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Curb Your SUV

Photo by Elliott Shaffner
It's a rainy Wednesday afternoon, and as Laurie David zips around the curvy, lush back streets of her Pacific Palisades neighborhood, she hopscotches between topics: from the ongoing fuel-economy/SUV debate to how she hooked up with her husband, Curb Your Enthusiasm creator and star Larry David, then back to America's dependence on foreign oil and, finally, to the absolute irrelevance of straws — "I could spend my life focusing on getting rid of straws in our society. The plastic things, the paper it comes in — I mean, what we do with the packaging!"

The interior of David's electric Toyota Rav 4 is littered with the signs of a chronic multitasker: One cell phone charges in its dashboard cradle as another rings periodically from the depths of her purse on the back seat; a laminated list of important contacts (columnist Arianna Huffington's cell, the Natural Resources Defense Council, her children's school) is tucked into the door pocket; and a smashed tissue box on the floor functions as a makeshift notepad, with phone numbers and messages-to-self, such as "get Bobby K[ennedy] programs," written on three sides.

At the moment, David finds herself enmeshed in two national controversies: the issue of fuel economy and the touchy subject of celebrity activism, both of which are exceedingly relevant with war in the Middle East. She's not your typical Think Globally, Act Locally sort, however. Her husband co-created and produced Seinfeld, for one thing, and doesn't exactly need his day job; and David herself travels in privileged Hollywood circles. Yet she flips their good fortune on its head, mining her connections to actors, producers and movie execs to forward populist environmental campaigns. And the Hollywood alpha crowd listens to her — which means that millions, in one way or another, may actually hear her message. In May, the New York-based environmental-litigation group Riverkeeper will honor David for being the "single most effective environmental voice in America" this year.


'How often in history
has a person’s choice in
a vehicle really been able
to effect change?'


David had spent the morning, she tells me, with her NRDC Action Forum, an informal group of wealthy and influential women friends that includes GiGi Levangie Grazer ("wonderful screenwriter, married to Brian Grazer"), Gwen McCaw ("married to John McCaw of McCaw Communications . . . McCaw cellular . . . major") and Kelly Meyer ("She's Ron Meyer's wife, president of Universal"). Its purpose, David says, "is to use our resources to help stop the assault from this current administration on our environmental laws. I co-founded it with Elizabeth Wiatt. We created it together, to turn all these women into activists."

The group had gathered at Cindy and Glenn Frey's Brentwood home to spam senators. It was an urgent, last-minute attempt to stop the Omnibus Budget Bill, onto which, David says, anti-environmental riders had been attached. "It was kind of like bedlam. But the bedlam was coming from the eight women around the table," she says. "We were all talking on our cell phones at once, leaving messages with chiefs of staff, trying to get through to senators, leaving voice mails — everybody was really fired up. This thing was supposed to get voted on within 24 hours — and there had been no public discussion." She lets out an exhausted sigh. "All these things feel like the world's coming to an end."

During a lull in their phoning, Heather Thomas ("She was an actress, now she's married to Skip Brittenham, one of the top entertainment attorneys in town") casually asked if anyone had heard the NPR story reporting that this year's Oscar nominees would receive keys to brand-new Lincoln Navigators in their goodie bags. "There was this moment where everyone just looked at each other, and then we all started screaming." Elizabeth Wiatt snatched the phone and called her husband, Jim, president of William Morris. He gave her the extension for Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We were screaming questions at her in the background: 'Ask him if it's true, who's in charge, who made the decision,'" David says. But the rumor turned out to be just that.

Had it been true, this particular celebrity-thick, fuel-inefficient affront might just have been the perfect battle for the NRDC Action Women (picture them bursting out of phone booths in tights and designer capes). "We would have done everything in our power to keep it from happening" David says. "I'm telling you, it would not have gone down without a fight." As she relays the story, David stares straight ahead, coolly steering the wheel with one hand and with the other repeatedly jabbing my arm to accentuate her points. "Not without a fight," she jabs. "Not . . . without . . . a . . . fight."  

