By Joe Livernois
I melt into the human flow, the fellowship of Alvarado Street on Saturday night of Car Week. There’s a Bentley. That’s a Rolls. Oh God, an Alfa Romeo! I notice stuff like that. Most people do. How they respond when they notice will inflect the stories they will tell about this night.
The flow moves me past the Dali Museum. That is Dali up there, an image on a building; the eyes above that mustache look down upon the crowd. Two hundred men and woman line the walkway above the entrance to the tunnel, behind the museum. It’s dark back there, except for the headlights that illumine the faces in the crowd. They cheer whenever a car goes by with a driver who plays the crowd. Honk. Burn rubber. Gun it. Repeat.
A woman in a gypsy dress notices my dog. Buster is his name. She thinks he’s cute; she wants to feel his fur. Buster is unsure, worried. I don’t blame him. It’s noisy here. Too noisy. Cheer, honk, burn rubber, gun it. The woman Is not interested in the cars or the crowd. She had turned to Buster as a kindred spirit — but she is too desperate, I fear, because Buster is not having it. It’s a lot to ask of a little dog, to expect it to fill the hole in the soul.
I get a video on my phone of the scene around the tunnel. I like it because everyone is having fun. They had improvised this entire thing, cheering the fancy cars when the drivers notice the crowd above, and the recognition feels like communal accomplishment.
The Conference Center remodel must have been designed with the Sotheby’s Auction in mind. Vintage cars are on display out front, cars moving in and out of the huge first-floor conference room as the auction progresses.
Temporary wire fencing separates the display vehicles from the peons. The lucky people, the elites, wear their passes on lanyards, which are the passcodes for everything that happens during Car Week. The lanyarded are allowed through a break in the fencing and they disappear inside the auction hall. Local Rotarians control the spectator traffic, and the club is getting paid handsomely for their efforts. I don’t have a lanyard, so I stand on the other side with hundreds of others. I know some of the Rotarians, but I don’t want to put them in a bad spot by asking if I might sneak through the gates.
Anyway, the peons can see the cars coming and going from the auction hall if they’re willing to wait. The vehicles come and go like rodeo bulls, pulled from their pens for their brief moments in the spotlight, before being herded back through the crowd for storage.
The auctioneer’s voice comes over loudspeakers. He’s got a soothing voice. We might not be able to watch what is happening inside, but we can hear. I happen to be there when the Ferrari hits the auction block. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. The murmur of anticipation spreads across the crowd. Even the people without lanyards know what this means. This is the one, the car everyone has been waiting for. The gold standard of rare vehicles, this one could sell for up to $60 million. Ten minutes later, it is sold for $44 million. “That’s a really good deal,” someone says. Even at $16 million less than its potential price, word spreads that $44 million is a record price for a vehicle. As it turns out, some people pay attention to auction vehicle prices like baseball nerds track batting averages.
The new owner of the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO isn’t identified. The tacit understanding is that if you have to ask, you don’t belong there.
Around the corner, from a pitiful little stand at the Custom House Plaza, a merch guy sells posters commemorating this year’s Sotheby’s Auction in Monterey. I might not be able to afford a vehicle, but I can hang the poster.
Buster and I return to Alvarado Street, against the flow, on the way home. I see the woman lugging canvas shopping bags filled with her belongings.
I run into the woman around downtown quite often. She’s homeless, but she keeps herself up and she is unfailingly friendly. She lugs four or five of her bags to a spot about 100 feet away from where she starts, then retrieves the other bags. She’s probably got about a dozen bags and she moves about the city in a series of bag movements: back and forth, back and forth, then another 100 feet forward. A friend I know has tried to convince her to accept a wheeled cart, as a gift, so she doesn’t have to do it that way, so she won’t have to lift all that weight. But she won’t take it.
The woman recognizes me because of Buster; she’s seen us around. She nods and smiles faintly while she moves a couple of bags from one place to the next. It’s almost 10 o’clock at night, and the party on Alvarado is just getting started. At that moment, I hear a roar from the crowd out front of the Convention Center, a half block away. The Ferrari is being driven out through the crowd.
The $44 million Ferrari.
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.