Prom night's high-rollers

Prom night is a big night and many American teenagers are paying a fortune for the ride of their lives, reports YLAN Q.MUI. 

LAST Saturday night, Alaina Mohanco slipped into a sparkly red-and-pink backless prom dress with rhinestones. She dined at an ultrahip restaurant with 18 of her best friends and then dance the night away at the Army Navy Country Club in suburban Arlington, Virginia, in the United States.  

But when the evening ends, this Cinderella most certainly will not be riding home in a carriage. She and her friends will roll out in an H2 Hummerzine, complete with six TVs, a DVD player, strobe lights under the leather seats, a faux fireplace, a fog machine and a disco ball. They passed on the optional sushi bar.  

“If we're going to get a limo; it's senior year, we might as well put it all into it,'' said Alaina, a senior at suburban George Marshall High School. Alaina pooled her money with her 18 friends (US$157/RM600 each) to afford the nearly US$3,000 (RM11,400)-a-night chauffeur-driven rental.  

Prom season is in full swing in the US. And while most teenagers who want to ride in style still rent traditional limos, increasing numbers are shelling out thousands of dollars to ride in stretch SUVs and other “exotics'' – a 38-foot (11.5m) Lincoln Navigator, a Cadillac Escalade with fibre-optic lighting, a Hummer with hardwood floors – more common in rap music videos than on suburban cul-de-sacs.  

PROM POMP: Wesley Dunlap gets last-minute help from his mother, Shirley, before a stretch Lincoln SUV takes him to the prom in Columbia, Maryland.

Teenagers “want to feel like Ben and J Lo for the night,'' said Tom Mazza, executive director of the National Limousine Association. “What we're doing is we're giving them an experience ... and that experience is like being a VIP. We're making them feel like they're arriving at the Academy Awards.''  

At suburban Z-Best Limousines, there are no Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez sightings, but the drivers do literally roll out the red carpet for their young charges. Rachel Clemmer, 18, of Columbia, Maryland, said she felt like a star when she stepped out of a white Navigator with mirrored ceilings and onto the red carpet recently at Atholton High School's prom.  

“The teachers were like, 'Oh my God, where are you coming from?' '' she said. “It felt really special.''  

Brionne Walters, a senior at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Maryland, was posing for pictures outside a friend's house on her prom night when her ride pulled up: a 38-foot, 22-passenger Navigator with leopard-print rugs and fringed pillows inside.  

“This is class,'' Brionne said. “Hold on,'' she said to a parent frantically snapping photos, “I'm gonna go stand by the limo.''  

The adults' jaws dropped, too – in part because of the US$1,700 (RM6,450)-a-night price tag.  

“Teens a lot of times are not realistic,'' said Garfield Bowen, publisher and founder of Prom Guide magazine, which ranked stretch SUVs as the most-desired limo for proms. “They have what they want, and then they have what they can afford.''  

Not every teenager believes bigger is better, though. Margot Dankner, 18, a senior at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, said some of her classmates rode in a stretch Hummer to the prom last year and looked “absolutely ridiculous.''  

“It looked like they were going to invade a country or something,'' she said. Instead, Margot and 13 of her friends will head to their prom next month in what she called “a glorified shuttle bus'' for US$504 (RM19,150) Margot called eight companies to find a car that she and her friends could squeeze into for under US$100 (RM380) a person. She found what was touted as a 2003 Mercedes with a TV and a 16-CD changer. “It turned out to be just a giant van,'' she said.  

Stretch SUVs and other specialty limos are the most expensive to rent. Prices in the Northeast average US$130 (RM490) per hour, compared with about US$60 (RM230) per hour for a standard limousine, according to data from Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation magazine. Those rates often increase during prom season.  

Only two US manufacturers, Ford and Lincoln, have certified their SUVs to be turned into limos. Stretching a car can add three or four tonnes to its weight, Mazza said, and some car frames may not be able to hold up. Still, stretched Hummers, P.T. Cruisers and even Volkswagen Beetles will hit the highway during prom season. – LAT-WP 

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