 

The phone calls have become a near daily ritual. Sometimes they arrive at home, occasionally on my cell; often, they're friendly but urgent voice mails at work, always the same basic message, quick and businesslike: "Hi, Laurie David. Just wanted to make sure you saw the paper today: 'The Great SUV Divide,'" she reads emphatically. "Oh, and The New York Times, A1: 'Hybrid Cars Are Gaining Attention.'" Another day, another call: "Have you seen The Wall Street Journal yet? 'SUVs May Be Losing Their Cool.' If not, I can get it for you." And always, she signs off with an "Okay, bye, doll." Or "Thanks, sweetie."

The first time I met David, 45, was at a book party at Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli's house. And it didn't take long to discover how altruistic and socially conscious, quite literally, she is — a concerned but high-maintenance Jewish-mom type, a brassy New York go-getter with a warm demeanor and a sharp tongue. A modern-day Rhoda of sorts, if Rhoda were amped up on caffeine. That evening, David rescued me from the acerbic former state Senator Tom Hayden, who'd snapped at my cutting in on his one-on-one time with Larry David. Laurie swooped in and linked her arm through mine and said of her good friend, laughing: "Oh, just ignore him, he really needs to work on his social skills." As she guided me to a corner oasis in this liberal Westside cocktail crowd, I asked David why she didn't appear on her husband's hilarious HBO docu-sitcom, on which most everyone in Larry's world plays themselves. "I have my own career," she said. "I'm an environmentalist."

As is her alter ego Cheryl Hines, who plays Larry's wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm; but that's where their likeness ends. The small-screen Mrs. David, a sweet, almost saccharine über-shiksa, seems to get blonder with each season and typically lounges in comfy stretch pants and a fitted T while playfully nagging her husband from the couch; the real Mrs. David, who has sleek, ink-black hair and favors tailored monochrome pantsuits, is a force to be reckoned with. "She's Larry's dream wife. I'm the real wife," David says. "He wishes I was like that. I'm much more aggressive — that character is so much nicer than I am."

Later, Larry weighs the question — to what extent are his wives alike? — carefully. "The actress on the show wouldn't get quite as, um, worked up as Laurie," he says. "You'll be having breakfast with her, and then all of a sudden, something will get her attention in the newspaper — some environmental rollback — and she'll start screaming. And it's, like, 7 o'clock in the morning!"

Committed is the word that pops up, over and over again, in conversations about David. In addition to political fund-raising for Democratic candidates, relentless lobbying for environmental-policy changes and presiding on the boards of community organizations such as P.S. Arts, which raises money to restore arts programming in public schools, David co-founded, with Arianna Huffington, the nonprofit Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars. Its much-talked-about Detroit Project launched the biting TV ads that satirize the Bush administration's anti-drug ads by linking driving SUVs to supporting terrorism. The sound bites are now ingrained: "I helped hijack an airplane," says one suburban mom, deadpan. "I helped blow up a nightclub. So what if it gets 11 miles to the gallon?"

The ads ran mostly on cable outlets in select markets around the country — Detroit and Washington among them — but most major television stations refused to air them, including KCBS and KABC in Los Angeles. The controversy generated millions of dollars in free publicity on more than 350 TV shows nationwide, including NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition and CNN's Crossfire. But the campaign also stirred up a tremendous amount of criticism of celebrities — a barrage of snarky quips running rampant across the AM radio dial, ridiculing famous people for preaching about fuel efficiency while living large, energy-dependent lives that include stretch limos and private jets.

David scoffs at the sniping: "It's like they don't want you to do anything. What are people who have resources, power, money — what should they be doing with their time? Nothing? Going to lunch? You know, you do one thing at a time, and we chose cars."

