But enough sightseeing. It's time for the local midday ritual. At one p.m. sharp, the conga line of imported cars queue up at valet parking stands at Spago and Crustacean and a dozen other restaurants, the strivers leaping out and heading for lunch. Martin was hesitant to name specific restaurants - "Because then people go there to hunt me down," he says - but, with just a little pressure, he names quite a few.
"There's the Farm of Beverly Hills, very nice, good, wholesome food, California food. There used to be a really nice Chinese restaurant called the Mandarin. It just recently closed, but it had been open for years. I was sorry to see it go. One reason we used to go there was because it was always empty. That's why it closed. There's the Urth Caffé on Melrose. It's a Zen-health, happening spot. I've only been there for, like, brunch, Sunday tea."
The Farm sounds good. Parking in a $12-an-hour Beverly Boulevard subterranean parking structure, I walk onto the patio, which looks like a dozen other patios at lunchtime in Beverly Hills. But inside you'd think you were in Iowa: farm implements and pitchforks and giant farm animals. "Fresh Off the Farm," the T-shirts proclaim, as young Beverly Hills sits down to lunch. There's a 15-minute wait, which the attendant says she can assuage by giving me a goat cheese salad to go. "You can eat in the park," she says. I figure Martin didn't mean for me to eat in the park, so I wait for the table, studying the menu and advertisements urging me to send the Farm's famous brownies as gifts: "If it's good enough for celebs to mail, it's good enough for you." After lunch, I'm back in the convertible, and Martin is sending me on an architectural tour, beginning with, of all places, the police station.
"Beverly Hills is very well run. Unfortunately, they are doing away with the street parking, turning it into all valet parking, but they've left some. There is a good police force, and they've got guys on bicycles, police on bicycles, so it has a very small-town feel … [The police station is] beautiful, they did a great job with some kind of Moroccan/Moorish look."
Past Beverly Hills' main gas station - a fantastic Union 76 with an enormous swooping orange awning - I turn in front of a jet-black Bentley and into the complex that includes the Beverly Hills City Hall, with the famous courthouse where the celebrity DWI and shoplifters are rustled; past the Beverly Hills Fire Department, where fire engines are gleaming like new Porsches behind glass; and toward the police station. It's a world unto itself, sort of a Disneyland of municipal government and law enforcement - everything in blinding white.
From there, it's on to the Flats, residential streets lousy with stars and lined with incredible trees, each street different from the next. It gets my vote as the most beautiful street in America.
"The Flats are north of Santa Monica, south of Sunset," Martin says. "I lived in the Flats of Beverly Hills for about 15 years. They have beautiful, beautiful trees. I used to live on Bedford, the one with palm trees. Then there's Elm and all of that. All the streets have matching trees. Like Bedford is completely palm trees, another street would be completely elm trees, and another street would be something else … Most of the houses have been modified, which is an unfortunate thing to happen to Beverly Hills. First, it started with what we call "authentic" Spanish homes from the '20s and '30s, and some of them were torn down to build uncontrollable houses that were too big and too high. It used to be a little community and now it's a little more of a show palace for a certain kind of taste. But it's still beautiful."
You can see them for the cost of a gallon of gas. But, Martin says, there's much more, architecturally, to see in Beverly Hills. There is the ridiculous, like the Rite Aid drug store he described in his second novel, The Pleasure of My Company, as "splendidly antiseptic. I bet the floors are hosed down every night with isopropyl alcohol." There's also the sublime, including the new Richard Meier-designed Museum of Television and Radio and the venerable Anderton Court Center, a fantastic space-age Frank Lloyd Wright-designed tiny shopping center in the middle of Rodeo Drive.
"I'm sure that developers are dying to tear it down, but that would be criminal. It was built there a long, long time ago. So it's one of the survivors."
After a long day in the car, I'm ready to run, hike, bike, or yoga. Martin has lots of suggestions. But mostly he rides, biking from Beverly Hills into the woody surroundings above and beyond the city limits.
"I would go up into Bel Air on my bike, from the Flats, or I would go south, south of Beverly Hills, past Rodeo and down past Wilshire and into the parks in Century City. All over. For hiking, there's Runyon Canyon, which is a really nice, big, steep walk, a lot of people there."
It sounds better discussed about than actually done, so I keep cruising and see another only-in-Beverly Hills phenom: office after office of plastic surgery clinics.