In the pink on transport of delight

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The Independent Online
I think I have made it in New York. I have been to the Hamptons, that string of neat New England-on-the-Riviera settlements on the east end of Long Island that on summer weekends becomes the playground for the Manhattan society set. More important, though, is how I got there: with the girls on the bus.

On this particular Friday, they are only three: Suzanne, a brassy company vice-prez (she is 35 today and very excited about the young date - she insists on young - waiting for her at the other end); Nuny, who runs a fancy travel agency; and her younger friend Randi, who blurts that she is embarrassed by her name in British company. The remainder of the space is taken up by the media, me and a crew from CBS television's morning news.

This the Beauty Express, a new alternative transport mode for the Hamptons weekend commuter who may be weary of travelling the odd 100 miles each way by limo or private plane. On board this baby, the traffic jams and tunnel back-ups just melt away as Michelle caresses your feet as part of her special herbal-wrap pedicure, Rosemary serves you champagne and grapes, or one of the bus-borne stylists transforms you into a Sixties Mod queen.

The bus, kitted out with leather sofas, marble floors and super video and sound systems, is the brainwave of Gil Gamlieli, proprietor of a hair salon on Manhattan's Upper East Side whose clients include rock star Mariah Carey and model Elle McPherson. What he offers is simple: ride with him to the Hamptons on Friday afternoon and he and his team will ensure you arrive seriously pampered and, it is hoped, seriously beautiful too.

Because there are no basins in the bus - except for a tiny one in the downstairs toilet - the girls have their hair shampooed in the salon before getting on board. As we begin to roll up Madison Avenue, heading for the Triboro Bridge, it seems to me that all three look glamorous enough already. But then my eye, clearly, is no judge. There is, I am assured, some serious work to be done. Even before the bridge, we are stuck in the beginnings of the rush-hour, but the mood on board is decidedly jolly. Hillik, the driver and owner of the bus eventually breaks free and gets us rolling east down the Interstate. His main task is avoiding potholes: the frequent bumps wreak havoc with Michelle as she paints Randi's toenails cherry red. Once, stopping too suddenly as the traffic backs up again, he sends Gil's trolley of clips, sprays and other accoutrements careering towards the tiny microwave where Rosemary is trying to keep the hot towels coming for the pedicure wraps. "Hillik, we're here," Gil shouts. "Sorry, I forgot for a minute," Hillik replies.

It matters to no one that the trip is stretching to several hours, mainly because of the demands of the CBS producer. A less than dignified moment for Suzanne - when she is obliged to dunk her head in the toilet basin because her hair has dried out - has to be re-enacted for the camera. And several times we have to stop to allow the crew to film exterior shots of the bus. One such stop, at a petrol-station, is enlivened when we spot a live tiger in a pick-up truck at the pumps. A very nervous Randi even gets to stroke it.

I am a little sceptical about all this self-indulgence, particularly when the round-trip ticket hits you for more than three hundred bucks. But the girls are having fun. And when we arrive at the first of the Hamptons, they do all look terrific. Steve, Gil's assistant, expresses particular satisfaction as he puts the final touches to Suzanne, who for make-up application has been asked to lie prone on one of the sofas. "It's the season look", he explains. "Pink, Mod, Sixties".