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Insights: Culture

rom Pontiacs to Jaguars, cars say a lot about the man behind the wheel
Gerald Eskenazi
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 01

(continued from page 1)

No cab, but outside the motel a white stretch was waiting. The driver, wearing a black suit, white shirt, dark tie, was reading a paper. His client hadn't showed.

"How much to go to the track?" I asked.

"Fifteen dollars," he replied, thinking he was soaking me.

I got in the back seat. I was wearing my outsize identification tag around my neck. You couldn't get close to the place without it. But I didn't have my parking pass. No problem, I only needed to get to the gate and then he could drop me off. I'd walk the rest of the way.

The limo approached the gate where a guy in a state trooper's outfit stood guard. He took one look, and smiled. He never asked the driver who was inside, where we were going. He simply waved us through.

We not only got inside, we were driving around where people traveled only on foot. But this was a white stretch limo, for crying out loud. Whoever was inside -- me! -- must have belonged, right?

Why? Because of presumed wealth? Or power? Probably both. Behind that tinted glass sat someone's imagination -- a fantasy figure of a person who had a right to be there. That wasn't me in my open-necked sports shirt, with my reporter's notepad and 50-cent Paper Mate. This was a Person of Importance.

And you know what? When that guard smiled us through, I felt I belonged. At that moment, I was separated from the fray. I felt above it, above the world outside of that car. That guard had conferred on me a status that was palpable. For I was inside, wasn't I?

I have grown up with something less than a luxury car. My first car was a Dodge given to me by a used-car salesman who happened to be a family friend. I had it for six months; it died when I was 19 and I sold it for $6, after it caught fire at a fuel pump and almost gave a heart attack to the guy pumping the gas.

Two weeks after I was hired as a copy boy at The New York Times, in 1959, and making $38 a week, I borrowed $175 from a Brooklyn credit union (where my Uncle Mac was the controller) and got myself a 1951 Pontiac convertible. The hood ornament -- a plasticene Indian head -- lighted up when you turned on the headlights.

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