The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles is known for its unconventionality—a freewheeling, act-as-crazy-as-you-want place where people see life as a big movie audition. One never knows if what is happening is really happening, or if it is just another film shoot.
Take, for instance, the day I was waiting for a bus in an outdoor dining area in front of a medical building in West Hollywood.
It was a typical Hollywood day: the sun was out; the traffic was bad; and just about everyone on the patio sat engrossed in his or her electronic device.
I had my sketchbook with me, as I always do and was busy trying to capture the image on a building that had a huge painting of Cindy Crawford on it for the longest time. Cindy had recently been replaced with the cast of Hot in Cleveland. I wanted to draw this building because it included so much of the stereotypical Southern California vibe—Hollywood architecture, the plastic model-slash-actress, palm trees and Sunset Strip commerce.
The stillness around me was only slightly interrupted by the Angelenos sipping their chai tea while simultaneously pecking at their gadgets. Once in a while, one of them would look up as if to make sure the sky was still there and think about what key to hit next. Isolated by their electronic world, they showed little interest in or awareness of their environment.
But, the calm and cool setting was about to unravel.
In the middle of trying to copy the billboard’s version of Wendie Malick’s face, the shrill of sirens blasting and police cars giving chase broke my concentration. I turned around to see a Ferrari at the lead dragging what looked like shrubbery and a chain. The procession came to a halt right in front of me after the police surrounded the Ferrari, got out of their vehicles and drew their weapons.
When I saw the guns, I screamed for everyone to get down. Still texting, they calmly obliged, not missing a stroke. From my vantage point under the table, I was able to peer through the glass enclosure and watch the scene unfold. I took a quick inventory of my possessions to decide which one might be the most bulletproof. Only my sketchbook came close.
Everyone was now prone, and only the drink and food items were left on the tables. Even the security guards had taken cover. I kept listening for the word, cut! But it never came. An eternity passed as I switched my attention between the guns in front of me and the ants crawling at my side. When finally I could see the alleged perpetrator safely secured and the firearms put away, I sighed with relief.
At that point, I used my newly discovered powers to announce that it was once again safe to rise and sit at the tables. The patrons obliged and calmly assumed their earlier positions as if nothing had happened.
After clearing the intersection, they all drove away: the Ferrari still sporting the shrubbery and chain, heading towards Beverly Hills; the suspect in the back seat of a police car; and the cops taking off in different directions.
But, this is Hollywood, and what followed one of the most heart-pounding experiences of my life was typical for this town.
Within minutes, a TMZ tour bus stopped at the exact place where the incident had just happened. I could not figure out why TMZ didn’t follow the police cars for a story. They were still visible in the distance. Instead, they headed towards the star’s homes in Beverly Hills.
Maybe they would find the Ferrari.
Behind the tour bus, the actor, director and producer, Rob Reiner followed by his entourage, nonchalantly crossed the street to go to lunch.