Bentley!
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Bentley!

Bentley!

Everyone (well, mostly guys) with any kind of money eventually succumbs to a beautiful car.

by

My mouth is dry. My palms begin to sweat.

Under the glittering showroom lights, the black, sensual lines of imported, hand-forged and hand-rubbed sheet metal glisten like diamonds against a velvet sky. The hand-tooled, Connelly leather upholstery and lacquered, burl-wood trim beckons like a comfortable, form-fitting English club chair...

The object of my almost uncontrollable lust is a 2000 Bentley Continental Azure Convertible -- arguably, the most exquisite motorcar ever built, anywhere, at any price.

Tentatively, reverentially, I reach for the handle of the driver’s door and ease myself behind the wheel. There ... aaah ... I am home. The intoxicating smell, the overwhelming feeling of unadulterated wealth. For one, brief, exhilarating moment I am one with this vehicle. If only this was Pacific Coast Highway! If only my friends could see me cruising down the road in this baby -- ALL my friends...

For one, brief, exhilarating moment I am one with this vehicle.

In Los Angeles, the town that invented the car craze, this Bentley is the sine qua non, the absolute, very last word in over-conspicuous chic. The future owner of this particular ride will be the undisputed King of the Hill -- period!

Unfortunately, reality comes crashing down on me all too quickly. Three things stand firmly in the way of my ever owning this car.

The first is its price tag: $372,600 (before the license, state and federal luxury tax).

The second is practicality. Either one of my beloved children could easily cause ten grand worth of damage to the back seat alone!

The third is my sanity. Anyone who would plunk down nearly 400 grand for a car that doesn’t ride quite as well as a $40 thousand Lexus and costs over twenty times as much to maintain and insure is, by definition, in need of a serious identity transfusion.

WHO BUYS A BENTLEY?

But people do buy them. Every last one of them. Every Bentley made is sold, and there is a substantial waiting list in over thirty countries for each new one.

Head bowed, I slink out of the showroom, stealing one last, lingering glance at the car I will never own. “Who needs it?” I lamely exclaim to no one in particular. “I mean, why would someone actually buy one of them?”

To be noticed, of course. To be seen by others as “someone special.”

The people who buy these cars want others to know they are rich. Really rich.

Isn’t that what we all want? Face it -- the people who buy these cars want others to know they are rich. Really rich. Rich beyond caring what anything costs ... They want to be identified by the car they’re driving!

Everyone (well, mostly guys) with any kind of money eventually succumbs to a beautiful car. We can’t help it, it’s in our DNA.

In a world where every single one of us wants to stand apart from the crowd, to somehow “display” our uniqueness, the car has got to be the most ridiculous status symbol of them all.

I should know. At one time or other I’ve owned practically every one of them. Every new car purchased loses an average of one fourth of its posted value the moment it’s driven away from the dealership. ALL cars decline in value year after year, save for the most highly collectable antiques. Think that ever stopped me? Hardly. At one time in my life I owned two Corvettes, two Cadillacs and a Harley!

DRESSING TO BE NOTICED

Clothes are the other, obvious status symbol of choice. Why else would someone walk down the street wearing a $95 sweatshirt with the words “Tommy Hilfiger” emblazoned across the front in seven inch letters, when the exact same sweatshirt is available at Target (minus the letters) for $12? Are they personal friends of Mr. Hilfiger’s? Been to one of his cocktail parties in the Hamptons, perhaps? Are they being paid a monthly stipend to advertise his clothing line?

Of course, as I sit here smugly writing this article my wife walks by and casually reminds me that I am wearing a Polo shirt with one of those tiny little polo players embroidered on it. “But I like the quality and the fit!” I defensively whine.

“But I like the quality and the fit!” I defensively whine.

Forget it. I lost that one before I even got started. It’s a status symbol, pure and simple. So how do I squirm my way out of this? The lesson to keep in mind when it comes to the acquisition of things has got to be “moderation.” There’s nothing wrong with high quality, non-ostentatious possessions if we buy them to use and enjoy, without the feeling that we are somehow “more special” because we own them.

