It was a salutation unique to me, “Take good care of that car!”
The young man behind the register said it just as I turned to leave the gas station. With my back turned, a puzzled look emerged on my face, “Take good care of that car?”
What an odd thing to say I thought as I pushed open the door… I mean, I’d expect to hear “Have a nice evening” or even “Take care,” but not “Take good care of that car.”
Immediately, however, everything began to make sense as I walked outside and remembered the shiny, black, 2016 Chevrolet Camaro I had just driven to the gas station. He was complimenting me on it.
“This must be what it feels like…” was the thought racing through my mind as I stepped on the gas and sped away into the quiet night.
At this point, I should probably back up.
This past Saturday, my Southwest flight landed on the dark runway of an airport in the middle of a snowy, blizzardy Omaha, NE. Snow plows worked tirelessly removing the wet, heavy snow. The temperature was not cold, 33 degrees F to be exact, but the temps were dropping and snow was definitely sticking to the pavement.
I had arrived in Omaha that evening to speak at a church the next morning 45 minutes away in Lincoln, NE. Around 10pm, when I approached the weary airport employee at the car rental counter, I was the only customer in sight—probably his last one of the night.
I’m guessing because the man’s shift was almost over (or maybe because of the frequency with which I have rented cars from this particular company), upon arrival, the gentleman asked if I was interested in an upgrade on my reserved vehicle.
“Sure,” I responded. Why would any traveler turn down a free upgrade?
“Great. How ‘bout I give you the Camaro?” he asked.
“For free?” I clarified. I mean, knowing me, my original reservation was for the cheapest car in their database and a Camaro seemed like a pretty significant upgrade.
“Yes, for free. Nobody else seems interested in it today.”
I remembered the wet, December snow falling outside. “Sure, I’ll take it. I learned to drive in North Dakota—a little snow doesn’t worry me.”
Before I knew it, I was off the lot heading to my night’s lodging with plenty of time to make final preparations for my busy Sunday morning. On my way, I stopped at a small gas station to pick up some Chap Stick.
In that particular gas station, I was met with that unfamiliar greeting by the young cashier with the dark hair, “Take good care of that car.”
Why he thought wishing my car well was more important than wishing me well, I’ll never know…
But maybe that’s because I’ve never been much of a car-guy. I know there are some who find great enjoyment in the pursuit, but it’s always seemed like an expensive hobby to me. Not to mention, I’ve seen countless financial lives burdened (or even ruined) by too ambitious of a monthly car payment. So I almost consider it a blessing that I’ve never been particular drawn to expensive vehicles.
It’s probably because of that “noncar-guy status” that the gas station attendant’s salutation sounded so strange to me. When a middle-age man drives up in a white 2005 Honda Accord, nobody rushes to compliment him on his car. They must save those greetings for the folks in the Camaros and Mustangs.
For the first time in my life, somebody went out of their way to compliment me on the car they assumed I owned.
So you’ll have to excuse me for being surprised by it. And you’ll have to forgive me for my internal reaction to it as well.
You see, when I climbed back into that car—a car that I don’t even own—I experienced a rush of pride. It was brief. But nevertheless, there was a distinct feeling of arrogance that caused me to prop my head up a little bit higher and step on the gas a little bit harder… I was driving an expensive car—nicer, I assume, than the car driven by that man behind the counter.
I asked myself in that moment, “Is this what it feels like to drive a sports car? To know that people look at you and your car when you pull up next to them at a red light or into your parking spot at the gas station? This must be part of the appeal.” Is this what draws people to expensive cars? Is this why they buy them?
I know, of course, there are other reasons people are drawn to expensive vehicles. They enjoy the speed, the craftsmanship, the hobby, or the memories conjured up because of them.
But is it also the case, in many circumstances, that these feelings and this appearance of superiority are also part of the draw?
Because if that’s the case, what a shame. There are far more important things I’d like to be known for than the model of vehicle I park in my garage.
I’m so glad I’m not a car-guy…
And yet, I can’t help but believe this appeal extends beyond the cars that we drive. Maybe I am not a car-guy, per se… but that doesn’t mean I may not be trying to impress others with the things that I own in other ways.
Sometimes we seek these feelings of pride in the houses that we live in… the clothes that we wear… the technology that we carry… or the vacations that we take. Too often, we pursue these things not because of the value they offer to our lives, but because we crave the attention and acclamation of others.
Which makes me wonder, “Is that why we’re doing all this? Is this one of the reasons we keep buying all this stuff we don’t need?”
Just to impress our family, our friends, our neighbors, or the cashier at the gas station?
Because if so, what a shame.
Our lives hold far greater potential than that.
Troy bolin says
Just came across your blog an very much enjoyed this particular article. I myself come from a car family parents always had sporty cars but v8s an nice rims etc. It is what they enjoy together they keep them for years on end an stay in a garage where they see weekend duty for cursing around. Myself I a truck guy always wanted a 4wd v8 crew cab always had 1000 beaters prior to getting my career established an buying a house with my wife she was happy with she drives a small hatchback car but is a premium model. So went an got my “dream” truck finally didn’t Burdon us financially but i dread door dings an scratches parking far so traded it for a 10 year old model with 2 dents on both sides an don’t worry about that anymore use it as a truck an I’m very outdoorsy so it fits our life style perfect. Point is I was unhappy with the shiny new felt good driving it but hated all other aspects of it an was a hard lesson learned.
Vidya Agarwal says
Great post. I am trying to start following a minimalist life style .With the extreme weather conditions in my area in India I will be forced to keep more clothes than I care to maintain and store.
A car is just a means to get to a place. I would love to just depend on local transport rather than owning a car.
I am overwhelmed by stuff in my house 60% of which is not even bought by me.I intend to get rid of most of it asap. Wish me luck to persevere with the project.
Or are we trying to impress others by showing them how little we care about worldly possessions, showing them we are far above their way of life?
Total aside: you grew up in North Dakota? Any chance are related to the Beckers from Minot?! I have followed your blog for years, and never knew that! I feel like growing up in North Dakota to helped me embrace minimalism. My grandmother was the original recycler– and all my grandparents were children of the depression: never living in excess, but always honoring and taking care of the possessions that they did have. It was the spirit that was passed down to my parents and then to me. And people, especially family, always came first! I Live elsewhere now, but I am grateful for my North Dakota roots!
I’m not a car person but I know some people who really love driving fancy cars. My boss explained to me that she drives a lot and she really gets a lot of enjoyment out of her car. She was a bit embarrassed when I complimented her on the car, and now I understand why. She didn’t choose it to impress anyone except herself.
Cathy Hutchison says
Thank you for writing about these things.
Camaros have rear-wheel drive and must stink when it comes to winter driving conditions. That’s probably why no one was interested in renting the car on a snowy day in Nebraska. I can’t imagine I’d feel too powerful when my car gets stuck while all the “sensible” cars around me are managing it better.
Wins Tabar says
From the past two years, I know that I have been arrogant and I am now learning from it. Thank You David for this article.