Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what he wants—and usually gets it.
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Airborne again a few minutes later, I ask Schwarzenegger if it's true that with the mega-grosses of Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, Hanks has supplanted him, at least temporarily, as the biggest box-office star in the world.
"Without any doubt. He's a huge star. He's extremely talented. And he's a nice man who deserves everything he got."
As we gobble down chicken sandwiches on pita bread, Schwarzenegger talks about how much he enjoys watching his wife on NBC's "Today" show--and how much he admires the career sacrifices she's made to spend time with their children--"just the opposite of my character [in Jingle All the Way]."
The plane touches down shortly before 2:30. As soon as he's on the ground, Schwarzenegger pulls out a Romeo y Julieta and extols its "easy pull." Then we walk over to his pride and joy--"The Hummer," a three-ton, eight-foot-wide military car-truck-tank-missile launcher that's been modified for civilian use. Officially a High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle ("HumVee" to the grunts who drove it), the Hummer emerged from the Persian Gulf War with a reputation as the toughest desert fighter since Lawrence of Arabia, in the words of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
The Hummer resolved a long-standing frustration for Schwarzenegger. He had been looking for a distinctive, rugged, four-wheel-drive vehicle, but he says he "hated the direction the market was going--all those cars that looked more like family cars, station wagons--rounder, almost streamlined, more luxurious; all the colors were very pleasant, pleasing to the eye." He wanted something ballsy. After seeing the military HumVee, he decided it was "so ugly, it was beautiful." He flew several times to the South Bend, Indiana, headquarters of AM General, the HumVee manufacturer, to try to persuade company officials that there would be a civilian market for the car and that they should seek Pentagon approval to sell to that market. They resisted at first, he says, but he was able to lease one, modify it at his own expense and show them how appealing it could be to non-military users.
When the Hummer finally went into civilian production, Schwarzenegger was invited back to Indiana to accept the first one off the line. Now there are now more than 3,000 Hummers on the road, at prices ranging up to $80,000 apiece. He has four of them.
The one waiting for him today at Van Nuys Airport is jungle green and outfitted with various personalized features that he points out to me as excitedly as a teenager with his first car. He takes special note of the two bench seats installed for his three children. One "kid seat" is in the back, between two adult seats; the other is outside, behind the rear window, facing backwards, on a modified flatbed. "They love it," he says.
Then he climbs into the Hummer, unlit cigar in hand, and heads off to Warner Brothers. It's been a little more than three hours since we took off for Vegas. We've been gone from L.A. for the equivalent of a long lunch hour.
As Schwarzenegger says just before we land, "That's my idea of aperfect business trip."
David Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, is the author of The Pleasure Police: How Bluenose Busybodies and Lily-Livered Alarmists Are Taking All the Fun Out of Life, published this month by Doubleday.