A MAN is measured by his automobile in this city. But Vincent Kartheiser, the actor who plays the slick ad salesman Pete Campbell on “Mad Men,” is among the 10 percent of Angelenos who rely on public transportation. So on a Thursday night he and a reporter got around using his preferred, and for now, only, method of transportation: mass transit.
“I guess I’ve been shopping for cars for three and a half years,” said Mr. Kartheiser, whose last car was damaged by street flooding. “I have some commitment issues. I’m the guy who stands in the soap aisle for like 40 minutes. Old Spice! Speed Stick! Old Spice!”
Before heading out to a favorite restaurant in Thai Town, Mr. Kartheiser got ready in his single-room Hollywood apartment — which has a bed that can be airlifted to the ceiling and sliding doors that hide his bathroom. He emerged, wearing a faded green T-shirt imprinted with a mosaic of Edie Sedgwick images — a sharp contrast to Pete Campbell, who dons suits starched to perfection. On hiatus from shooting “Mad Men,” he sported a beard.
“In New York all the guys have satchels,” he said, as he slung a tattered black bag bearing the logo of his fictional workplace, Sterling Cooper, over his shoulders. “Here, you just have … Porsches,” he said with a tinge of sarcasm.
A drive east to the Thai Town neighborhood would have taken six minutes (without traffic). By subway, the trip was closer to 30 minutes. First there was the walk north along Vine Street to the corner of Hollywood Boulevard, for the Metro Red Line station, during which Mr. Kartheiser, 31, revealed his giddy — and decidedly un-Pete Campbell — side. He gave in to outbursts of song, and alternately hummed and whistled. A trained dancer, he treated the station’s stairs like Fred Astaire would, gliding from one side of the step to the other.
He also ruminated about getting around Los Angeles, which is daunting even with a car and a GPS device. But Mr. Kartheiser was unfazed by the bus and rail system.
“The buses stay on the streets they are on,” he said. “If you get on the 4, it’s going to stay on Santa Monica until it becomes Sunset. I don’t even know the names of most of the buses. Like the Fairfax bus — it’s just the Fairfax bus.”
“The hardest part of riding the bus is dating,” he added. “Girls, as much as they are independent, want on a certain level to have certain things.”
To go downtown where “Mad Men” is filmed, he takes either the Red Line or two buses. He reads, does crossword puzzles and goes over his lines.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “Instead of driving and being stressed out about traffic, you can work your scene, you can do your exercises or whatever on the bus. Everyone’s got their own deal.”
When he goes on auditions, he often changes into a suit at the location, so as not to get “schmutzy,” and says he is not often recognized. (“I was on a bus once and it had ‘Mad Men’ on the side,” he said. “That was pretty funny.”)
It helps that he’s nothing like Pete Campbell, who has become a cult figure, with several blogs devoted to the character, and a Tumblr titled, “What Would Pete Campbell Do?”
“I can’t even tell you how much fun I have playing this character,” he said.
After dinner, he and the reporter ventured by bus farther east to the Gold Room, a dive bar in the Echo Park neighborhood. There, he ordered scotch and struck up a conversation with a young man, who after learning that Mr. Kartheiser uses mass transit, explained that he had spent the day doing the same — his first time after living in Los Angeles for five years.
“They’ve done a study and they’ve found that people under 30 no longer view cars as status symbols or even positive things,” Mr. Kartheiser said. “They look at them as pollutants.”
Earlier in the evening, on the way to the restaurant, Mr. Kartheiser had ruminated about his choice to be carless.
“I like that my life slows down when I go places,” he said. “I have all these interactions with the human race and I can watch people living their life and not just in their car.”
He added, “Of, course, now I am getting to a point. …”
He drifted off as he climbed the Metro station stairs, when as if on cue, a man ran down the stairs, followed by another with a video camera.
“Yeah!” Mr. Kartheiser shouted. “That was amazing!”