Among the four Detroit Project founders, who also include film producer Lawrence Bender and Hollywood agent Ariel Emanuel, Huffington was, by far, the biggest talking head during the media blitz. And more often than not, the ad campaign was referred to as "Arianna's project." But David was the real engine behind it. She persuaded Huffington, while on one of their weekly hikes together, to give up her hulking 13-mpg Lincoln Navigator for a 26-mpg Volvo station wagon — a stopgap measure before Huffington moved on to a 52-mpg (chauffeur-driven) Prius. "I picked Arianna up, and in her driveway there was that . . . [She twists her face and spits out the words as if talking about an old, unfaithful boyfriend.] . . . that disgusting Lincoln Navigator. Arianna gets these issues, she's writing about these issues, and she hadn't figured out that what's in her driveway . . . [David cannot complete the sentence.] . . . That blew my mind."  

When Huffington returned home after their hike, she penned a column addressing the illogic of Bush's drug-war ads and rhetorically asking if anyone would be willing to fund an alternative "people's ad campaign . . . using the same shock-value tactics the administration uses in the drug war to confront the public with the ultimate — and much more linearly linked — consequences of their energy wastefulness. Imagine a soccer mom in a Ford Excursion (11 mpg city, 15 mpg highway) saying, 'I'm building a nuclear bomb for Saddam Hussein.'"

The next morning, Huffington awoke to more than 5,000 e-mails offering money. "They were so moving," says David: "'I'm a student, I have no money. Here's $25.' Or 'I just got laid off, here's $5.'" Within seven days, they'd raised $200,000 for a week of airtime. The ads were written and directed by "Got Milk?" creator Scott Burns, and all the actors, equipment and production costs were pro bono. "It was an absolute populist campaign," says Huffington, "entirely funded by small donations. In a sense, the public created the Detroit Project."

Now, David believes, we're at a crucial "tipping point" in the SUV debate, that the heated national discussion, propelled by the war in Iraq, will soon boil over into action — and tangible changes in public policy. "It all started at our press conference," David says of the morning they unveiled their TV campaign. The ads did ignite an already present undercurrent of SUV resentment and set into motion a wave of anti-SUV sentiment. The Evangelical Environmental Network's quasi-religious testament "What would Jesus Drive?," for instance, has been absorbed into our lexicon like a memorable Saturday Night Live punch line. "It has not let up," David says. "Lawrence Bender just called me from Mexico — he's doing a movie there with Quentin Tarantino. He turned on CNN in his room the other night, and there were two stories back-to-back about it. There's a lot going on, it's all good."

"Laurie was definitely the key person who helped me connect the dots in terms of the car I was driving and what it was doing to the environment," says Huffington. "There's no dividing line between her personal life and her children and her marriage and her causes — it's just all part of who she is."

 

My first interview with David, over a tuna tartare lunch, unfolds like an episode of Curb: I'm waiting at the only Sushi Roku I know of — a power-lunch spot in Beverly Hills — and David's settled in at the Sushi Roku in Santa Monica. But then the plot threads start to come together: As we wait out this classic mishap, I spot my first hybrid car — a cute, pug-nosed little vehicle with a quiet (near silent) demeanor. The valet, Carlos, says that whereas this time last year he'd never even seen one, he typically parks two or three hybrids a day now. When I finally join David at the Santa Monica restaurant, where she's been waiting an hour, she is surprisingly friendly and unperturbed by the misunderstanding, full on into drafting a letter on both sides of recycled Post-its.

During lunch, she bombards me with information — press releases, videotapes, a thick binder of clippings tracking the SUV debate. Later, back at the office, the faxes start to come — a steady stream of articles stating what most of us already know, but which can always bear repeating: There are something like 22 million SUVs on the road, and these tippy gas-guzzlers, along with pickups and minivans, account for more than half the sales of new cars in California. Though the U.S. possesses only 3 percent of the world's natural oil reserves, we use 25 percent — 20 million barrels of oil a day, 40 percent of that for cars. Meanwhile, pollution from tailpipe emissions is the number-one contributor to global warming.  

