In Los Angeles, and especially in Hollywood, where you are what you drive, a revolution is radically altering the landscape. This revolution is not about new technologies or about the collapse of movie studios or about the politicizing of performers' unions. No, this is a serious watershed in Southern California life and in the self-image of the people who make the mass culture of a civilization. This is a revolution of what automobiles the young, the hip and the powerful should and must drive.

In this revolution, as totally unexpected in its way as the beheading of Louis XVI must have been in France, the sovereign Mercedes convertible is inexorably being dethroned as the ruling car. In its place, sprouting along the chic restaurant parking lots and in the driveways of Beverly Hills are the two vigorous contenders for the throne--the black Porsche Targa and the blood-red Ferrari.

To people who have driven a Ford station wagon for the last five years and who plan to drive it for another five years, the shift from the Mercedes 450 SL to the Porsche 911 S and to the 308 GTS may seem utterly inconsequential. But here in Sunny Cal, and especially within "the business," the movement is filled with meaning. Going from a Mercedes to a Porsche is not just a move from one import to another. It is a sign of a dramatic change of the spirit.

"The thing that you have to remember about the Porsche," says J., a studio executive, is that it's a sports car. It's not a big, bourgeois car for the comfortable middle-class, middle-aged person. The Porsche is a car for an industry that realizes it has to get lean and mean. It's a car that rides low to the road, so we get the bumps and the rough places in the road. That allows us to feel what the ordinary citizen is feeling day by day. With the Porsche, we have to shift gears with our own hands. That puts us in touch with men and women who work with their hands for their living. When I had a Mercedes, I felt isolated, removed from the people who live in Baltimore and have to work for the minimum wage pulling the lungs out of chickens at a poultry plant. But with the Porsche, having to shift gears as I drive up a hill or go out onto the freeway, I can understand just what the lower-middle-class American feels.

"In the Mercedes, with that soft suspension, you could never get onto the wave length of the average moviegoer. With the Porsche, you know just what it feels like to have to worry about money. Not only that, but the Porsche gets a lot better mileage than the Mercedes convertible. It gets at least 12 miles to the gallon. When I drive it, it's almost like driving an economy car. It helps me identify with the theatergoer out in Baton Rouge who has to worry about every penny," J. adds. "That helps me know what kind of movie that guy wants to see."

Michael, a powerful agent, seconds that emotion. "The business is in rough shape," he says. "We're in a recession. Don't let 'E.T.' fool you. We have to be savvy, think fast, be prepared to do with a little less. That's why I traded my 450 SL on a Porsche. With the Porsche, you have to maneuver really fast or else the girl with you thinks you're a dentist. That means you have to be thinking all the time. That's preparation for the way we have to make deals nowadays. Plus, I had to sacrifice, getting a Porsche. It was about 34,000. I knew the dealer. I did him a few favors. I got it at about his cost. The Mercedes was about 45 K. I wanted to show the people I negotiate with that I'm prepared to cut back on my standard of living to keep the business going. I think we're all going to have to make sacrifices in Hollywood today. That's what my Porsche tells the people who know me: I act fast and I'm not afraid to take in my belt to make a deal. I'll take the smaller dollar now for the real money down the road."

And, indeed, as the movie and TV businesses share OP/ED

Benjamin J. Stein: Hard Times Come to Southern California

LOS ANGELES--In Los Angeles, and especially in Hollywood, where you are what you drive, a revolution is radically altering the landscape. This revolution is not about new technologies or about the collapse of movie studios or about the politicizing of performers' unions. No, this is a serious watershed in Southern California life and in the self-image of the people who make the mass culture of a civilization. This is a revolution of what automobiles the young, the hip and the powerful should and must drive.

In this revolution, as totally unexpected in its way as the beheading of Louis XVI must have been in France, the sovereign Mercedes convertible is inexorably being dethroned as the ruling car. In its place, sprouting along the chic restaurant parking lots and in the driveways of Beverly Hills are the two vigorous contenders for the throne--the black Porsche Targa and the blood-red Ferrari.

