If you’re like me, and you aren’t because you’re currently wearing pants, you are constantly hearing about the growing divide between the rich and the poor. You know what I’m talking about: the rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer, and someday soon our nation’s income distribution will look like one of those U-shaped neck pillows people wear on airplanes to ward off both neck pain and the opposite sex.
As an elite member of the media who was recently asked by the Pulitzer Prize Committee to stop submitting his work for consideration, the rich-poor divide concerns me greatly. In fact, it concerns all of us elite members of the media, but especially car journalists who are running low on column ideas.
As a result, I’ve decided to take up the plight of the American working class and cover the rich-poor gap from an automotive perspective.
Now, you might think this would involve comparing a nice car, such as an Audi, to a crappy one, like the kind of car you find in a Craigslist ad that focuses more on how they’ll approve everyone (“EVEN ARTISTS!”) than the car they’re selling. You might think that’s the rich-poor car gap. But it isn’t.
That’s because I own a couple of nice cars, and they’re both plagued with problems. I have a Cadillac, for instance, that was apparently designed by stylists who looked at a normal car and thought: It's too easy to see out of this! We need smaller windows! And I have a Land Rover with automatic headlights, provided that your definition of the word “automatic” includes the word “occasionally.” Meanwhile, my “everyman car,” a used Nissan Cube, works perfectly and never breaks down. This could be because I do everything possible to avoid driving it.
So I think the poor are actually doing OK when it comes to cars. They get nice, reliable transportation, presumably financed at 29 percent interest, while the wealthy have to contend with cars where everything, including the trunk, is controlled by computers that fail approximately as often as light bulbs.
So where is the rich-poor gap? The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is simple: traffic tickets.
Now, I’m not referring to getting pulled over. The rich get pulled over all the time, just like the poor, and they get just as many tickets. This often annoys the rich, because they put those little “I SUPPORT THE POLICE ATHLETIC LEAGUE” stickers in their windows, and they expect those stickers to get them out of trivial matters, such as running down schoolchildren.
Instead, I’m referring to what happens after you get pulled over, when you’re pissed, and you have the ticket in your hand, and you’re replaying the incident in your head, and you’re thinking: I really hope the cop doesn’t show up for court.
This is when the rich-poor divide rears its ugly head. Here’s what happens.
A rich person gets cited for speeding. He takes the traffic ticket, folds it into a neat little square, and places it in his glovebox. He then phones his attorney, who doesn’t normally do traffic tickets, he does corporate acquisitions, but he will make an exception in this case because he and the rich person were schoolmates at Choate.
Once the rich person has explained the details to his attorney, he completely forgets about the incident, except to make the occasional joke about it at a charity ball. (“Can you believe the police pulled me over? Me! Ha ha ha ha ha. So tell me, Seymour, when are you going on your next African safari?”)
A poor person gets cited for speeding. He works four jobs to support his ailing mother, his disabled wife, and his three children, all of whom just want a slice of the American dream. This is how all poor people are, according to MSNBC.
Because the poor person has all these mouths to feed, he can’t afford a lawyer. He also can’t take the time off work to go to court, because God forbid the local high school goes one night without the bathrooms being cleaned for students who will walk in tomorrow and pee in the sink.
So the poor person doesn’t show up for court. The rich person also doesn’t show up, but that’s because his attorney is there wearing an expensive suit and flirting with the court reporter. The judge begins reading the docket alphabetically, starting with “Aaronston,” when the attorney stands up.
“Judge,” he says, “I am an attorney.”
The judge then allows the attorney to speak first, ahead of all the other defendants, even though his client’s last name is “Zyzowski.” After a 40-second conversation, the attorney has the traffic ticket dismissed, or possibly pled down to a charge like “defective vehicle,” or “crooked parking.” The rich person, who has by now forgotten about the whole thing, learns the outcome the following morning as he and his attorney play racquetball. He pays the attorney whatever it costs and doesn't think about it again.
The poor person, meanwhile, has a warrant out for his arrest. The cops haul him in a few weeks later and he’s sentenced to do hard time, where he’s knifed to death in a prison brawl.
OK, so maybe this is a bit dramatic. But it doesn’t take anything away from my argument (unless you count reality), which is: poor people get stiffed when it comes to traffic tickets. Rich people skate by with few consequences. And thus, traffic tickets are the best automotive example of the divide between the rich and the poor.
Of course, all of this could be avoided if the rich person and the poor person were simply not speeding in the first place. But who the hell is going to do that?
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.