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Longmont Lessons: Life in Tinseltown remains surreal

I can’t fathom what Uber is paying its drivers in Los Angeles. Still, based on some of the comments I heard on a recent trip to Tinsel Town, it must be huge.

Me, sliding into what appeared to be the back seat: “Tesla?”

Driver: “Yes! Is the radio too loud?”

Me: “It’s fine. How much was it?”

Driver: “Around $70,000,” he said, with a casual air. It was as if we were talking about scoring dandruff shampoo at the now-considerably-more-than-a-buck Dollar Tree.

Me (intrigued): “Is this your only job?”

Driver: “For now. Business is good. I also surf at Manhattan Beach. And I’m in law school, at Pepperdine.”

Only in Cali, right? Powered by 39 million souls and a budget bigger than Russia’s, it’s clear God outdid himself with its natural resources. Then, sigh, came humans. “Unseemly” now fits. “Decomposing,” too. Don’t quit your day job.

The naysayers notwithstanding, the biggest catch reeled in on the left coast will hold an eternally hypnotic allure among the masses. It’s the birthplace of the love-hate relationship. Sadly, I’m a life member of that group. Standing on the sidelines, watching careers launch and decompose is like pretending not to watch a kiln explosion in art class.

Examples abound.

We were doing business in an 11th floor conference room overlooking West L.A. I was charmed by the abundant stand of Mediterranean-esque cypress trees that lined the street. The chatty woman handling the paperwork seemed open to my borderline obnoxious interrogation.

“Where do you live?” I pressed, hoping she didn’t think this eccentric old timer was a stalker. (Not to be confused with the “stockers” at the Safeway who must keep topping off their tanks to the tune of $5 a gallon. And rent in the Golden State comes in at an average of $2,091 per month — 40% higher than the U.S. average.

“I live in Calabasas,” she announced, typing an email. I shook my head as if I was intimately familiar with what I believed to be the name of a suburb. Alas, I had confused the name with a pair of Brunello Cucinelli slim-fit jeans. Price: $1,300 a pair. Perfect threads for Tesla-crazed and future-barrister Joe Six-Pack as he pours over dense chapters on contract law.

“My daily commute takes me past the awesome Kardashian compound. Gated, lots of security.”

“That means you’re wealthy, too,” I deduced.

“No, no. I live in the poor section. My front door is always open to all comers.”

My obsession with spying the rich and famous — all of whom, of course, are suicidal — made me question who I am. In what normally would have taken an hour in her office dissolved into three.

The town sucked me in. I imagined every parking valet skulking around with a movie script crumpled up in their back pocket. Earlier in life, I fantasized I would be one of them.

I have a friend from back in high school. Blessed with strikingly beautiful features, the one-time model hightailed it out to Hollywood when she was 30, ready to ascend the ladder to film stardom. She snagged a few minor roles — even appearing with Michael Jackson in one — and found other small acting gigs to fill in the blanks. In her 60s, she landed a gig voicing audiobooks as a volunteer. Most recently, she stayed busy shepherding sheep with her trio of Belgian Malinois.

As depressing as that might sound in a city where depression is the leading industry, she’s managed to hold onto the “modest” condo she bought years ago on the ocean. To clarify, in Cali speak, “modest” carries a price tag that starts at a million.

In a land of big dreams and bigger egos, where Miley Cyrus shops solo in her pjs at Trader Joe’s while others tend sheep, a ton of wisdom and discernment are found in the words of comic-visionary George Carlin, who always got it right: “It’s a big club. And you and I ain’t in it.”

Next time I’m there, I’ll spend my waking hours at a certain Italian market on fashionable Bundy Drive. I got a tip that Henry Winkler likes their imported cheese.

Tony Glaros, originally from Washington, D.C., is a longtime reporter and former educator. He says living on the Front Range sparks euphoria.