So given the choice between a $1,500 silver candelabra that will enhance the richness and beauty of our Shabbat and Yom Tov table, or a new, charcoal gray Georgio Armani suit that’s an absolute killer, which one would I choose?

Uhh ... can I get back to you on that?

Published: April 21, 2001


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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Chana Siegel, April 25, 2001 12:00 AM

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

I guess the writer is serious about this; certainly it seems that he is not the only one to feel that way, but his experience seems so far away.

We are a family of 7, and recently spent a period of over 2 years without a car at all. Just couldn't afford to buy another one, and we didn't want to get in over our heads financially. Recently, thank G-d, Hashem sent us an old, meticulously maintained car, whose previous owner was a mechanic. It looks old, but it runs! What a pleasure! What a feeling of luxury and control, of expanded options.

So it's not much in the status department, but we are enjoying the daylights out of it. Ironically, even before reading your article, we'd been calling it "The Bentley".

As a friend of mine puts it, "What's the best kind of car? The kind YOU have the keys for."

(7) Lee Tracy, April 23, 2001 12:00 AM

If only it were so easy...

Cliff is right, of course. The trick is to make sure our relationship to possessions is "to use and enjoy, without the feeling that we are somehow "more special" because we own them." This is very difficult, however. Part of the pleasure of "stuff" is the way it makes one feel special for having it. This year I am attending formal black tie events so much that I went ahead and bought a tux. I had only wore one once before, on my wedding. I hate the idea of spending so much money on the clothing. Clothing doesn't matter, I argued with myself. What's inside matters. Sure. But man, you should see how handsome and sexy I look in my new tuxedo! And I feel better about myself in it. I feel like I belong with all the wealthy socialites I rub elbows with, even though I know that I spent $700 on my bottom of the line clothing and theirs probably ran five times that much. This problem goes from the poorest kids (like when I was young and loved getting new clothes from KMart because it meant I was not getting second hand stuff and therefore more special) to well-to-do fundraising, where the wealthy get their names prominently displayed on walls or building wings in exchange for generous contributions. And many political donors just want a photo op with the governor or president in exchange for their money. Our egos are wrapped up so much with our purchasing. Many of us assuage our guilt and sadness through shopping. While it is certainly true that we ought to disconnect self-esteem from "stuff," doing it is insanely difficult. Being uncomfortably aware of the effect that material possessions has on our egos may be the best we can do.

(6) Gidon Ariel, April 23, 2001 12:00 AM

disconnecting self-esteem from "stuff:" insanely difficult??

I beg to differ, Itracy. IMHO, self esteem MUST be disconnected from "stuff." Otherwise it's not self esteem; it's stuff-esteem. If you can't feel good about yourself without that thing, then you're addicted to it, and addiction is the opposite of self esteem.

Of course, the society that you live in can pressure you into towing the things line. That's one of the reasons I'm glad I live in Maale Adumim, Israel, and not Long Island, USA.

(5) John Rosen, April 23, 2001 12:00 AM

Worth the money or not, the Bentley has class

No matter whether the Bently costs as much as a house or two, gets 5 mpg, and makes the owner want to transport sticky children in the trunk, the marque has class. I know, because I recently went by the Rolls-Royce/Bentley showroom in Manhattan (my nose print may still be on the glass). The showroom had a grand piano in it.

If the grand was only a Yamaha or Kohler-Campbell, then I apologize for wasting your time. But, in my heart, I somehow "know" (even though I couldn't see the piano's label) that it was at least a Steinway.

Worth an extra $300K? Class is class....

(4) Anonymous, April 23, 2001 12:00 AM

I usually agree wholeheartedly w/you, Cliff, but I here I have to differ. While a Bentley or any of a host of other machines might initially grab me, the ridiculousness of owning one keeps me from even beginning to want it. The sole reason for having it would be to show off, and that would be advertising one's insecurity and slavishness to vapid public opinion. The opinions of those whose opinions I value would be, at kindest, "This guy's learned nothing in life." All that said, thank you for another of your sparkling, thought-provoking pieces.

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