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Celebrity safari

Thanks to a tour company in Los Angeles, you can now spend a day with a veteran paparazzo as he hunts his prey. Bring your camera. Leave your inhibitions

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At 11:04 a.m., we spot Nicky Hilton jogging on Doheny Road in Beverly Hills. But the Canadian couple in the backseat are skeptical. ”That’s not really Nicky Hilton, is it?” the wife asks the paparazzo behind the wheel as he swings his black Jaguar into a U-turn and pursues Hilton up the street. The husband is even less convinced. ”It doesn’t look like Nicky Hilton,” he says, grabbing his Nikon just in case he’s wrong. ”I’m sure that’s not her.”

It’s Nicky all right. And she turns out to be an extremely good sport when she discovers she’s being ambushed by Rolling With the Paparazzi, a new service in Los Angeles that lets out-of-towners, such as Rick and Michelle Wysocki, spend three hours chasing after celebrities in and around Beverly Hills with veteran photographer Rick Mendoza as their guide. (Mendoza is the shutterbug whose foot was famously run over by Britney Spears’ Mercedes in 2007.) Playing pretend paparazzi set the Wysockis — attractive thirtysomething parents of three originally from Toronto but now living in Washington, D.C. — back $150 each. But the souvenirs they’ll take home, including a shot of Michelle with her arm around Nicky Hilton that her husband snaps in front of Hilton’s driveway? Priceless.

”My heart is racing!” Michelle gushes as we all climb back into Mendoza’s Jag. ”I can’t believe we just did that.”

Using paparazzi as L.A. tour guides seems like such a natural fit for our tabloid-crazy culture that it’s amazing nobody ever thought of it before. Rolling With the Paparazzi is the brainchild of Cheryl Anker, president of Off’N Running Tours, a company that’s been giving jogging tours around Beverly Hills and other celeb-filled spots since 1994. ”While we were on the running tours, we kept seeing these packs of paparazzi,” says Anker. ”Every day there’d be 20 of them outside the Ivy restaurant on Robertson. And they would wave to us and pretend to take our pictures as we jogged past. Then, last summer, I bumped into Rick Mendoza on the street and we started talking…”

Mendoza, 43, a onetime shooter for TMZ, is so skilled at his job that he not only knows the colors and models of stars’ vehicles but has also memorized the first three digits of their license plates. ”Black Bentley — that’s Meg Ryan,” he says. ”White G-Wagen — that’s Hilary Duff.” For the moment, Mendoza is the only paparazzo working with Rolling With the Paparazzi, which started up in December. But Anker plans to expand. ”I’d love to have a whole fleet of paparazzi,” she says. ”After all, millions of tourists come to this city every year hoping to see a celebrity. It’s one of the city’s big tourist attractions — movie stars. To me, it’s like whale-watching. You take people where celebrities might be, and they’re either migrating that day or they’re not.”

The celebrities seem to be migrating today, even if they’re mostly minnows. At noon, Mendoza spots a white Mercedes wagon with pink trim — ”David Hasselhoff’s daughter,” he’s pretty sure — and pursues it down some alleyways in West Hollywood. Meanwhile, Michelle Wysocki explains why, for her first trip to L.A., she and her husband signed up for Rolling With the Paparazzi. ”I didn’t want to do wax museums or any touristy things,” she says. ”I wanted to see the way people in L.A. live. The higher-end people.” Rick Wysocki puts it more bluntly: ”We read up before we came to L.A. on places where we might find celebrities, different restaurants and things. But we’ve been here for four days, and no luck.”

After snapping some shots of Hayley Hasselhoff in the parking lot of a dress boutique, Mendoza drives back into Beverly Hills and slowly rolls past the patio of a restaurant near Rodeo Drive. The Wysockis are convinced they’ve spotted the back of Tom Cruise’s head. Mendoza circles around the block for another look, but it turns out to be a false lead — it’s not Cruise. Mendoza laughs off the rookie mistake. ”The life of a paparazzo,” he explains to the Wysockis, ”is doing nothing more than spotting what most people miss. It’s a lot of driving. A lot of observing. A lot of relaxing.”

After a few more spins around Beverly Hills, Mendoza receives a tip that Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, will soon be leaving the house to pick up his mail. (The tip comes from an impeccable source — a text message from Prince Frederic von Anhalt.) So he leads the tour up into the hills of Bel Air, pointing out landmarks along the way. ”Elizabeth Taylor lives up here. And Quincy Jones.” Then he parks the Jaguar across the street from Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house. ”The thing you have to remember,” he tells the Wysockis as they wait outside the car with their cameras, ”is that Zsa Zsa is Hollywood royalty. She taught Frederic everything he knows about how to play the media.”

Sure enough, 10 minutes after arriving at the Gabor residence, the Wysockis are treated to the sight of Zsa Zsa’s 67-year-old socialite husband ambling down the driveway in a white terry-cloth robe and flip-flops.

”How’s Zsa Zsa doing today?” Mendoza shouts as the Wysockis snap away. The 94-year-old star has been in and out of the hospital in recent months and in January had her right leg amputated above the knee due to a severe infection.

”Oh, she’s doing okay, she’s hanging in,” the prince replies. Then he reaches into the mailbox and waves a huge bundle of letters. ”Look at all the fan mail she gets!”

Mendoza explains to von Anhalt that the Wysockis are paparazzi tourists, and suggests that he pose for a picture with the couple. The Wysockis look thrilled. Von Anhalt looks a little confused but doesn’t object. ”You know,” he says to the Wysockis in his thick German accent as Mendoza takes their photo, ”it’s such a lovely day, you really should be at the beach.”

6 More Weird Hollywood Tours
Riding shotgun with the paparazzi not for you? L.A. entrepreneurs have dreamed up other options. Good taste not necessarily included.

Dearly Departed’s Tragical History: If the dead mammoths at the La Brea Tar Pits aren’t morbid enough for you, try visiting the hotel where John Belushi overdosed, the spot where Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered, and the last-breath locations of River Phoenix and Michael Jackson. Narration is enhanced with 911 recordings and crime-scene photos. Restroom break takes place at the public park where George Michael was arrested. Length: 2.5 hours. Cost: $40

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Tour: While in town, why not drop in on Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Carl ”Alfalfa” Switzer, Johnny Ramone, and other deceased celebrities at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery? They’re not busy. But wear good walking shoes — and maybe bring flowers. Length: 2 hours. Cost: $12

Literary L.A.: Esotouric bus adventures let you experience, among others, Raymond Chandler’s L.A. (with stops at the Barclay Hotel and Musso & Frank Grill) and Charles Bukowski’s L.A. (including the Post Office Terminal Annex where he worked, as well as his favorite liquor store). Length: 3.5 hours. Cost: $58

Running from the Paparazzi: Led by the same company that offers the Rolling With the Paparazzi tour, this is a four-mile jogging trip through L.A.’s best celebrity-spotting neighborhoods, including Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Cost: $60

Haunted Hollywood Tours: It’s like the Dearly Departed Tour, only with a paranormal twist. Check out L.A.’s most haunted hot spots, including the Manson family massacre site, James Dean’s garage, and the Houdini mansion. Length: 2 hours. Cost: $35

The TMZ Hollywood Tour: Starting in May, TMZ and Starline Tours will be joining forces to offer a tabloid-style bus tour of Hollywood. If you want to see the department store where Winona Ryder got busted for shoplifting or the comedy club where Michael Richards went on a racist rant, get on the bus. Length: 2 hours. Cost: $69