Beverly Hills has always held a certain mystique for me. As I was packing for a trip to LA, I wondered why. Sure, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the LA area, but I’ve never really explored it. So how could I get this image? Then it hit me. I got it from Hollywood. Yes! Hollywood has installed into Middle America a sense that the LA Basin is about glitz and glamor, silicone and sun.
This trip was my first opportunity to determine whether Hollywood’s carefully crafted story is grounded in reality.
- Is Rodeo Drive as over-the-top as we’ve been led to believe?
- Is everybody really as happy as the Brady family?
- Do the CHiPS guys really ride on Motorcycles?
SPOILER ALERT: Everything you’ve heard is true.
LA’s CAR CULTURE
Few places in the country embrace America’s love affair with the car like LA. Three- or four-hour commutes are not unheard of. Traffic at 2:00 on a Tuesday can be as brutal as 5:30 on a Friday. And brutal probably isn’t quite the right word. Perhaps something along the lines of painful or awful or slightly-worse-than-death-by-crocodile gets closer. Stop-and-go, constant construction, road rage. It’s all there.
In any event, our noble steed for this journey was a lovely rental: A 2012 12 horsepower Roller-Skate. People in Los Angeles gain their identities from their cars. We were no different as we pushed it to the max, red-lining the engine at 19 miles-per-hour.
We saw some amazing vehicles. There were Teslas, Aston Martins, Maseratis, Ferraris, and other cars that haven’t even been invented for real people yet. The funny thing was that our Roller-Skate got more attention than all of their fancy-dancy cars put together. Perhaps they hadn’t seen a “real car” before. Our Skate showed them a whole new world.
RED-BLOODED AMERICAN TOURISTS
On our way back to the hotel one day, we passed one of this nation’s great tourist attractions (as measured by both odor and floating trash): The La Brea Tar Pits. How could we miss the opportunity to see that?! We couldn’t, so we didn’t. One of the truly great features of the Skate was that it was easy to parallel park. Sliding it between the Mercedes and Porsche convertibles was a snap!
Off we went, to smell the pits. It turns out the smell of tar can wake up a Southern Boy’s appetite faster than the promise of a deep-fried biscuit and sweet tea. So we did what any self-respecting tourist would do. We stopped for a burger. As we left, we noticed some activity in the general vicinity of the Roller Skate.
“No. It’s Impossible. Right?”
There was no time to think. We dashed onto Wilshire Blvd. After all, it’s basic instinct: Los Angeles without a car is a fate worse than death. At that moment, the chance of being pancaked by a celebrity trash truck carried less risk than being left at the Tar Pits without the Skate. Fortunately, like a well-rehearsed scene in Beverly Hills Cop, we made it.
Breathlessly, “Uhhh. Sir. This is us.”
“Okay. You gotta move it,” said the tow truck driver who already had a Maserati on the back of the flatbed. I got the impression that he thought the Skate would detract from the high-end look he wanted for his rig. Thank goodness.
LOST IN COMPTON
From what is admittedly a limited knowledge of crime statistics, Compton is not a great place to stop and ask for directions. This was an assumption we chose not to test when we got lost in Compton; however, it turns out that you need not stop to put your life at risk.
A Magnum in Compton nearly took us out.
Yes, friends. You nearly didn’t get to read this post.
Without realizing it, we lost track of where we were. Please note, we weren’t lost. We temporarily found ourselves in a place we had not yet identified.
During this brief time, a yellow light appeared in front of us and, like a good driver, I carefully moved my foot to the brake pedal and began applying pressure. By the time the light was red, the Skate came to a complete stop.
Suddenly, it got dark. I thought a cloud had miraculously appeared in the Southern California sky.
I was wrong.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed (what memory describes as) a tremendous Dodge Magnum. The engine revved. The driver revealed what appeared to be a complete set of gold teeth. It was clear that I had upset him.
I’m good at context clues. He wanted me out of his way. Now, based on our best approximations, the Skate does 0-35 in about 45 seconds.
The instant that light turned green, I pressed the gas pedal as deep into the floor as it would go. Two (possibly three or four, it was a blur) seconds passed, and we were off.
Clearly dissatisfied with the Skate’s giddyup, the Magnum driver whipped around us with centimeters to spare.
Let me tell you what. These young kids these days. They drive like maniacs! For a nanosecond, I considered giving him a piece of mind. But, with visions of 60 Minutes stories about California Road Rage rushing through my mind and the fact that the Skate topped out at 42, we opted to let the fine gentleman from Compton drive on by.
Once we regained our bearings (and our composure), we returned to the safety of our hotel where we ate room service behind a dead-bolted door.
CELEBRITIES IN THEIR NATIVE HABITAT
The movie business is everywhere in LA. In fact, during our stay some serious looking workers were filming a movie called Too Late at our hotel. John Hawkes, whom I mistakenly called a B-Lister (apparently if you get an Oscar nod, you’re moved up on the list) was filming a scene in which he lit a cigarette by the pool. We watched for about an hour, went away for about six, and returned (unscathed by LA). They were still filming! They went on for another three hours. All for a cigarette! Don’t they know the things will kill you?
Anyway, we were able to tack on an extra, free day so we headed to Paramount Studios for their tour. I’m no movie buff, so I figured most of the day would be lost on me much like The Lord of the Rings Tour. Turns out I was wrong.
We had the enviable opportunity to see both Forrest Gump’s shoes and Ryan Bingham’s ConciergeKey from Up in the Air. One fellow tour-goer was over the moon when the cast of Glee walked past our golf cart. She had to fan herself so she didn’t pass out.
Snaking the Roller-Skate out of the parking lot was a challenge — you don’t want to ding those Paramount Executive’s Teslas — but overall the day was incredible. If you’re ever out in the area and can tack on a studio tour, it’s certainly worth it.
LA really is an amazing place. When you ask the locals how they feel about living in LA, they inevitably say something like,
“It’s like totally way different than New York.”
Which makes sense, I guess. Since both places are completely unlike the real world. Especially when it comes to the cars.