Let’s be honest with ourselves: perception is everything. That woman walking down Michigan Avenue in her fur coat with enough botox in her forehead to smooth Regis Philbin’s balls, has never worked a day in her life. That smelly brown guy on the CTA? He’s going to pull out a gun and steal my iPhone 5S as soon as I turn and face the other way. That group of beautiful men, giggling, shooting rapid glances in my direction, are definitely talking shit about me.
This evening, I went to my first car dealership, Fletcher Jones Audi, with intent to progress my lifelong dream of owning a brand new car. As a child, the only cars we could afford were shit-beaters; breaking down on the slightest incline, coughing when the temperature dropped below thirty-two degrees. When my mom would pick me up from school, I was the laughing stock of first grade. My peers’ parents picked them up in gleaming new Lexuses, Mercedes-Benzes, and Acuras. My chariots always arrived panting and sweating: a white-Peugeot station wagon, a blue Plymouth Reliant, and a gray Toyota Corolla. At such a young age, I (unfortunately) couldn’t appreciate the miracle which allowed us to even own numerous vehicles throughout my childhood. My grandmother, who picked up on my materialistic mentality, picked up on my love of cars and did what she could to turn it around. She began arriving at school daily, promptly at 3:17pm when the bell rang, to take me out for a drive. Her car? A 1991, beige, soft-top Cadillac Deville. Woof. It was absolutely stunning: leather interior, premium stereo, and the forgotten iconic clunky gearshift lever attached to the steering wheel shaft. Twenty minutes (and one happy meal) into our commute, we were bumping along the back-roads of Northern Indiana’s boonies. My nerves were on edge by now, as I knew it was my turn to shine. Scooting my tush along the bench seat next to my grandmother, I grabbed the steering wheel. What a rush! I was driving! I knew I needed one of these bad boys for myself, and fast.
Ten years later, still poor, still driving shit-beaters, I dialed-up the world wide web and virtually built my first car: a gold, 2005 Toyota Camry LE. “One day, I will buy one of these; a brand new car — a car no one else has owned.”
It is now 2014. Three months away from my twenty-fifth birthday, I have owned two cars: a 1993 Nissan Sentra, and a 1995 Ford Taurus. Both were purchased used, and both cost less than $1,500 a piece. It still amazes me that both of them fought hard throughout their lives and, having more than 150,000 miles at acquisition, each lasted me more than three years. In fact, the Taurus is currently sitting in my mother’s driveway — it still runs. 25-year-old me doesn’t care that my first two cars were purchased used, rusted, and ran LOUD. 25-year-old me is thankful to have owned such brilliant pieces of innovative hardware that allowed for unparalleled experiences and road trips, which transformed me throughout and beyond my teenage years.
Concurrently, 25-year-old me is wise enough to realize that owning or operating a car in Chicago (or any metropolitan city) is an expensive, stressful, and dangerous endeavor. Purchasing city parking stickers, cursing at the words printed on the orange parking tickets, kicking das yellow boot, fender benders…I’d almost rather become a bottom sexually than deal with owning a nice car in this city. Despite these unfortunate and inevitable requirements of owning a car here, I can’t seem to outlive my 16-year-old dream of owning a new car; a trophy signifying years of hard labor and saving money — responsibility…accomplishment.
I was quite excited to attend the Audi A3 launch event at Fletcher Jones Audi in downtown Chicago. I have studied its specifications, marveled at its clean lines and intuitive interior, and of course, built the top of the line “Prestige” trim online dozens of times before attending this launch event. Two months ago at the Chicago Auto Show, I intentionally asked Audi representatives questions about the upcoming A3 to test their knowledge. As it turned out, I knew more about its features and pricing than all of them. I walked away from their showroom thankful to have grown up poor — I will never know (nor do I want to know) what it’s like to get paid for doing absolutely fucking nothing. In person, the A3 is much more stunning than in photographs. Its sleek, low roofline and ten-spoke wheels, which look bland and uncharismatic in every review upon which I’ve stumbled, come across as handsome to the naked eye. The base trim looks almost unfinished on the inside, with blank, lifeless switches littering the center console. The meticulous detail of the “Premium-Plus” and “Prestige” trims, however, which add a motorized navigation screen that pops-up from the center of the dashboard, a panoramic sunroof, and a fourteen-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, make the $11,000 price bump from the base-trim worth it.
The car itself really surprised me — in a positive way. Unfortunately, I didn’t purchase it that day, nor will I in the future.
From the minute I walked into the dealership, the atmosphere was cold and sterile. I was greeted not by a a handshake, but by a blinding light projecting: “A3: It’s Here.” on the wall beside the front door. It was difficult to find an employee, as 95% of them (all men), who, by the way, looked upon me as if I had stumbled in from the street to consume free food and drink, wore suits similar to those of the guests. Out of all the time I spent at Fletcher Jones, the only words spoken to me were from an elderly couple who shared my amazement of the size of the A3’s trunk, and from the bartender, whose nails, like my own, were also painted white. After two glasses of white wine, I told her to never get a no-chip manicure again, as it will ruin the hardness of her natural nails. “It was for vacation!” she exclaimed, smiling. “I won’t do it again.” Is it possible, perhaps, that every single employee (including the manager, whose eyes met mine multiple times throughout the evening) perceived me as intimidating? A bitch? A freak of nature who didn’t belong in their space? Did my smiles and consistent eye-contact with them carry less weight because I wasn’t wearing a suit, tie, and a drunk blond woman around my arm? Of the three A3 models on display, I sat in and touched every single one. Whatever the staff’s perception of my outer appearance may have been, how could they have not seen how interested I am in one of their vehicles? After an hour of wandering around, sipping wine, and taking photos, I left the dealership a little tipsy, but completely bored.
The experience wasn’t all bad, however. Despite leaving without a new A3, the opportunity to see, photograph, and sit inside it gave me a feeling of accomplishment. The slow-cooked bacon and other hors d’oeuvres catered by David Burke’s Primehouse (www.davidburkesprimehouse.com) were delicious. Maybe I’ll use a portion of the down payment I reserved for the A3 to purchase catering service for my upcoming 25th birthday party, which I still need to plan.
Having worked in sales for nine years, it is a pity (and frankly, a complete mind-fuck) that I expected to buy something from such mundane, standoffish humans who staff Fletcher Jones Audi. Perhaps I am being too harsh — maybe that woman on Michigan Avenue is single and bought that fur coat herself after years of hard labor. Maybe that smelly brown guy on the train just left the gym, and actually has never taken anything from anyone a day in his life. That giggling gaggle of guys? They actually find me really attractive and want to ask me out.