But it's more than a global-warming issue, David notes, "it's a national-security issue. These are two of our biggest problems in this country. And here's a solution, guys. You can do something about it. How often in history has a person's personal choice in a vehicle — or personal choice of anything — really been able to effect change? Everyone has to embrace hybrid cars, we have to." The fact that only Honda and Toyota currently produce the gas-electric hybrids, and Bush's much-vaunted hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles are at least two decades from fruition, is a problem. "It's gonna get ugly. We're going to lose the race to Japan — the same way we lost televisions and stereos. It's crazy: To do something patriotic right now, you have to buy a Japanese car."

Three years ago, David traded in her family car, a Lexus, for the first hybrid on the market, Toyota's Prius. Then last year, as soon as they were released, she bought her electric Rav 4, which (unlike hybrids) has to be recharged fairly often but is emissions-free. Like any good new convert, she took to the practice of converting others. And her enthusiasm ä sparked a sort of "environmental chic" domino effect within her A-list Hollywood circle. After persuading Huffington to buy a Prius, husband Larry got two (one for himself and one for the character — Larry David — he plays on TV); Rob Reiner got one because Larry had one, and singer-songwriter Carol King copied Laurie; Howard Gordon, producer of 24, got one because the Davids had one, and so did J.J. Abrams, producer of Alias. "Now they're putting the lead actress, Jennifer Garner, in a Prius on the show," says David. "And we're trying to get it on The Osbournes — to be the car that Jack Osbourne drives."

Meanwhile, in all the confusion, Tom Hanks snagged the last electric Toyota on the market. ("It wasn't embraced," says David. "The electric vehicle is over.") Bill Maher, by the way, will tell you he started the trend: "I started the trend." Regardless, on and on it went. Now, more celebrities have hybrids than lunch reservations at the Ivy — Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, David Duchovny, Ted Danson, David Hyde Pierce, Kurt Russell, Patricia Arquette, Kirk Douglas, Alicia Silverstone, Will Ferrell, among others. No wonder, then, that Toyota Santa Monica has sold more Priuses than any other dealership in the country.

 

Ten p.m., the phone rings: "Hi, it's Laurie David. Is it too late? Have I passed the cutoff point?" It's a surreal, Seinfeld-ian moment. Or, perhaps, Davidian — Larry devoted an entire episode of Curb to that bit of minutia. There are, in fact, so many parallels between Larry's real and reel lives that, at first, Laurie David has trouble recalling specifics. Then she remembers another recent episode, in which the fictional Mrs. David gets stuck driving through a car wash after having taken a hefty dose of Colon Cleanse. "That really happened to my sister Lisa. Larry just exaggerated it."

The sort of celebrity-adjacent life that David leads is fairly organic. "I thought I was going to be president of a network someday," she says. "I was very ambitious." After a stint as talent coordinator for David Letterman in New York, she formed her own Manhattan-based management company representing comedians. Then, while at a club scouting for new talent, Laurie "It's All Good" Lennard met Larry "I Tend To See the Catastrophic in Most Things" David. The earth did not immediately move. "We had two dates, and then I completely blew him off," she says. "He was, you know, bald. And even before, when he did have hair, it was bad hair. He had no money and no potential for earning, because he was a comedian who didn't like to travel. But everything worked out. Now all I have to deal with is always having my life on television."

In 1990, she and fiancé Larry schlepped out to Los Angeles after "his and her sitcoms" had been green-lighted — miraculously, in the same week. Hers was the Chris Elliott vehicle Get a Life; his was about a struggling New York comic who made a big deal about a lot of nothing. "Nobody thought Seinfeld was going anywhere. Everybody thought my show was gonna be a big hit," she says. "My show lasted two years, and his show . . . you know, the rest is history."

