Sometimes I really wish we hadn’t bought our Mercedes. Don’t get me wrong – for a middle-class nobody like me, it’s a truly nice car. It drives well, has all the bells and whistles, and, well, it makes one feel classy just to drive it. And let me be the first to say that after a few days of driving it, one gets downright spoiled.
It’s a 2008 ML 350, and significantly cheaper than the new Toyota we were considering. It’s got the all-wheel drive, moon roof, satellite radio, leather throughout, and all the rest of the little items that longtime luxury car owners take for granted these days, but make those of us who grew up among the poor folk a bit giddy.
But there’s always a flip side of the coin, it seems, and now I’m not so sure that getting that Mercedes was a smart thing to do. For instance, now I feel a silly internal compulsion to drive in a more, um, dignified manner. I can’t goof off or go out of my way to drive through that six-inch-deep puddle to see how big a splash I can make.
Even worse, I’ve got this need to read – if I see words in a line, it’s very hard to ignore it – and it drives my wife to distraction because I tend to try to read every billboard or sign in sight and the car will swerve an inch or two (I’m a very safe driver – my only accident was a minor fender-bender in 1986).
But now that I’m driving a Mercedes, I can’t do all that, because I know down deep in my gut that anyone who sees me make the least little mistake is immediately going to think to him/herself, “Look at him! He’s rich, driving a Mercedes, and he drives like that! For shame!”
Yes, I know that’s my insecurity talking, but there it is. Even worse are my friends and family. You see, it simply doesn’t matter if I point out that my five-year-old car cost less than theirs; mine’s a Mercedes, which means that I must be doing pretty doggone well on money. Yes, we went through a bankruptcy and a foreclosure last year (that none of our friends and very few of our family know about), but we still needed a good, dependable car for our business, and this was a really nice deal. Problem is, in the eyes of our friends and family, we now no longer have the option to tell them we simply don’t have any money, because we’ve got a Mercedes! And before anyone thinks ill of our friends and family and their opinions, remember that most of them grew up either living in poverty or (like myself) next door to poverty, and such an upbringing tends to have an effect on one’s perceptions in later years.
Even worse than that, we’re still threatening (like we have for the past decade) to retire and move to the Philippines next year (though “next year,” like tomorrow, never seems to come). Come to find out that there’s a reason why cars cost so much there, because the fee to get our car through customs there is one hundred percent of the sticker price, and there’s no way we can afford that! We might have a workaround since we’ve got extended family in certain positions there who might be able to help us get it through for little or nothing – hey, that’s just how things work in third-world nations – but then people who are truly poor would be seeing this (supposedly) rich white guy driving this nice (five-year-old) Mercedes up and down the main island of Luzon. Anyone who’s ever lived in a third-world nation knows that’s asking for trouble.
To top it all off, we can’t do a voluntary repossession unless we’re willing and able to pay the difference between how much we owe and how much the sell it for, because then they can garnish my retirement pay! Aaaargh!
Again, it’s far and away the best car I’ve ever owned, but because of these downsides, I’m beginning to wish I’d bought a new Camry, Challenger, or Accord, even though I would have paid more for it. Next time I’ll know better.