After a hard-fought campaign, President-elect Ronald Reagan was unwinding at Rancho del Cielo, his retreat nestled close to the sky in the Santa Ynez Mountains, north of Santa Barbara. My friend Mike Evans, who covered both of Reagan’s presidential campaigns for Time, was unwinding, too, as my houseguest in LA before returning home to New York. It was December 1980.
The telephone rang — you know, one of those colorful, plastic push-button jobs with a handset on a curly cord. John Loengard was on the line, Director of Photography at Life. He tracked Mike down at my house and told him to head back up the coast for a cover shoot with the Great Communicator.
I carried a Secret Service press pass, so Mike asked if I wanted to tag along. His invitation might have had something to do with the fact that he didn’t have a car and needed a ride. But mine was in the shop. With not enough time to rent one, I called Marty LeAnce, my business manager, and implored him to show up lickety-split, prepared to go on a long drive. “Don’t ask questions,” I said. “Drop whatever you’re doing; I promise you’re going to like this.”
Twenty minutes later, Marty pulled up in his pink 1977 Cadillac Eldorado ragtop. Flinging itself from the street onto my driveway like an enormous salmon, it stopped with a mechanical clatter, shuddered, and went quiet. Vanity plates: T H E L O X. Within seconds of revealing our destination to Marty, the three of us piled in and sped away in that rosé leviathan, top down, swimming upstream through Beverly Glen Canyon, slewing through traffic on the Ventura Freeway, hell-bent for the Pacific Coast Highway.
Our pink piscine machine came to another quavering halt at Gaviota State Beach, the Secret Service checkpoint. The agents were laughing because they knew Mike as a carefully combed, button-down shirt, steel-rimmed glasses kind of guy, and here he was with two windblown, shaggy dudes in the backseat of a Pepto Bismol-colored land yacht sporting goofball Yiddish license plates. Marty sometimes…