The Man in Front of Us at Hermès on Rodeo Drive

Illustration of man and woman shopping at the Hermès store in Beverly Hills, California.
Illustration by Chris Busse. AI (DALL-E 2) was used in the creation of this illustration.

I was in Beverly Hills for a meeting with a client and their business partners that was very loosely scheduled and somewhat still TBD on exactly when it would take place. I was assured it would happen at some point in time over the next four days; just show up and check into a hotel near the Peninsula Beverly Hills and wait for more details.

It was November and the trip was a nice escape from the wet grey increasingly cold weather in Richmond. I’d been brought onto this project by a good friend and colleague who in this context fell somewhere along the gradient of client and business partner for the venture I was helping with. The entire enterprise was a bit loose.

He and I were staying at the same hotel. On this trip it was the Maison 140 which was a dark cramped but gorgeous building that had a unique smell. It was not a pleasant smell nor an unpleasant smell. It was strange and off-putting and lead to us cracking some off-color jokes about the possible origin of the odor relative to the original owner of the building.

On the afternoon of the second day we had time to kill so over coffee in the Starbucks at South Santa Monica & Wilshire Boulevards we plotted a course south to Gregory Way then east to South Rodeo Drive. This would take us through a residential area that reminded me of The Fan in Richmond, if instead of Victorian houses it was Spanish Colonials with terracotta tile roofs and stucco exteriors. The neighborhood was a completely different vibe than the Starbucks, which at that particular intersection provided an ever-changing view of easily three to five million dollars worth of exotic cars with every cycle of the lights. We talked about cars along our walk and about our Jeeps as we happened upon a classic Jeep Wrangler used for “Beverly Hills Parking Enforcement.”

Given that it was close to the holidays I intended to do some gift shopping and had researched the stores in the area looking for the right combination of what might be unique to the high-end brands, but also relatively affordable. I had settled on the idea of an Hermès enamel bracelet, which to this day I still think is the best value for the money of any ”luxury accessory.” We walked by many shops and marveled and the opulent wonders on display being snapped up by the throngs of tourists from one particular unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic who seemed intent on conspicuously consuming as much as they could possibly carry in oversized shopping bags, each bearing the name and logo of an exclusive European brand.

Into the Hermès store we went. This was in 2013 and one could just walk into the store without an appointment or having to wait in line. I looked around and found the counter cases with the enamel bracelets and bangles. An elegantly dressed woman who seemed like the kind of grandmother that maintains proper decorum at all times but also enjoys an afternoon of sipping good scotch and gossiping about family and friends walked over to see if there was anything I needed. Fortunately since I had done my research she was able to see that I wasn’t some yokel tourist but at least had a general idea of what I was looking for and was able to describe it in the Hermès lexicon even if I still needed to get up to speed on “bracelet” versus “bangle.” She went in the back and returned with a tray of bangles that presented me with choices, but one stood out. She boxed it for me and took it to the register.

I found my friend who had been wandering around the store and we got in line to pay. Despite all this high brow shopping we were in a downright goofy mood. The unfortunate absurdity of the nature of our trip here in the first place, the truly awful single letter-substitution joke about the smell in our hotel, geeking out about cars and excited to have seen so many cool ones, catching up after far too long, and our shared habit of interjecting pop culture references in conversation (where better to do that than Los Angeles?) had primed us for what was to happen next.

Something clearly caught my friends attention. He was standing next to and slightly behind me in line. He nudges my back and nods at me to look at the guy in line in front of us. All I see is the back of the head of a tall thin man with salty black hair. He’s with a woman probably about his age with beautiful silver-gray hair. Their purchase is ringing up to be ten times the total of mine. As I’m looking at the total on the register screen, my friend — doing his best Beavis impersonation — says the words that I will never forget:

“Huh, huh, that old dude looks like SPOCK.”

He did not say this loud, but he didn’t say it quietly either. The man in front of us kept his feet planted and turned his head around slowly as we stared back in wide-eyed shock when we saw his stern face. His expression turned into a wry knowing smile and I dare say an amused look appeared in his eyes as he slowly turned back around without a word, finished his transaction, and left the with his shopping companion.

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