The fancy restaurants on La Brea Boulevard have a parking pecking order. High-end European metal goes up front. That means Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and BMW.
Luxury Japanese cars wind up in the middle. That usually means a Lexus, or perhaps a Nissan 350Z or an Infiniti Q45.
The Americans are represented, and they are easy to find, because they are really big SUVs. They are often gloss-black Cadillac Escalade or Hummer H2 models -- and, hey, they go up front with the Europeans.
So, what is someone supposed to do with a 2003 Toyota Camry SE V-6 family sedan?
The Camry was the best-selling car in America last year. But people who eat at high-end restaurants in this city apparently don't drive Camrys, or, they keep their Camrys at home with Saturday's jeans while they're out showing off their richer stuff.
Pulling up to one of those restaurants in a Camry, even one with polished chrome wheels and a pretty metallic-red paint job, is an invitation to oblivion.
"Can we help you?"
"Yeah, this is valet parking, right?"
The chief parking attendant signals a junior parking attendant, who looks at the car and then looks at his boss with an expression that says, "What do you want me to do with that?" Chagrin drapes junior's face when the chief makes it clear that he really wants him to park the Camry.
It's all very silly, because the Camry, extensively revised last year and spiffed a bit more for 2003, is a very good car. It's no great head-turner in the midst of a bevy of Aston Martins and Ferraris, but it will take you anywhere those cars will go -- including a restaurant on La Brea Boulevard.
I've driven the 2003 Camry in a variety of settings, including at home in Northern Virginia, in the working-class environs of Baltimore and along L.A.'s gilded thoroughfares. The car gets lots of respect among the ordinary people who support the stars, but the stars and their retinue give it short shrift.
Frankly, on long road trips, I prefer driving a Camry or a car like it. It rises above the wealthier metal by doing the ordinary extraordinarily well. The tested Camry SE V-6 performed excellently in high-speed highway traffic, accelerating with authority when needed, changing lanes with minimum body sway. There was nothing particularly thrilling about its performance. People who are more interested in speed and muscle than they are in getting from one point to another in reasonable comfort and safety won't like it.
But most of us are quite happy with reasonable comfort and safety in a car, especially when those things come at a reasonable price and a well-deserved reputation for quality and reliability. The Camry offers all of those things, which is why it consistently remains at the top or near the top of the nation's list of best-selling cars.
Maybe Hollywood's snobs could learn something from the general public's acceptance of the Camry and stop taking themselves so seriously. I mean, what do those parking attendants drive home?