Sudden Wealth

Tim Marrs

Should the bottom ever fall out of this beautiful experiment called America, or the day ever come when the vital fluids of our body politic - namely gasoline and water - suddenly stop flowing, I'm picking Los Angeles as tops on my list of places I don't want to be.

With its insatiable appetite for these two precious liquids, neither of which it can lay claim to in adequate quantity, L.A. is extraordinarily vulnerable. And so very, very cranky. I'm no expert in mass psychology (I drive old Lancias, for one proof), but it seems to me that the city's cultural primacy, along with the generous sense of entitlement that follows, plus the polar extremities of its wealth, all conspire to make it the town most likely to blow when the going gets rough.

The videotaped beating of Rodney King demonstrated as much, actuating Los Angeles's last big-time riot like a light switch in 1992. A cosmic tinderbox, L.A. furthermore is flashy, flaky, and unsustainable. And I mean that in a caring way. Employment in the music business often takes me to the City of Angels (and Those Who Only Play Them on TV), and I've grown accustomed to its waste.

Back in 1992, as news of rioting in the inner city spread, heavily armed yet exquisitely turned out vigilantes manned the barricades at the ends of hundreds of privileged streets. Exhibiting the latest in personal military and survivalist hardware the way they might show off their Mercedes-Benzes, their swimming pools, or their kids' private-school admissions, they stood, locked and loaded, at the end of their canyon boulevards, waiting for the lower classes to bring on the noise, which fortunately never came.

The fault lines were exposed in a society where wealth, privilege, and celebrity are divided conspicuously but never equally. They remain thus divided, and, all I'm saying is, when the Schlitz® comes down for real, L.A. won't be pretty.

Naturally, when entering a charged, dystopian environment like this, one always aims to hit the streets in something suitably low-key and demure, something like the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera that I had in Los Angeles last week. A juiced (horsepower up 10 for a total of 530) and lightened (by 154 pounds to 3000 pounds) limited-edition version of Lamborghini's best-ever-selling sports car, the Superleggera swivels heads at high speed no matter what speed it's traveling, even when it's not finished, like this one, in iridescent electric yellow.

I was able to quickly measure the Lambo's effect on my social standing when it arrived by truck at my West Hollywood hotel. Only moments before, I'd been having trouble finding someone willing to check in an unfabulous someone like me. Then, in an instant, I was checked in, and it seemed as if every single member of the hotel staff had presented him- or herself, and they all somehow knew me - the dynamic fellow at whose beck and call they now were pleased to remain - by name.

Word (true, as it happened) also spread around the building that I'd arrived before the Gallardo in a Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG and now had approximately $400,000 of automotive sugar tucked in the hotel's garages. Surely this was the cause of the confusion.

No one found this strange; none seemed surprised. They comprehended not the meaning of my words as I repeatedly hastened to explain that I was a lowly automotive journalist, on assignment. Suddenly, I understood what it was to be conspicuously wealthy. Every person in a service position, and many others besides, flashed that expectant smile and longing gaze each time I passed by.

Ashamed of my nonexistent riches but reluctant to let down the people who believed in me, I found myself handing out $5, $10, and $20 gratuities as if I were the King of Cash (as Donald Trump once dubbed himself) rather than what I really was: the King of Cash Advances (from credit cards). Walking down to the lobby to get a newspaper somehow became a tipping situation. Anything less than fat tips, and I got dirty looks.

Arriving by flatbed, the Gallardo floodlit its own entrance and called me back onstage for another bow, for I had to receive it in front of the hotel. Lamborghini's practice of trucking its cars to borrowers, rather than letting contract drivers deliver them, as more mainstream marques do, makes for better theater. And it made good sense to me as policy once I'd experienced the brutal force of Lamborghini's V-10 supercar propelling me to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, for such vivid acceleration not only slams one's corporeal being back into a form-fitting seat, it pins his common sense as well. In the case of Superleggera owners, common sense has already received a pretty stiff pretensioning courtesy of a $270,000 as-tested price tag, representing a 45 percent bump over the "base" Gallardo's not insubstantial $186,000 sticker.

Eighty-four large is a lot of change for ten extra horsepower, and if I were trying to lose 154 pounds, I'd cut out between-meal snacks and the after-dinner cheese course first. Not that I didn't accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds from more than my fair share of Los Angeles traffic lights. A personal record, this was quicker, in fact, than I've ever driven. As noted, common sense wasn't what I was thinking about.

The Gallardo is not just a dragster but a serious driving machine, and I only wish that there were more racetracks in downtown Los Angeles, because in urban settings, the car was a fish out of water, the unalloyed joy of its alloy, multicam V-10 diminished by visibility that is decent for a supercar but otherwise appalling, along with a bear of a six-speed E-gear transmission. We don't expect Toyota Camry-like smoothness around town, but quite unlike some of our favorite manu-matics, which manage to flatter even the clueless, this jerkfest of a box made everyone look and feel E-badly.

Of course, the Gallardo (and E-gear) come into their own driven hard on open roads. This high-speed faculty may be the Lamborghini's greatest attribute, but it's only one of the Superleggera's two goals in life. Getting noticed is the other, and this test it passes with flying colors.

Although one can only imagine that a Gallardo will be fiendishly expensive to operate over time, the baby Lambo is, at least, a well-screwed-together piece, something you once might not have imagined. If parent Audi's fingerprints are everywhere, any clinical sterility they've brought to the overemotional, Italian-hand-grenade aspect of Lamborghini ownership probably explains why Lamborghinis now sell so much better (more than 2000 cars in 2006) than they used to.

Later, I drove the Gallardo to the studio of Los Angeles renegade alt-rock radio station Indie 103.1 FM to join actor Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Scottish songwriter Calvin Harris, and noted rock TV journalist Matt "120 Minutes" Pinfield on Steve Jones's free-ranging lunchtime radio show. Jones is a towering figure in rock owing to his employment in the 1970s as guitarist for the legendary British punk band, the Sex Pistols. Owner today of a Triumph motorcycle, he's not yet come so far from his bad-boy roots and punk aesthetic that he's ready to buy a Gallardo Superleggera. But, as he told me as we headed down to the parking garage after the show, he wouldn't mind sitting in one.

That's kind of the way I feel about Los Angeles.

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