Not one Prius. Plenty of Town Cars, Escalades and Mercedes. But in the chute, the corral down which we have to drive to reach the red carpet at Vanity Fair magazine's Oscar awards party on Sunday, there is not one Toyota hybrid - the car of choice for the A-listers in recent years. My passenger cannot help but seize the moment and crack a joke. It's what he does for a living, after all. "Last year, all the top stars took Priuses to the Oscars. This year, a lot of stars wanted to take their Prius to stop on the red carpet but couldn't. They were last seen busy pumping the brakes," quips Jay Leno from the back seat of a brand new Rolls-Royce Ghost, by far the most ostentatious and pricey set of wheels on final approach for Hollywood's big night.
Leno is not a back-seat car guy. He prefers to drive but, on this night of all nights, he has to relinquish control to another wheelman. And in this case, that's me. I don't have a peaked cap and I have not been through Rolls' chauffeur school, where they reportedly teach you how to steer while keeping a ball in a dish on the bonnet. But Jay and his wife Mavis seem comfortable. "I find the Phantom is a bit imposing and in your face," Jay says of the larger Rolls as we waft up Sunset Boulevard towards the party. Leno prefers experiencing the Oscars from the comfort of a party than a seat at the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony took place. "The Ghost seems a bit more styled. The legroom seems about the same. Inside, it doesn't seem much smaller. And in the back, it's plenty big enough. It helps having a panoramic roof and light upholstery, adding to the sense of space."
Oscars Sunday was a sunny day in California. But being in a Rolls, you feel you can call up an on-demand concierge and request for the rain to fall on command to make you feel like you are in England. Fortunately, the Ghost has got umbrellas in the door. Sunset Boulevard is jammed with traffic. It's jammed because everyone is too busy looking to see who is in the car next door than on the road. Leno waves when he gets spotted. Which is often.
"Oscar weekend is a mad time in LA," he says. "Streets are closed off and anyone in a flash car sends people's heads spinning. Anyone in a Rolls must be God, it seems." Leno had a drive of the car before donning his penguin suit. He is not really a Rolls guy, but he liked it. "This is an engineering marvel. Five hundred and something horsepower, eight speeds - all in a Rolls Royce! It handles, it's fast, really fast. It's a wonderful car to drive."
The red carpet beckons. A couple of flashguns go off prematurely in front of Jay and Mavis seconds before the rear-hinged door opens. I wish them luck. Click click click click! Bang! Flash! And they are gone. firstname.lastname@example.org