To people who have driven a Ford station wagon for the last five years and who plan to drive it for another five years, the shift from the Mercedes 450 SL to the Porsche 911 S and to the 308 GTS may seem utterly inconsequential. But here in Sunny Cal, and especially within "the business," the movement is filled with meaning. Going from a Mercedes to a Porsche is not just a move from one import to another. It is a sign of a dramatic change of the spirit.

"The thing that you have to remember about the Porsche," says J., a studio executive, is that it's a sports car. It's not a big, bourgeois car for the comfortable middle-class, middle-aged person. The Porsche is a car for an industry that realizes it has to get lean and mean. It's a car that rides low to the road, so we get the bumps and the rough places in the road. That allows us to feel what the ordinary citizen is feeling day by day. With the Porsche, we have to shift gears with our own hands. That puts us in touch with men and women who work with their hands for their living. When I had a Mercedes, I felt isolated, removed from the people who live in Baltimore and have to work for the minimum wage pulling the lungs out of chickens at a poultry plant. But with the Porsche, having to shift gears as I drive up a hill or go out onto the freeway, I can understand just what the lower-middle-class American feels.

"In the Mercedes, with that soft suspension, you could never get onto the wave length of the average moviegoer. With the Porsche, you know just what it feels like to have to worry about money. Not only that, but the Porsche gets a lot better mileage than the Mercedes convertible. It gets at least 12 miles to the gallon. When I drive it, it's almost like driving an economy car. It helps me identify with the theatergoer out in Baton Rouge who has to worry about every penny," J. adds. "That helps me know what kind of movie that guy wants to see."

Michael, a powerful agent, seconds that emotion. "The business is in rough shape," he says. "We're in a recession. Don't let 'E.T.' fool you. We have to be savvy, think fast, be prepared to do with a little less. That's why I traded my 450 SL on a Porsche. With the Porsche, you have to maneuver really fast or else the girl with you thinks you're a dentist. That means you have to be thinking all the time. That's preparation for the way we have to make deals nowadays. Plus, I had to sacrifice, getting a Porsche. It was about 34,000. I knew the dealer. I did him a few favors. I got it at about his cost. The Mercedes was about 45 K. I wanted to show the people I negotiate with that I'm prepared to cut back on my standard of living to keep the business going. I think we're all going to have to make sacrifices in Hollywood today. That's what my Porsche tells the people who know me: I act fast and I'm not afraid to take in my belt to make a deal. I'll take the smaller dollar now for the real money down the road."

And, indeed, as the movie and TV businesses share in the recession that grips the nation, black Porsches appear in more places every day. Agencies that make their employees put the agency initials and then the agent's initials on their license plates now fill whole floors of garages with black Porsche Targas, lurking and shining below Century City like terrifying steel tarantulas. In the executive parking lots at Paramount and Universal and Columbia and Warner, the black Porsches relentlessly expand their dominion, sending the Mercedes 450s out to Encino, where the accountants have not yet gotten the news.

But while the triumph of the Porsche has been building slowly and relentlessly, the sudden coup of the Ferrari 308 has literally astounded le tout Hollywood. "Last January we saw a Ferrari about once a month. Now we see three each night," says Scotty, the captain at Mr. Chow, a Beverly Hills eatery so posh that rich men go white when they get their checks.

"We used to sell one of these a month," says Marvin, a salesman at Hollywood sports cars. "We kept them in stock mostly just as window dressing. Now we can't keep them in stock. We have a waiting list for the red ones that'll go until next January."

The Ferrari tends to be owned by those who are well past the point of having to struggle. Young men of inherited means, owners of successful corporations that were bought out during the boom years, presidents of television production companies that do not even know what a recession is. One of my closest friends was given a 308 as an afterthought by his business partner as a gesture of thanks for buying an $8 million dollar share in a giant Arizona trailer park.