David "retired" to have children — two daughters, 7 and 9 — and the question, many millions of dollars later, became: Now what? "That was the end of show biz. What was I gonna do — go back and start developing comedies that were better than Seinfeld? It just took the air out of the whole project." So she tapped into another passion, one born out of a new parent's concern for her children's future, and nurtured by environmental reporting in The New York Times. "I have kids, I want something left for them. It's a cliché, I know, but it's true. That's what drives me every day."  

And then there was that childhood littering thing. "When I was a little kid — and I don't know why — I was obsessed with littering. I'd yell at people in their cars if I saw someone throw paper or a cup out of their window. My mother would say, 'Stop it back there — you're going to get us in trouble!'"

Larry would argue that his wife hasn't changed much since then: "She's gonna get me in trouble pretty soon," he whines. "Either I'm gonna get beat up because of her, or people are gonna stop watching my show — I'm gonna lose viewers! And that's where I draw the line." But the only people David has gotten into any trouble, thus far, live in Detroit — auto-industry execs. And she's been that much more dangerous since hooking up with the NRDC six years ago, approaching pesticides and children's health issues with a characteristically ferocious passion. Fuel economy eventually became her central issue, and David found her voice advocating for hybrid cars; then she fashioned a niche cultivating people in Hollywood. Which is important because the challenge for groups like the NRDC is to get the debate aired nationally, and the Hollywood community offers a direct route.

Since David's involvement, the NRDC has raised its profile significantly — both in Los Angeles and nationwide. "Laurie's made an enormous difference in expanding our ability to connect with top celebrities, and enlist their support," says Joel Reynolds, director of the NRDC's Southern California office. "There are so many people trying to get things from people like Pierce Brosnan or Cameron Diaz. Laurie has enabled us to talk to them. I've seen what Leonardo DiCaprio can do in terms of focusing public attention and getting results."

Celebrity activism is a tricky thing, however, as the growing controversy over Michael Moore's speech at last week's Academy Awards suggests. When someone like DiCaprio starts proselytizing about Mother Earth, people take note; but then they don't stop taking note. They glare through a ä magnifying glass under a heat lamp. And the criticism tends to be selective. "You don't see them criticizing Republican celebrities," says David. "I don't see any criticism of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it's because of him that we have the Hummer — the single worst car in the history of this country. It was a military vehicle. He said, 'I vant one,' and they made the first commercial Hummer for him."

Of course, there's no shortage of celebrity hypocrisy out there for conservative talk-show hosts to mine, such as the endlessly referenced 21-car garage of Detroit Project contributor Norman Lear. New York Post gossip columnist Richard Johnson is on a crusade questioning celebrities' integrity, criticizing them for being "hypocrites who consume huge quantities of fossil fuels in their stretch limos, Gulfstream jets and oversize Beverly Hills mansions." And it is much easier to advocate for the environment when there's discretionary income — huge amounts of it — to buy and trade hybrid cars like baseball cards. So, for all the money and publicity toward select causes that famous spokespeople generate, to what extent is the parallel criticism obscuring the issue and undercutting the message?

At its core, the Detroit Project is about raising awareness — regardless of what kind. Its founders meant to start a national conversation, and they did. "These ladies have figured out a way to break this issue open," says NRDC president John Adams, "and it's caused an enormous debate throughout the country. I think what they're doing is going to change the course of history."

 

Tonight, there's not a stretch limo in sight. And there is a green, rather than red, carpet — a 200-foot-long, politically correct tongue of sorts, illuminated by floodlights and rolled out to greet the rich and famous. Which is fitting, since it's the Rolling Stones appearing at Staples Center — a free concert sponsored by the NRDC to raise awareness about global warming in a way that, as one concert organizer put it, "gets the issue off the science page and in people's faces." It's the largest such event the NRDC has ever coordinated — nearly 150,000 people competed online for 12,000 free tickets. E!, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood — they're all here. Along with newspapers and magazines from the French press, the U.K. and Australia. More than 50 celebrities will arrive in donated, chauffeur-driven hybrids, and a media mob waits, restless and stirring, behind a shiny metal barrier that runs alongside the green carpet.  

