Grand Theft Auto: Hollywood Style

It is an indication of just how uncool I am that last year I was in Los Angeles the night of the Academy Awards, but I spent most of the evening at the airport because the town car that was supposed to take me from the airport to my hotel was stolen. Maybe “stolen” is too strong a word. But that is the term the car company used when I called them. Perhaps “commandeered” is better.
Moreover, the car was commandeered by a guy who was indeed headed to the Kodak Theatre because he had been nominated for an award — though, according to the car company, it was one of the science and technical prizes that no one cares about and are awarded ahead of time over lunch in a pizza parlor with computer-generated drapes and a stage hiding the pizza ovens. No doubt, it was the award for Best Use of Digital Shading and Anti-Aliasing on Moire Interference.
Actually, that wasn’t it. I made that one up. Besides, the folks at the car company thought it was a sound award. A technical sound award.
It doesn’t matter. My point? He didn’t have to be at the Kodak Theatre last year on the big night.
Of course, I didn’t either. I was just heading to my hotel to watch the awards on television. Instead, when I realized that my car had been commandeered by some audio geek with a doctorate in wave science, I spent an hour in a cab line the length of Rhode Island. Apparently, cabs are in serious demand in L.A. the night of the Academy Awards.
So, however, are town cars. Which is why mine was stolen.
Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I always have town cars waiting for me, or that I travel in rajah-like opulence. I don’t. Usually I’m that guy with his knees in his chin in a center seat at the very back of the airplane.
Here, essentially, is what happened last year.
I had spoken at a writers conference in Washington State on Saturday, and I was speaking in Los Angeles on Monday. And so on Sunday afternoon, I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles, and arrived as the Academy Awards telecast was beginning. My hosts for the Monday appearance had asked the hotel to send a car to the airport for me.
When there was no kind gentleman with a sign with my name misspelled at the baggage carousel, I phoned the car company. And they told me I had canceled the vehicle that morning. I told them I had done no such thing. And so they checked their notes and discovered that it wasn’t I who had called. It was someone at the hotel where I was staying who was claiming to be the concierge. Either way, it didn’t matter: That car had been assigned to a person who had been nominated for some sort of technical achievement in sound.
“Those awards were given out days ago,” I said.
“Well,” the dispatcher said, “he has the car, and we won’t have another until an hour after the Oscars.”
Apparently, this happens all the time. Hollywood is a tough crowd. The concierge insisted the next day that he had most certainly not canceled my car, and explained the scam to me. Someone at the hotel had given away my car because I am even less cool — even lower on the Hollywood food chain — than the people who get their Academy Awards over lunch at pizza parlors far from the primetime television cameras. The hotel employee had probably been tipped well for the information.
I hope I don’t sound like a person who dislikes sound engineers: A soundist. I’m not a soundist. I think sound engineers are amazing, especially when they give us the sound of things blowing up.
Nevertheless, I am very glad that this year I will be watching the Oscars from my home in Vermont — instead of standing in line at an airport, the least cool person in California.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 25, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.