Are you what you drive?

When I lived in New York City, the first question people asked me at a party was “What do you do?”  Since I moved to Los Angeles, the second question people ask at a party is, “What do you drive?”  (The first is, “Where do you live?”)

Between birth and age twenty-nine, I never thought much about cars.  They were a means to get you from one place to another.  If they had great accessories, that was all the better, but none of it was necessary for the primary purpose: getting where you wanted to go.

My New York friends are relatives are horrified at my transformation.  I can tell you the make and model of most cars at seven paces.  No, really it’s a skill I never planned to acquire.  Most of my life, I didn’t know one car from another – and now, I’m a veritable treasure trove of make and model knowledge.  How did this happen?  Very quickly.

When I first moved to L.A., I was reading the city’s glossy magazine and some article about private schools caught my eye.  I think the article was about girls who went to the tony school on scholarship and how their experiences were different from the privileged students who went there.  But the phrase “automotive underclass” caught and held my attention.  In that article the car underclass were Nissan Sentras, and so called ‘vintage’ cars, old Volvos, Toyotas, and one Oldsmobile Cutlass.  Underclass?  I thought a car was a car.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After reading that article, everything took on new meaning.  I went shopping for a car to replace my second, dying Toyota – and when I headed for the Echo, my husband gently steered me away.  Instead, he surprised me with an entry-level BMW for my birthday.  Can I tell you how terrified I was to drive that car?  I thought every SUV on Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards was headed for a collision with my new car.  But my husband was probably right to get that car.  When I was working as an attorney, clients, and colleagues – who all drove similar vehicles – seemed more comfortable when my own cookie cutter car pulled up to the valet stand.  Even my accountant joked about me moving to town and getting the ‘standard issue’ as soon as I arrived.

So when people ask me why there are so many mentions of cars in my latest book, I tell them, it’s just part of the L.A. culture.  Los Angeles is the setting for my latest novel, and cars are as interwoven into the culture as is Hollywood, the palm trees, the earthquakes and the beaches.  The long boulevards and jam-packed freeways wouldn’t be the same without the mostly gleaming vehicles.  My heroine drives a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle, because she’s a fun, flirty girl with a devil-may-care attitude.  And my hero drives an Acura because he’s the kind of solid, responsible guy who would drive a posh and reliable sedan.

So I’ll ask you, is what you drive a reflection of your character – or just what you need to get you where you are going?