But the motivation for the Ferrari owner is similar to the state of mind of the Porsche proprietor. "The thing about the Ferrari is that ittlets the world know that even though I'm not starving, I'm still a pretty quick-thinking guy that nobody can put anything over on. When people see me in the Ferrari, they know that I'm still fast enough so that if the tap were shut off tomorrow, I could make it all again fast," says the owner of a Ferrari so red it is almost obscene.

Another friend told me that when he is at the wheel of the Ferrari, he realizes that despite the 600,000 feet of office space he owns in Southern California, " . . . life can still be brutal, dangerous, right out there in front of the hood ornament. It's just me and the car against the world. That keeps me on my toes. With the Mercedes, I felt as if I was getting soft, getting too comfortable. There are a lot of sharks out there. Driving the Ferrari is good practice for fighting them."

"This country is going to be a very rough place in the next few years," he adds. "There could be blood in the streets if the recession goes on for a lot longer. Mexico could invade Los Angeles. Anything could happen. I have to stay alert. That's what driving this car means to me. It's like survival training for the future. It's 15 K more than the 450, but it's worth it."

Do what you will, Federal Reserve. Blow you winds out of the White House or Mexico or anywhere. We in California are ready for the struggle. We have our hands on the stick shifts and are taking charge of our own destiny.

The writer, a native of Washington, is the author of " 'Ludes: A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream." in the recession that grips the nation, black Porsches appear in more places every day. Agencies that make their employees put the agency initials and then the agent's initials on their license plates now fill whole floors of garages with black Porsche Targas, lurking and shining below Century City like terrifying steel tarantulas. In the executive parking lots at Paramount and Universal and Columbia and Warner, the black Porsches relentlessly expand their dominion, sending the Mercedes 450s out to Encino, where the accountants have not yet gotten the news.

But while the triumph of the Porsche has been building slowly and relentlessly, the sudden coup of the Ferrari 308 has literally astounded le tout Hollywood. "Last January we saw a Ferrari about once a month. Now we see three each night," says Scotty, the captain at Mr. Chow, a Beverly Hills eatery so posh that rich men go white when they get their checks.

"We used to sell one of these a month," says Marvin, a salesman at Hollywood sports cars. "We kept them in stock mostly just as window dressing. Now we can't keep them in stock. We have a waiting list for the red ones that'll go until next January."

The Ferrari tends to be owned by those who are well past the point of having to struggle. Young men of inherited means, owners of successful corporations that were bought out during the boom years, presidents of television production companies that do not even know what a recession is. One of my closest friends was given a 308 as an afterthought by his business partner as a gesture of thanks for buying an $8 million dollar share in a giant Arizona trailer park.

But the motivation for the Ferrari owner is similar to the state of mind of the Porsche proprietor. "The thing about the Ferrari is that ittlets the world know that even though I'm not starving, I'm still a pretty quick-thinking guy that nobody can put anything over on. When people see me in the Ferrari, they know that I'm still fast enough so that if the tap were shut off tomorrow, I could make it all again fast," says the owner of a Ferrari so red it is almost obscene.

Another friend told me that when he is at the wheel of the Ferrari, he realizes that despite the 600,000 feet of office space he owns in Southern California, " . . . life can still be brutal, dangerous, right out there in front of the hood ornament. It's just me and the car against the world. That keeps me on my toes. With the Mercedes, I felt as if I was getting soft, getting too comfortable. There are a lot of sharks out there. Driving the Ferrari is good practice for fighting them."

"This country is going to be a very rough place in the next few years," he adds. "There could be blood in the streets if the recession goes on for a lot longer. Mexico could invade Los Angeles. Anything could happen. I have to stay alert. That's what driving this car means to me. It's like survival training for the future. It's 15 K more than the 450, but it's worth it."

Do what you will, Federal Reserve. Blow you winds out of the White House or Mexico or anywhere. We in California are ready for the struggle. We have our hands on the stick shifts and are taking charge of our own destiny.