When Laurie and Larry show up, the couple clicks into a well-oiled routine — she's the more "adult" straight man to his funny, high-speed kvetcher. Laurie moves leisurely, effortlessly, down the green carpet, smiling and stopping for interviews, then interjecting a line about the ozone layer. Or the absurdity of tax credits and loopholes that have helped to create the so-called "SUV explosion." Larry, in a beige corduroy jacket and sneakers, is less focused, slightly amused, even a bit shy. "Larry, E!" "Larry, over here!" the reporters call out, stretching their long mikes and unwieldy rubber cords over the metal barrier — looking, collectively, like a giant, multilegged insect flipped on its back. When he wanders ahead, Laurie snaps, "Larry! Wait!" He returns to her side, and she softens up, smiling at him affectionately.

"Larry, are you a Stones fan?" shouts a TV reporter.

"No."

"Do you know any of their songs?"

"No."

"What's one that you like?"

"Uh . . . 'Blowin' in the Wind'?"

Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz is trying to get her lips around the largest chocolate-covered strawberry ever to be presented on a dessert tray. The pre-concert VIP party is a People magazine editor's dream: Rita Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Lahti, Bill Maher, Peter Gordon, Governor Davis. Behind the bar, a bank of televisions shows live footage of DiCaprio getting out of his hybrid car and stepping onto the green carpet. David works the room as if it were her family's annual Seder, facilitating introductions, making connections. One minute, she's leaning over Lisa Kudrow's table; the next, she's welcoming Diaz or casually strolling with Bill Clinton, laughing, chatting, oblivious to the excitement that surrounds them.

The former president doesn't venture much farther than the entrance hallway — he doesn't have to. A throng of people is pushing to get near him — a mosh pit of stars, politicians and other guests held off by security men in blue blazers. This goes on for a while: Clinton thrusting out his arm to greet old friends and nodding at others who can't get close enough. A slender, pretty woman — who, until now, has been hanging back by the wall — steps forward: "

Hi, I'm Mira Sorvino" she says sweetly. Clinton lingers a little longer than usual, making extraordinary eye contact.

In a sort of James Bond-meets-Mark Wahlberg/Rock Star moment, Brosnan and Clinton pause by the black curtain separating them from the arena. As bluesy solo artist Susan Tedeschi finishes her set, Brosnan puts his hand on Clinton's shoulder, nods toward the curtain and says, "We have fans out there . . ." As in: It's time for the president to make his way downstairs and introduce the Stones. Many thank-yous and references to global warming, solar power and cleaner car engines later: "Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rock & roll band of all time!"

The awareness event morphs into pure stadium rock — 15,000 rumbling, hooting, foot-stomping fans, cigarette lighters held up high. Then Mick Jagger appears onstage, in purple iridescent jacket and tight black jeans, still pushing the envelope — in this case, age. "Really nice to be here, innit a good cause and all that," he shouts, and the band jumps into "Start Me Up."

The Laurie David Group — her sister and niece, Rob Reiner and wife, close friends who've flown in from out of town for the concert — occupies the front row, stage left. Larry is gone after two or three songs ("What can I say, he's not a rock & roller . . ."), but Laurie is slumped down in her chair, feet up on the railing, slamming her head to "Brown Sugar" and receiving passing "visitors" on their way out: Huffington, Lahti, NRDC board members. Toward the end of the night, Jagger leaps off the stage and struts down the runway shaking hands and high-fiving; the band finishes off the last 15 minutes on an elevated podium in the center of the floor, surrounded by NRDC logos.

"This is not a fund-raiser," says Adams, explaining why the Steve Bing-organized concert is free. "We're trying to get a message out across America." Everyone through the door received free, limited-edition CD-ROMs (they'll later sell on eBay for $30 a pop), and there are seven NRDC booths scattered around Staples Center stocked with post cards addressed to the CEO of GM, urging him not to meddle with California's global-warming pollution bill. The cards litter escalator steps and bathroom stalls for the most part, but several people hang on to them.  

