While I was walking through a parking lot last week, I saw two teenage boys, maybe 17 at most, climbing into a newish Black hummer, the size of a Sherman tank.
I think what first caught my attention was the general young-life joviality of the two boys. Though I wasn’t close enough to hear what they were talking about I was captivated by the ease and grace and lanky athleticism with which they moved through the world. One of the local big money high schools was just 500 yards away and I figured them for students who had either ditched class to spend some faux grown up time at the nearby coffee shop, or perhaps two lacrosse players who had been dismissed early to travel to a game or practice. When I see kids like this going about their business with that combination of fresh-faced enthusiasm and blind naiveté the same phrase pops into my head each and every time: “When the world seemed alive with possibilities.” For some reason I just like the way that phrase sounds, even though it makes me feel somewhat like a dour middle-aged man glancing backward at the days of his own youth. Over the last few years I’ve become much more comfortable with that self-assessment than I used to be. Ah, the grace and wisdom of age.
And then, as I watched the two boys climb onto the running rails and into this gigantic monstrosity of a vehicle, I thought to myself “What in the world is the logic behind buying a teenage boy a car like that?”
Admittedly, I don’t know a hell of a lot about cars in general, and especially high end vehicles like the Hummer since I’ve never had the money or the inclination to own a ride like that. So just for grins I went to Kelly Blue Book dot com and looked up the ball park value of the car these boys were driving. Though I’m sure I didn’t get the year and model specifics exactly right, the price I came up with for the Hummer was about 57,000 dollars. 57 THOUSAND! For a car! For a damn teenager who just learned to wipe his own ass a handful of years ago! Come on, people. Come on!
Even at the risk of straying too far into grumpy old man territory I have to say it just one more time: Who in the hell buys a 57,000 thousand dollar car for a teenager?
The obvious answer is: rich people do. But the question that remains is why?
Is it possible to be so far insulated from the realities of everyday life that it actually makes some degree of sense to spend that kind of money on a car for a kid to drive back and forth to school? Is it possible to live in a world where that kind of purchase doesn’t seem like an unfathomably unnecessary extravagance? When a parent buys that kind of car for their kid, what message are they trying to impart? “You’re worth it”? “You deserve it”? “We’re not like other people”? What? What? What???? I’m at a complete and total loss to understand or explain that kind of decision making process, but then, I’m a guy whose two FAMILY cars together don’t cost as much as this teenager’s Hummer, so maybe it’s my world view that’s skewed.
The Pittsburgh suburb I grew up in was plenty wealthy by the standards of the mid to late 1980s though I definitely wouldn’t count my own family as being members of that class. And there were, I suppose, plenty of kids who had cars when I was a teenager though only one close friend of mine had his own vehicle.
My best buddy John had a little two-seater Isuzu Pup pick up truck that he’d bought with money he earned his-own-damn-self by working at a cabinet shop. That Pup might have cost 8 grand but it had a 3 grand sound system in it and best of all? It was a manual transmission truck that only had two seats which ultimately meant, each and every night my boy John and I got to pick one and only one girl who was going to ride in the Pup between the two of us. It wasn’t sex, per se, but man, it was about as close as we were getting back in them days.
Anyway, I’ve digressed on the car thing so back to the topic at hand.
Unless I’ve totally blocked it out, even the wealthiest kids I knew, and there were a lot of ‘em, didn’t own brand new high end cars. Back then, just owning your own car as a teenager seemed impossibly extravagant, especially if your parents reached into their own pockets to buy it for you.
Obviously this is one of those “different time different place” scenarios and it’d be pretty easy to argue that I’m applying old and outdated 1980s standards of normalcy to the world of the early 21st Century. Kind of like when my parents used to tell me they never even SAW a TV set until they were teenagers and they could never get over the unbelievable extravagance of having not one but TWO TV sets in the house I grew up in. Much like this little diatribe of mine about teenagers driving Hummers, there really wasn’t any way for me to connect these two completely different events because as the saying goes “times were different then”.
I guess if there’s some kind of point I’m actually trying to make here, it’s this: being a parent is a tough gig. As a general rule we all want the best for our children. We don’t want to see them suffer with doubt, insecurity or pain of any kind if possible. Of course that isn’t even remotely possible, but signing on as a parent in the first place inherently means that you’re willing to roll the dice on the future being at least a tiny bit better than the past. So there’s already delusion of some kind built into the willingness to take on the gig in the first place, you know?
It’ll either sound crass or completely obvious but I’ll say it anyway: From where I sit it often seems to me that parents today tend to make the mistake of giving their kids too much rather than not giving them enough.
I mean, once you’ve spent 60 grand on a car for your teenage son, where does his life go from there? Does he come to expect that kind of financial outlay from his parents for the rest of his life? Does he have any way of knowing just how hard most people have to work to make it through their simple everyday lives? Or is his perspective forever skewed and is he destined to bumble through life always wanting, wanting, wanting, without having any idea of what it really takes to make it in the world?
Perhaps it’s just my own jealousy and insecurity come home to roost, but I really think that even if I had 60 grand to spend on a car for my teenager, I wouldn’t. Because I honestly believe there’s more value in a 17 year old driving a beat up Toyota Corolla with 120,000 miles on it that the kid had to come up with half the money for, than there is in handing your kid a car that cost more than the average American family makes in a year.
But then, maybe that’s just me. It wouldn’t be the first time.
And as a final footnote, when I was a kid, “Hummer” meant something completely different and it had jack-squat NOTHING to do with cars.