside," Lenny says.