BY JANE BEDARD Special to the VOICE
A guy walks into an Elite Car Dealership and the sales rep says…
He says nothing. Doesn’t even acknowledge the guy.
As the rep leaves to take care of another client who had just entered the service depot, the only logical conclusion is that it is because of the way the guy looks.
The guy in this scenario is my friend, let’s call him Jim, and he was there to pick up his Elite Car after having left it for servicing earlier that day. (I’m using Elite Cars as a pseudonym for a high-end car dealership because I ’m not out to run a smear campaign against this company, so, for effect, you can insert the name of any standard, platinum card automobile.)
For some reason, on this day my friend was invisible to the entire sales and service staff. He wasn’t even wearing his dealership camouflage onesie, allowing him to blend into white walls, grey carpets and fake indoor plants.
He was wearing the classic combination of a white t-shirt, denim jeans and running shoes, all of which were in good condition, with no noticeable tears or stains.
This may have been his first mistake.
He was not the iconic Elite Car driver, elegantly sporting a Tom Ford suit, gliding to a smooth stop at the service desk, swooned by staff of all genders, offering him vodka martinis while his car was brought around—right after they finished hand-polishing his dashboard display of assault weapon buttons.
This is not to say Jim didn’t look respectable. The shaved bald head and stylish, thick-rimmed glasses gave him the air of someone who took care of himself, even made him look rather artsy, which is appropriate because he is a successful commercial photographer. He had a casual look about him on that day, but would anyone have noticed or cared that his plain t-shirt was by Banana Republic and not Kanye?
This may have been his second mistake.
He was also not the ironic Elite Car driver, shuffling toward the service desk, converged upon by staff of all genders, offering him a scotch on the rocks, cell phone cameras at the ready, because surely someone who dared to look this disheveled must be someone with such celebrity that he wears irreverence like a Tom Ford suit. This could be Charlie Sheen on his way to rehab. Or Robert Downey Jr. on his way back. Or Keith Richards on…any day.
Jim stood, transparently, at the service desk for quite some time, while employees bustled about around him. Ten minutes went by and Jim waited quietly because he was curious to discover for just how long he could be overlooked. At last, one employee became annoyed enough at Jim’s loitering to ask if he could be helped.
“I’m here to pick up my car. It’s an SUV,” said Jim.
“Oh, is it a D-Class?” asked the service rep. Jim was taken aback by the assumption that he drives the least expensive of the SUV models.
“No, it’s the A-Class,” replied Jim flatly.
“Oh. Is it a 2008?” asked the service rep.
“No, it’s a 2016,” replied Jim, perturbed that the rep assumed he drove one of the oldest models.
“Just a moment. I’ll see if it’s ready.”
He left poor Jim, wondering what he ever did to deserve such condescension.
He tried to think back to previous service appointments, at other dealerships, where he was always handled respectfully. How was this different? Should he have dressed better? Or worse? Should he have been pushy instead of patient? Was this particular dealership collectively having a bad day or was this part of a larger theme, indicative of New Age Complacency replacing Traditional Courtesy?
We’ve all been judged or made judgments based on appearances and stereotypes.
Just the other day, my 12-year-old son asked me if I died my hair blond so that people would underestimate me.
What piqued my interest in Jim’s story is that at first he was treated as if he didn’t belong in a high-end car dealership, presumably because of how he looked.
Then the irony kicked in, because even though Jim had clearly paid the membership fee to be a part of this Elite Club, he was still treated as if he didn’t quite fit in because the next assumption was that even if he drives the best car, he must certainly drive the worst model of the best car—like he just runs the third leg on the Olympic Gold medal 4x100m relay team (which is apparently the slowest runner’s gig). Like that’s something about which to be embarrassed.
I understand that this registers pretty low on the thermometer of life’s discriminatory encounters, and I could easily delve deeply into a story about how this is a microcosm of Global Socio-Economic Hierarchy and the displacement of the 2-percenters, or just an easy target, like the Millenials, but I’ll keep it simple. You don’t check into the Plaza Hotel and expect to be handed a can of spider spray with your room key because—you know—they’ve had some issues lately. Either you’re a guest or you’re not a guest. Either you’re a driver or you’re not a driver.
I know it may seem shallow to some, but Jim bought himself an Elite Car because it’s a great car and now he’d like to be treated like he’s the owner of a great car.
Is that too much to ask?