They did it when I wasn’t looking, when my back was either turned in entirely feigned disinterest or bent to the work of surviving in the so-called gig economy: they changed what it meant to be rich. I don’t mean the numbers, although it is sobering to think that any one of the modern Illuminati can, and often do, spend in a day what a surgeon or senior attorney could make in a lifetime. I’m talking about the actual existence of the rich, the way they live.
My grandfather, the first John Baruth, was rich. Not by today’s standards, mind you. His home in Clearwater was modestly sized and I am certain he went to his grave without ever having flown private. Rather, he was rich in the way that a small-town surgeon or mid-city attorney used to be rich. He retired in his fifties, played tennis, wore and ate whatever suited him. They knew his name at his club and at his church. He was treated with universal respect. Having worked hard for much of his life, he was generous, serene, and cheerful in wealth.
Today’s rich people exhibit little of that serenity or cheerfulness. They sullenly eschew the sartorial and behavorial trappings of traditional American wealth, such as the fine dresses and elegant disposition, for an aesthetic best described as “about to go running in mildly bad weather.” The goal is to mimic the appearance of perpetual exercise, all the better to accompany the Bezos-esque bobblehead-and-pencil-neck marathoner’s build that one apparently cannot avoid picking up somewhere between open-plan-office and C-suite. The primary social message is: I am successful enough to spend my entire life in some sort of aerobic activity. They snipe at the “uniform” of three-piece Brooks Brothers suit even as they all don completely identical light-blue psuedo-exercise vests and fleeces. I suspect, but cannot confirm, that they view the replacement of American tradecraft clothing with sweatshop polyester garbage as a feature, not a bug.
And then, of course, we have their cars.
The investor class drives hyper-aggressive SUVs and crossovers; they are badged with performance-car names but those inauthentic badges are part of the in-joke, like the hamster-wheel fitness places that call themselves “9 Rounds” or “Barry’s Bootcamp” as if they prepare you for a prizefight or your next deployment in those perpetual conflicts that our neo-Nazi war-mongering President tried to end but which our freedom-loving Senate voted to continue until the end of time. These vehicles are frequently miserable to drive and one cannot help but wonder if this, too, is done deliberately. There’s an odd sort of eat-your-vegetables aspect to modern wealth; in exchange for having access to more money than any Rockefeller or Getty ever envisioned, you have to endure the artificial discomfort of Barry’s Bootcamp or the twenty-two-inch factory-fit SUV wheel.
I think about the upper-middle-class dads of my childhood, impeccably suited if more than a little pot-bellied and whiskey-soused behind the wheel of saurian Ninety-Eight Regencies and Lincoln Town Cars. Then I look at my contemporaries, receiving corporate orders through their AirPods as they run listlessly and miserably around L.A. Fitness before returning to their RX350-shaped, LCD-screen-bedecked, thyroid-condition, two-and-a-half-ton, harsh-riding, monotone-interior, fake-engine-sound-braying, faux-Germans from Southern assembly plants or the eerie factories located where Eli Roth filmed the first Hostel film. How is this an improvement?
Last week I paid off my Accord. I thought about trading it in, but I like the car and unlike my old health plan I do, in fact, have the option to keep it if I like it. It is now officially what we Ohio folk call a “beater”. Then I bought a 2018 Lincoln MKT Reserve with the 3.5-liter Ecoboost and just four options: Diamond Blue paint, Elite Package, Class III trailer tow, and all-season floormats. I have liked the MKT for a very long time, which is fair because it is a very old platform, and that does not bother me. It has outstanding passive crash-test safety in all respects. It is library-quiet inside. It is more than fast enough for me, old man that I am. The THX-branded stereo is very close to the first-rate systems designed by Harmon/Revel for the MKZ and Continental.
Speaking of. Given my choice, I’d have a Continental instead of this. However, the MKT does a better job of hauling my son’s BMX and mountain-bike apparatus around. It was also considerably cheaper as a low-mileage 2018 than the equivalent Continental Reserve or Black Label would have been. I’d like to think that I will get the Continental next time.
There is no prestige associated with the MKT, which is nice. My son and I travel mostly unnoticed, in quiet comfort. I assume we are the least likely vehicle in America to be carjacked, unless UberXL raises the rates enough to get MS-13 on board as gig-economy drivers. Over the space of eight days I’ve put over a thousand miles on the car and they have all been good miles. It’s so well-insulated that not even my Blizzak snow tires can keep me from hearing my son’s near-inaudible questions and comments from the back seat.
Having driven virtually all of the hyper-SUVs out there, I can attest that the MKT is nontrivially better as relaxing transportation than any of them could dream of being. It’s a good thing that the rich have abandoned Lincoln in their quest for polyester-Patagonia street cred. Prices are down, in the used market if not the new-car showroom. My grandfather, I think, would have liked this car. He would have seen it as a modern Seville, right down to the front-drive-biased powertrain and the bustleback. This morning I drove it to work while wearing a very nice Richard Anderson coat and I thought about that scene from “Remains Of The Day” where the butler visits a small town and is mistaken for a member of the gentry. I know that my American luxury and British clothing mark me as a servant of the rich, not a member. It’s fine with me. If loving Broughams, even modern ones, is wrong — well, I don’t want to be right.