Image by Gabriella Fabbri
Kyle had just purchased a fresh pearl white Lexus coupe for his birthday. He said he’d rock it for a year or two, then trade it in.
“Oh, it’s a lease,” I assumed.
“No,” Kyle replied.
“Two years…you’re not going to have it paid off by then, will you?”
“I’ll probably never pay off a car. If I’ve had it four or five years, I’ve had it too long.”
I bristled at the callous decadence of his attitude. The nerve of trading in a perfectly good vehicle just because you’re ready for a new one—preposterous! How wastefully indulgent!
At the time this conversation took place, I was a loyal fan of my worn, rain-damaged, non-air-conditioned, don’t-let-the-back-windows-down 1994 Honda Civic affectionately known as “Babygirl,” bought used when I was in high school. The navy blue champion had scaled over 150,000 miles of asphalt and showed every scratch, dent, and ding of it. So as a member of the “Ride It ‘till the Wheels Fall Off” cartel, I could neither relate to nor cosign on Kyle’s lavish idea of trading in his brand new Lexus after a mere two years.
Well as my mom used to admonish, “Keep sayin’ good morning.” A year or so after my pow wow with the Diddy Wannabe, Babygirl’s chronic sputtering signaled a well-deserved retirement. I purchased a brand new jet black Nissan Altima, so fresh that it still sported factory papers on the hood, fenders, and trunk. The sexy beast’s odometer displayed a cool six miles.
The roads must have been buttered as I glided home that night, new car smell titillating my nostrils. I recalled the conversation with Kyle and it all made sense. At the time, I was ignorant to the experience of owning a new vehicle and couldn’t comprehend why a person would endure eternal car payments just to have one. But now that I am the first owner of a whip, the concept doesn't seem so far-fetched.
A similar epiphany occurred when I stopped by an out-of-town acquaintance’s hotel room recently. I paused in the doorway of the mildew-smelling room complete with damp turquoise carpet and loud, tacky art, and thought: Wow. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in a hotel room that opens to the parking lot. The absence of thoughtful décor and the lack of space and amenities that I had grown accustomed to made the place just somewhere to sleep and not an experience to savor.
On the flip side, some of my earliest trips as a child were to Disney World, when as many as seven family members mashed into the same sort of economy rooms that strike me as foreign now. Somewhere along the way, I upgraded.They say once you’ve had filet mignon, it’s hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. For some, it’s elevating from an old school TV set to HD, upper level to courtside, Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, coach to first class.
But are we sometimes better off in the unknown? Ignorance is not only blissful, but often cheaper. After all, upgrades come with strings attached, usually dollar signs. Other times, drama—mo’ money, mo’ problems. Jay-Z, who seems to constantly struggle with his rags-to-riches existence, explains it like this in "Success" from the American Gangster album, "What do I think of success? It sucks too much stress. [...] I use to give a sh--, now I don't give a sh-- more. Truth be told I had more fun when I was piss poor."
There’s even a bit of discomfort associated with the discovery of escalated tastes, similar to when Roscoe the up-and-coming celebrity wakes up and realizes he lives in the hood--and then moves out immediately. Or when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit and were no longer down with chillin' in the buff. It's exposure to people, places, and experiences outside the norm that may render the customs and habits of old less satisfying.
The upgrade also means saying peace to defining elements of your past. It’s moving into a house and missing the convenience of an apartment, or striking out on your own and yearning for the company and cahoots of family or roommates. Progression can be bittersweet.
I initially found these insightful moments disturbing. It’s like, my preferences changed and I didn’t get the memo. What happened to the down-for-whatever me? Is she bourgeois now? Stuck up?
Not at all. Everything in my life doesn't require an upgrade. My $10 purse was stolen and I went out and bought another $10 purse. I'm okay with most store brand groceries. I'm loyal to my $9 L'Oreal foundation. As a java junkie, I actually prefer Burger King's coffee to Starbucks. And these days, I'm so glad the Altima takes plain ol’ regular gas!
Yet, there are some things for which I'll pay the upgrade--whether it is for top shelf spirits, getting my eyebrows threaded instead of doing them myself, or descent hotel accommodations. And who knows, maybe this time next year I'll trade in my '07 for an '09, just for the heck of it.
But it's too early to tell.