On the run for a celebrity sighting

Times Staff Writer

I just jogged past a bald guy carrying a tray of Starbucks coffee on Rodeo Drive. I slow down. Wasn't that Ben Kingsley? Nah. Gandhi wouldn't be schlepping coffee around on the street.

A few blocks away, I slow to a trot again, at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, when I spot a gorgeous blond woman with big hair and a low neckline. Isn't she on "Desperate Housewives"? No, probably not.

I'm on a group jog of L.A.'s swanky haunts -- a guided, 4-mile tour called "Running From the Paparazzi" -- that has me maneuvering through the land of Range Rovers and Botox in hopes of gawking at Hollywood's pampered royalty. This is what our celebrity-fawning society has come to. . . . And so far I'm striking out.

Leading the group of 10 -- mostly women under the age of 30 -- is Cheryl Anker, the fiftysomething founder of Off 'N Running Tours, who organizes 5K runs and walks for convention visitors and corporate clients.

Anker came up with the idea of a celebrity-watching jog a few months ago and seems to have had no problem finding runners willing to pay $60 to work up a good sweat while targeting A-listers. Anker is no celeb fanatic, but she knows enough about Beverly Hills and Hollywood to hit the obvious celebrity hangouts. She runs her clients along Rodeo Drive, past the posh Via Rodeo shopping compound, in front of pricey Kitson boutique and near-decadent Crumbs cupcakes.

On such routes, runners must possess expert hopscotching skills to slip around shoppers on crowded sidewalks, dodge cellphone-gabbing motorists and avoid vagrants and dog walkers in parks.

During this run, my first with Anker, we have no luck, except for a possible sighting of "Happy Days" alum Scott Baio eating at the Ivy restaurant. One of the women running with us claims she saw Chachi, but the rest of us don't bother to go back and confirm it.

During a second celebrity-free run with Anker, on a warm Monday afternoon, we notice a band of paparazzi milling about in front of Intermix, a favorite celebrity boutique on Robertson Boulevard.

We ask one of the photographers whom he's stalking but he plays it cool. "Just hanging out," he says. Another gives us a tip: Mondays are bad for scoping out celebs, he says. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are better.

Celebrity spotting is a lot like whale watching, it seems: You can improve your odds of glimpsing these elusive creatures by learning their behavior, habits and mating rituals, but in the end, sightings are rare.

Not willing to give up -- this can be addictive -- I meet Anker a third time, on a Wednesday. We are jogging along 3rd Street, near Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, when we see that an LAPD patrol car has pulled over a shiny black SUV. We run closer and recognize the driver. It's George Lopez.

Pay dirt, I think: A well-known actor getting busted. This could be a Mel Gibson moment. Then Lopez sees us pointing our digital cameras and steps out of his car. We tell him we're out jogging for celebrity sightings, and he pauses. Then, as if this were the most natural thing in the world, he asks if we would like to take his photo. But what about the cops, we ask. Oh, the police officers, Lopez says; they pulled him over just to meet him.

Boy, some people sure are obsessed with celebrities.




Running From the Paparazzi: $60 (includes T-shirt, bottled water, fruit and a cupcake); www.offnrunningtours.com

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