I was out in my suburban paradise on a day when I couldn’t the pollution, hear the trucks on the highway just past the trees, or think of a place I’d rather be, when I rounded a curving street of tidy lawns and split-roofed pallazos, and saw the car.
Dark blue paint. Two pairs of horizontal headlights and, in the middle, a garbage can perched at the edge of the curb blocking my view of the front grill and its famous winged female hood ornament.
My brain connected the dots and I almost skidded to a halt as I asked myself, “What is a Rolls-Royce doing in MY neighborhood?”
Okay, I don’t OWN the neighborhood but my wife and I live in a house here. We park our cars here, walk our dogs here (and pick up the poop!). We pay our taxes, our bills, the mortgage and Home Owners Association dues. We pay a neighbor’s son to mow the lawn and, because I’ve had two heart attacks, shovel the snow.
So we’re invested here. This is home, where most of the vehicles that transport human beings to work, school, supermarkets, bars, doctors, lawyers, malls and Big Cities just far enough away to make you break out in a sweat when while searching for a parking space, and walk quickly on the sidewalk to wherever you’re going because you don’t know anyone and would rather be back home watching Amazon Prime while waiting for a package to be delivered–are sport-utility-types, with a scattering of pick-up trucks. Here and there is a Lexus, Mercedes, BNW or Audi, or a tiny hatchback or hybrid small enough to hide under the autumn leaves that no one ever rakes up.
But no Bentleys, Aston-Martins, McLarens, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maybachs and Rolls-Royces.
So why was one casting a shadow on curb?
Could it be that the owner had a flat tire and if I help him fix it, I’ll be rewarded with a pile of cash that will solve the dilemma of relentlessly escalating HOA fees forever!
Alas, I’m not much for turning lug nuts these days. And doesn’t Rolls-Royce provide their own roadside assistance program?
Maybe this belongs to some utter fraud–like the guy who used to advertise get-rich-quick real estate schemes on late-night TV infomercials–who is hoping to lure someone to part with hard-earned pay?
Is it owned by one of the professional sports players that is pulling a surprise visit on some sick child whose only wish was to have their autograph? Football types are supposed to live in somewhere around here because their training center is nearby. But the only time you see, or hear about them is when they get into fights at the local bars.
What is it about some brands of cars, clothing and jewelry that signifies “otherness,” that says to people like me (and maybe you) that whoever owns and flaunts them is NOT like you, NOT from your neighborhood and NOT likely to shop in our favorite supermarkets?
I was hoping for an answer to the question when I continued toward the car and saw that, though my brain had connected the dots, the picture was not what I had imagined. In the same way you can fool yourself into believing a pencil can become flexible by wiggling it slowly, you can mislead your assumptions about things, and the people who own them.
The car parked was a Chrysler 300, whose front was designed to suggest a Bentley (or an older Rolls-Royce) but was just another sedan. In the same way that department store labels copy runway fashions, automobile manufactures will “quote” characteristics from status-loaded signifiers to confer value and prestige. It’s the reason that houses in my neighborhood have windows with shutters that will never close, “sport” utility vehicles have nothing to do with sports, and everybody wears blue denim.
And it just may be the reason that, having connected the dots, I wanted so quickly to suspect that an “other” had entered my suburban paradise, for good or ill.
It was just a car that I hadn’t seen on this street. I walked past it and was about to glance at the license plate to determine if, in fact, this car was from an other state when–
I kept going.