"I'm going to join the NRD . . . what is it again?" says an Orange County mom and longtime Stones fan. "I drive a Grand Jeep Cherokee. When they were saying it's awful, and it's bad, and you're contributing to that, when it was on the news, I felt bad. You know, with celebrities coming, it gets people to pay attention."

 

Pulling up to Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, David spots another electric car. "Oh, that's Liberty Godshall's — Ed Zwick's wife," she says. "I know everyone who has one." Then she slips out to corral her children, the only other topic she's as enthusiastic about. On the way home, the kids — one looks exactly like Larry, the other like Laurie — rattle on excitedly about an upcoming party. In between "Yes, you can have those red balls" and "No, we can't invite anyone else," David lays out environmental strategy. The SUV/fuel-efficiency debate will hopefully travel the same road that seat belts, air bags and catalytic converters took, she explains. And, much like Mothers Against Drunk Driving's "Designated Driver" campaign (which transformed drunk driving from being somehow cool to being socially irresponsible), the Detroit Project hopes to create a demand for cleaner cars, so that big business begins to supply them.

Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars, she says, is already in pre-production on a second round of television ads. This time, aimed at automakers rather than drivers, the ads will parody the he-man nature-lover's ideal seen in SUV commercials. So the industrious earth mom, like any good Jewish mother, will continue guilting America out — one SUV at a time. "Okay, I'll reveal this. I've spent plenty of time ticketing cars," she whispers. Then she digs through her purse and pulls out a Day-Glo orange parking ticket, which looks much like any other parking ticket — except for the fact that it's made out to SUV drivers and suggests "biking to work" and "carpooling" in the appropriate boxes (that, and it's printed with soy ink on recycled paper). "I go to parking lots and put these on windshields. I believe in that — one person at a time."

In Laurie David's world, that one person just might be the president of a television network, which is why teenagers are going to see more and more hybrid cars on MTV — Tom Freston is a close friend. Diaz, DiCaprio and Brosnan will continue to show up for press events. And when one of them says, "Vote for leaders who care about protecting our environment," local media outlets will run the hell out of the soundbite. Rabbis will consider speaking to their congregations about global warming, schools will consider premium parking for hybrid and electric cars, Vegas limo companies will consider turning over their fleets to hybrids — all projects David is currently working on. Everything adds up.

When, finally, David returns home, it's still raining outside, and there are waterlogged Post-its stuck to the bottom of the driveway, with "to-do list" tidbits scrawled in runny black ink. The Davids' house, a large country-style Tudor with lush, manicured grounds, looks like the kind of place where, on his show, Larry would typically make an appalling faux pas. Inside, it's spacious, quiet, low-lit and cool. Though not an "eco-home" per se — there are no solar panels, recycled wood or non-toxic cleaning products — it's not frivolous or wasteful, either (if you don't count the electric kitty litter box on the patio).

"Bobby Kennedy called me the other day," David says while unloading kid paraphernalia from the trunk. "He was at a gas station, and a woman came up to him in a huge Suburban and said, 'Oh, it's you.' And he's used to it, he's ready to be attacked. The woman said, 'I just want you to know that I saw you on the Today Show, and this morning, I sold this car.'" David races for cover toward the house, feet squishy from the water, arms loaded with cardboard juice boxes, little plastic rain jackets and a backpack. "I mean, that is just . . ." — she smacks the air like a proud Italian chef — ". . . Mmmwa! This is going to take some time, but people are going to start feeling like idiots in their cars, and Detroit is going to start making better cars."

Just before retreating inside, David plugs her E.V. into its charger by the side of the house, as if it were an enormous, tinny-looking cell phone. "See, easy." And then she mutters, one last time over the pelting rain, "It's all good, it's all good. Yeah."  

Related Story: LARRY DAVID on the perils of being married to an environmentalist.

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