The traffic snarl lit up brake lights all along Pacific Coast Highway, bringing Julie Sandler, 32, and her tomato-red Ferrari 3.2 Mondial Cabriolet to a dead stop.
She swore. She picked up the phone. She pressed a white-stockinged foot to the gas pedal and roared her frustration.
Then she was appeased.
Through windows on every side, men gazed in adoration at the raging animal in their midst--and the pesky woman at its command.
She was stuck in traffic, true enough. But what better way to be seen?
In daily treks from her boyfriend's apartment in Long Beach to her home in Laguna Beach and her mortgage-lending company in Laguna Niguel, Sandler and her $79,000 Ferrari have elevated the common commute to a sort of automotive fashion statement.
Never mind that her car--built to cruise at well over 100 m.p.h.--roars like a jet engine even when it's idling. Or that its rack-and-pinion steering makes turning at low speeds as arduous as Sandler's daily body training sessions. That's not the point.
The point is that some people buy these cars no matter how impractical they are. This is especially true in Orange County.
A 1986 study by an auto sales research firm showed that more expensive cars were sold here than anywhere else in California. The nation's largest Ferrari dealership is in Orange County, whose residents also annually buy several dozen Rolls-Royces and in 1986 bought nearly 500 Porsches.
If you want to know why these cars are so desirable, just ask Randy Bucholtz, a self-employed auto mechanic from Yorba Linda, who has languished in a nostalgic fog ever since he was sold his $50,000 Ferrari 308.
"The biggest thing is the prestige," he said dreamily. "You pull in front of a fancy restaurant and what's the car they're going to see first? The bright red Ferrari."
Bucholtz, 35, grew so fond of his car that it became, in his own words, "like home away from home." He drove it everywhere--at 140 m.p.h. and at a crawl. Either way he loved it.
"Even if you have bumper-to-bumper traffic, you enjoy the car so much that traffic doesn't bother you," he said. "You just enjoy the car--turn the radio on and forget about the traffic."
It's never gotten quite that sweet for Sandler.
"Nobody likes traffic," she said, lurching along the coastal highway. "I mean, I'd love to just jam all these people away."
But she doesn't, of course. Instead, she talks on the phone.
Three months ago, Sandler ran up a $190 phone bill in a single evening while cooped up on the San Diego Freeway.
If she had turned her radio on, she might have heard about the SigAlert. But she was listening to her glorious, roaring engine and got wedged in the fast lane for 4 solid hours.
"So I just called everybody in the world I knew. I called (my boyfriend) every half hour. I said, 'Bruce, I'm still stuck!' "
It took a while for Sandler to work up the courage to drive her Ferrari in heavy traffic.
"When I first got this car, I said, 'I'm never going to drive it,"' she said. "I was paranoid somebody was going to hit me . . . that somebody was going to crash me in the back, because they would be looking at my car and they wouldn't look at the red lights."
She got over it. Now, she has become so casual about her car that she recently made the mistake of starting it while it was still in first gear. Her Ferrari shot forward, smacking three other cars into the roadway and doing a cool $2,000 damage to the front bumper.
What she hasn't overcome is her fear of traffic cops.
"I don't really drive fast anymore, because I'm scared I'm going to get a ticket," she said, thinking of astronomical insurance rates.