Cars are part of the American DNA. Other countries have car culture, but the closest to America’s suicidal romance with hot rods is Australia, home of Mad Max. The open space helps. In Britain, they can tell your caste by your accent. In America, it’s often by your car. And if you ride the bus, you’re at the bottom of the pole. In suburban New Jersey ‘riding the bus’ is racial code for poor and black.
I saw this old Charger for sale on the way to work today. The body is in good shape, it has the floor shift, but unless the badges were lost, it’s a six-banger or a 318 V8. It got me thinking about how cars are the face we wear. Some dream of cars they could never afford to own, others just want to get from point A to point B. For the latter, these rules don’t apply. But in America, land where advertising controls the language, everything means something. In the novel in progress, Tony “Baloney” Giambotta is the friend of our protagonist. He went to school for computer science, but became a mechanic when his father died, to honor his blue collar roots, in self-destructive fashion. Let me get inside his head and give you…
The car castes of New Jersey.
You drive a beater, we know all about you. You either can’t afford better or you just don’t care. Either way, we judge you.
If it’s a minivan or a wagon, you’re a hard-working parent with too many kids, and we get out of your way. You’re either distracted by them if you’re mom, or pissed off that you’re stuck with a minivan, if you’re Dad.
A hopped up old Civic, lowered to asphalt-scraping depths, a coffee can for a muffler and the tires spaced out wide for tight turns? Odds are you’re Hispanic, and you want to race to the next light.
Old BMW, in nice shape with a sweet set of rims? You’re a young black man with a good job. You’ve got the good tunes cranked up, you’re cruising the limit because the cops pull you over for breathing the wrong way.
A used SUV with a red Rutgers ‘R’ sticker on the back? You’re a college girl driving mom’s old car so you don’t die after you crush some poor working family in their beater, while texting.
A new SUV with a Montclair State sticker, and you’re the mom worrying about your daughter in your old SUV. You are yelling at her on your phone, telling her not to text and drive.
If you drive a new BMW, Audi or Acura, you’re a single male, probably white, with more money than brains, driving too fast for your skillset. You are most likely listening to Disturbed or some angry band that makes you think Fight Club wasn’t a satire about how stupid you are.
Prius. Okay, we get it. You saved the planet. We’re not worthy.
Mustang, 350Z or Camaro, your Dad is working class and spoils the shit out of you. You think you deserve it. You wish you could put the pedal down for more than 2 seconds in this tiny, congested state, and you like watching people flinch at your exhaust note. A Challenger, and same thing but you’re over 50 now and had to buy it yourself.
Escalade, Infiniti or a Lexus, and you’re trying to be an extra on Jersey Shore, if you get your tan just right. Sure, Dad co-signed the lease, but you’re money. You get in the clubs, don’t you? Why don’t these drivers get out of your way, don’t they know who you are?
Buick or a Cadillac and we pass you, because you’re too old and driving too slow.
A late-model Nissan, Toyota or Honda sedan, or a Ford Escape and you’re just trying to get to work alive.
A Subaru, you have children. You can’t afford a Volvo. You think 3 days of bad snow a year is worth investing in all-wheel drive, because you worry about everything. Also, you are considering a colon cleanse.
A pickup truck, and you run a landscaping business and like Toby Keith.
A Chevy or a Charger, and you’re a cop.
A Corvette or a Porsche, and we all know the penis pump didn’t work.
New Mercedes or Jaguar, and you’re a boomer or just shy of it, and think you did enough for the Earth, and now it’s time to do something for you. You’re talking on the bluetooth that your son set up for you, and why don’t these other cars realize you’re in a hurry, and get out of your way. The nerve of some people.
Ferrari, you work down the port for your uncle. You look at porn all day and are paid $400,000 a year for it.
Bentley. You’re not a rapper, and you can’t name any rappers, either.
Chrysler 300. You can’t afford a Bentley or a Cadillac.
Rolls Royce. You are former Newark Mayor Sharpe James. You are in jail.
And if you drive a Mini Cooper S, you’re a snarky crime writer who just commuted through all that. You think you look like the Italian Job, but look more like ‘clown car.’