2011 Post03: Cars, Coffee and the F.B.I.

(copied from my original BLOG - first published February 5,2011)


This morning was yet another Cars&Coffee event in Irvine – enthusiasts from all over Southern California get up in the middle of the night to drive their pampered vehicles to a nondescript parking lot in a triangular-shaped industrial area squeezed in between 3 highways.

At last weekend’s meeting – covered by a German TV crew – Mercedes showed off their brand new SLK. The surrounding cars made the little 4-cylinder convertible look like a Toyota Prius at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Helmut Reiss’ 1957 300SC Einspritzer, a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster brought down from Newport Beach by collector Gerhard Schnuerer and a beautiful, silver 300SL Gullwing were among the classics on display.

Just over a year ago I shot the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren of my friend Oliver.

And not just any SLR: production car number 1.

Lying on the cold concrete floor of a Santa Monica parking structure, I spent 4 hours lighting the McLaren while armed 6′ 5″  bodyguard and driver, Max, kept warm in my car.


Only a few weeks later he would drive his boss’ Phantom Drophead to a run-down diner for another shoot.

Right across the street from the vast BP oil refinery just south of the 405 in Carson.

Little did I know that this would cause 2 FBI agents to drive hundreds of miles tracking down what they assumed could be a terrorist plotting to blow up the plant. I had been out there a few times to get the perfect angle on the refinery. Which was going to be the backdrop for the Rolls Royce photograph. I guess somebody staring at a bunch of CCTV monitors must have become suspicious of the same black BMW showing up on screen between midnight and 5 AM for days. Its driver getting out randomly, carrying a tripod and what probably looked like something other than just a camera.

Having searched all over L.A. county, Special Agent Karin V. and her male sidekick eventually came knocking on the door of our little cottage in Laguna Beach.

Admittedly, I was a little worried. Did they know about my encounter at Edwards Air Force Base ten years ago? I had gone off the road onto what looked like some sort of dry lake. The ideal place to get some action shots with my Nikon mounted high above the headrests of the Mustang Convertible. After a couple of burn-outs that had left a number of pretty circles on the ground, I noticed the sound of sirens. Blue and red lights were flashing through the settling dust.

When he had finished a thorough pat-down, the officer proclaimed that we now had to wait for Intelligence. The midday sun was burning down on my pale skin and after what felt like an eternity 2 men in black wearing mirrored Ray-Bans appeared out of nowhere. They informed me that I had not only ignored a huge sign warning me not to enter a restricted military area. I had also chosen the Space Shuttle landing strip for my little drifting adventure. Needless to say that aside from a nasty sunburn, I almost missed my flight back to London.

Fortunately for me the CIA's log did not pop up when the FBI ran my ID through the system.


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