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My friend’s husband, Peter, picked me up at LAX, and we went for a drive into Santa Monica. There were some blocks on which I saw three or four sleek, shiny Priuses parked in a row, and others with Jags and Maseratis. There were very few 10-year-old Toyotas, like the one we were sitting in. We parked and went for a–gasp!–walk along Montana, one of the few strips that people drive to and park, in order to get out and walk.

Peter, like his wife Julie, was raised in New York City, and moved out here around eight years ago. He was explaining to me (a still-New Yorker) about car culture with the perspective of an insider who has somehow resisted buying in.

“It really matters here,” he said. “People really do judge you on your car.”

I said some version of what I say to my daughters whenever a kid at school is obnoxious to them: Why would you want to be friends with someone who judges you on what kind of car you drive? I was surprised to hear that peter even noticed such a thing. He’s the kind of guy who expressly doesn’t give a good goddamn what people think of him, strangers least of all.

“It really does make a difference here,” Peter insisted. He’s a freelancer. “It could affect your business.” He then went on to tell me what it’s like driving a decade-old Corolla in LA, and pulling up alongside a group of So-Cal beauties in a much nicer car. “I wasn’t looking to flirt or anything, but they didn’t even look at me. If you drive a crap car, it’s like you’re invisible.”

I knew exactly what he meant. Driving a crap car in LA is like being a 42-year-old woman practically anywhere. And what if, heaven forbid, you’re a 42-year-old woman driving a crap car?

I’m thinking the bus is sounding better and better.

Photo by Danilo Prates CC