February 10, 2015

How to drive like a celebrity in Los Angeles

When you walk from the arrival gates to the baggage claim area at LAX, there’s a long, windowless hallway — long enough for you to either forget or remember that you’re in Los Angeles. About the length of a football field, it can serve as a palette cleanser to prepare you for the culture and climate shock that is Los Angeles.

It was 35 degrees when I left my Brooklyn apartment and a relatively balmy 72 when I reached the Left Coast. I’m wearing all black — pretty standard for NYC — but here an all-black outfit either suggests death-cult worshipper or tortured sensitive artist. Already, in the baggage area, I’m aware of feeling, shall we say, a little different.

Now, there’s two ways to handle this: Rock it, or run from it. It could have been easy to get insecure about the occasional who’s-that-guy glare. But if you put on sunglasses and don’t give too much of a crap, it makes being an outsider tolerable.

A text message pings my iPhone.

“We’ll be there in 5 minutes,” it reads.

But a driver is there in 3. He takes me to the lot where Silvercar, a new kind of car rental company, keeps its fleet — rows and rows of silver Audi A4s. They show me how one works, and then it’s mine for the three days that I’m here.

About an hour later, after a very nice burger at In N Out and a drive up Sunset Boulevard to get myself reacquainted with driving, I pull up to a stop light. I’m wearing sunglasses and driving a very nice car.

“Ey, check out the guy in the car next to us,” I hear, and I look to my left.

Surely they were talking about the person in the… wait, I’m in the far right lane. Were they talking about me?

I turn my head, and it’s a car filled with what one could only assume to be German or Swedish tourists blasting warmed-over ‘80s pop hits. A guy probably named Svën is looking right at me, and as I realize what is happening, he snaps a picture of me on his cameraphone.

“Hey man,” he says, and then the light turns green. They pull away. I had no idea what was happening until several blocks later.

Thanks to TMZ, Splash and the like, we get to see the daily goings-on of pretty much anyone from any TV show or movie as they do the regular L.A. things, such as going to Whole Foods or hiking at Runyon Canyon. “Stars,” a certain magazine says, “They’re just like us.”

So when you actually see someone famous in L.A., they’re usually dressed in a scrubby outfit, wearing sunglasses or a baseball hat, and getting around in a nice car.

I hadn’t necessarily planned it, but this was exactly what I was doing for the duration of my stay in Los Angeles. Twice at stop lights and once at a gas station, I felt the strangely comforting, yet jarring gaze of strangers as they gawked and/or took pictures.

You may be wondering how a non-famous writer gets his picture taken at a gas station. I offer you this: A good pair of jeans that have been worn long enough to resemble the kind of wear found on so-called premium jeans; an unruly or artistic-looking hairdo resulting from my six weeks without a haircut; and, then there’s my giant head. In a hat, I wear a size 8, which is clinically huge. A lot of stars have big heads. They say it takes up more of the screen. That, or it’s full of dreams.

One time in New York City, I saw Dave Chappelle buying a few things at a bodega. If you had just walked by him, you probably wouldn’t have noticed anything. But if you had looked closely, as I did, you would have noticed his amazing shoes. Nothing too flashy, but instead some Maison Martin Margiela sneakers that, if you were in the know, cost around $500.

I thought of this as I returned the Silvercar at the end of the trip, and came to a realization: The A4 blends in enough to not get you pulled over — but it makes one hell of a statement if you know what you’re looking at.