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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

At the age of 62, I became a better person.

Oh, sure, I know some will say, "No you didn't -- you just drove a better car."

But listen to me. I bought a Jaguar, and it's made me different -- better, I daresay. Not only better in my eyes, but in those who view me -- or the trappings of me. What I would call the Eskenazi Exterior.

Perhaps if I'd been to the manor born, the impact would not have been so great, at least on me. But my other car is a Saturn -- the four- cylinder slowpoke, circa 1993. The Saturn? I like to call it my Brooklyn side, remembrance of roots past. But the more I drive the Jaguar, the farther I feel removed from Brooklyn when I drive the Saturn.

So here are my two worlds. And I'm telling you that the Jaguar confers on me a certain image that I actually feel comfortable wearing -- and that I believe others think is me.

My wife claims I'm wrong. And my youngest, the idealist, says I'm imagining things -- but people react differently to someone driving a Jaguar. A sort of bond, of common understanding of each person's position, develops between the observer and the object.

Indeed, I believe it would be true of anyone owning a snappy luxury car, especially one with some cachet. It is true, I think, for someone trying on the Piaget at Tourneau Corner and the salesperson hawking it; for the diner ordering a 1962 Pomerol as well as the sommelier writing down the bin number; for the buyer of a $100,000 municipal bond and the agent at Quick & Reilly.

It made me think that drivers of luxury cars in general are treated, well, nicer. I swear that drivers behind me now allow me into their lanes without a fight. Even a simple wave works every time. I daresay even New York City cabdrivers smile at me as I slip in front of them.

You have to understand that I never in my life had owned something that could be considered luxurious. But in my business -- I have been a sportswriter with The New York Times across six decades, beginning in 1959 -- I have had the opportunity to be among those who have, and sometimes to share in it -- Alfred Vanderbilt, Donald Trump, Leon Hess (who owned those immaculate gas stations as well as the Jets football team), Jack Kent Cooke (whose holdings included the Chrysler Building and the Washington Redskins), Roger Penske, Bob Tisch.

Thus, my stretch-limo moment gave me a shock of recognition during race week at the Indianapolis 500. This was sometime in the 1980s. I was at my motel waiting for a cab to take me to the Brickyard, the affectionate nickname for the track where the 500 would be raced in a few days. But my cab was late and I had to meet Chuck Yeager (yes, the Right Stuff guy), who was going to take me for a spin around the track. He was driving the pace car.


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