He was never supposed to be the celebrity. Tom Smuts, a cycling enthusiast who pedals to work three days a week, was just the organizer. But after being nominated for his first Emmy this year, the Mad Men producer thought he might be able to use his connections to get a bunch of famous people to bike together to the awards show.
The problem is that no actual famous people wanted to make the trip.
“Of course I emailed Jon Hamm and all the Mad Men cast members, all of whom said something about their hair or sweat,” Smuts says. “It was important to me that the people riding up to the red carpet would be Hollywood people.”
He reached out to Patrick Dempsey, the founder of a charity cycling race for cancer research, but the Grey's Anatomy actor wasn't planning to attend the Emmys. He emailed the assistant to Conan O'Brien, a fellow cycling fanatic, but never heard back. Even Smuts' wife, Meredith Stiehm, the Emmy-winning writer who created Cold Case, declined to join him.
After giving up on his roster of Hollywood names, Smuts called up the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, which then reached out to the Mayor's Office (to organize the ride) and the Television Academy (to sanction it). The trek was made official on Smuts' Facebook page, where he hoped to entice riders by announcing that Tern would be providing bicycles and Rapha would be donating high-end cycling apparel.
And so it is that at 1 p.m. on the Monday of the Emmys, Smuts finds himself biking the 17 miles from his home near Brentwood to the Nokia Theatre — with an entourage of no less than 20. That includes Smuts' identical twin, Peter; Rapha's head of North American sales and marketing, here from Portland, Oregon; a staffer from Santa Monica's Bike Effect shop; cyclist-fashion designer Nona Varnado; a videographer; several bicycle bloggers; and a member of the Mayor's Office. Jon Riddle, co-author of Where to Bike Los Angeles, also is here; he mapped the route, which then was approved by the Mayor's office.
The press coverage has been overwhelmingly supportive: Smuts has been featured in stories in The Hollywood Reporter and the L.A. Times, and he did an interview on KPCC, all of which point to the ride as a solution to the traffic debacle of an unusual Monday-evening awards show. There's even a Twitter hashtag, dreamed up by the bicycle coalition: #bike2Emmys.
It's the type of offbeat Hollywood story that everyone loves, not just because Smuts is Emmy-nominated but because he's doing something most Angelenos wouldn't dare: biking across town, in a city dominated by cars. Smuts seemed to be proof that biking in L.A. is not only possible but might actually be stylish. Besides, much of the coverage focuses on a subject most Angelenos already are obsessed with: beating traffic.
Even the general public is excited. Before the group can leave Smuts' neighborhood, a woman in a silver Range Rover gets out of her car to snap photos. “I wish I would've known about this,” she says. “I would've joined you.” Meanwhile, a black Ferrari swerves to get around the stopped Range Rover and the pack of 20 cyclists, most of whom are either tweeting, Instagramming or videotaping the ride.
Both Smuts brothers are clad in head-to-toe Rapha. Tom Smuts is red carpet–ready in a nylon and cotton blend blazer, with dark denim jeans cuffed at the ankle to reveal a reflective, hot pink stripe. Every time a car honks, someone from the bicycle coalition proudly shouts back: “We're going to the Emmys!”
According to the official schedule, the group will stop to pick up a rider at the Wilshire/Vermont Metro station at 2 p.m., swing by Loyola Law School at 2:30 p.m. and arrive at the Nokia Theatre by 3 p.m., where Tom Smuts will meet his wife for one last ceremonial block of pedaling.
It's slow going. There's a stop at the Westfield Century City mall, where Peter Smuts, who's been recording the ride on a GoPro video camera, stops to interview his brother. Then, in Beverly Hills, a Bentley takes up the entirety of the bike lane near the Peninsula Hotel, causing the group to swerve around it and into traffic. Minutes later, a Volvo darts across the bike lane and into a driveway, avoiding Smuts and Riddle by mere inches. By 2 p.m., they're still in the thick of Beverly Hills.
Kelly Marie Martin, a Bicycle Coalition staffer who wears yellow high heels and pink highlights in her hair, is the only rider who seems to notice. “We've got to get rolling,” she says, placing a call to JJ Hoffman, the coalition's self-described “navigatrix,” who has been loosely following in a pick-up truck.
By 2:30 p.m., Riddle and the Smuts brothers realize the schedule is in trouble. They call for an emergency huddle, but not all of the riders are paying attention.
“Why the fuck aren't they stopping?” says an exasperated, sweaty Riddle, as two rogue cyclists ride off in the distance. But Tom Smuts stays calm, announcing a new plan: The three cyclists who have credentials to accompany him on the red carpet will break off from the pack and pick up the speed. The rest of the riders can continue at a leisurely pace to the law school.
But nobody wants to split up the group, so everybody gets back on their bikes and agrees to pedal faster — onward to the Emmys! They start zipping past every stop sign.
The last cyclist to join the group gets scooped up, as scheduled, at the Metro station. The downtown skyline emerges as uniformed schoolkids in MacArthur Park stare and giggle. As the pack turns onto Albany Street, a cab driver with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth waves and leans on his horn.
“Was that a happy honk or a mad one?” Tom Smuts asks. It's not always easy to tell.
At Loyola Law School, a student group has arranged a table with cans of San Pellegrino and Perrier — and yet another photo opportunity.
More tweets are sent before the group hits the road again, but now they can actually hear helicopters circling above Nokia Theatre — it's the home stretch. One cyclist asks Tom Smuts if he's making Hollywood business deals on his cellphone, but Smuts says it's his wife on the other end: “Deals with your wife are the hardest ones to make.”
A few minutes later, the group finally meets up with Stiehm. She's waiting underneath the 110 freeway overpass with Smuts' agent and the suited-up driver of a black Dodge Ram pick-up truck. Dressed in a cocktail-length gold sequined dress and black ballet flats, Stiehm hops on a borrowed Tern bicycle to ride the one remaining block to Nokia Theatre, with just minutes to spare before 3 p.m.
“I cajoled her into this symbolic last segment,” Smuts says.
Security guards escort Smuts, Stiehm and their posse beyond the security gates, but not before everyone poses for one last group photo. Hoffman stays behind to pack up the bicycles and offer a ride back to Santa Monica for any riders who need one.
It isn't a bike trip anyone would emulate, even people who normally pedal to work. But it serves its purpose — even without any celebrity bigger than Tom Smuts, who, despite his original intentions, briefly becomes the face of commuter biking in L.A.
After freshening up in the nearby hotel room they've rented for the evening, Smuts and Stiehm re-emerge on the red carpet, sans bicycles. But Smuts hangs onto his helmet, posing for press photos with it under his arm and even lending one to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner for an Instagram shot.
The helmet turns out to be the only piece of hardware he goes home with that night, but it's also become the most celebrated.