I’ve devoted my adult life to helping people heal so they could stop living in pain, and learn to embrace joy and possibility instead. This was not an easy work. It could have been, if I’d done it halfway, seeing people on the hour every hour for the fee alone, but that was not my style. The work was intense and deep so I could do little of it, which often resulted in living hand to mouth.
I drove economy cars, my favorite being a Nissan Sentra, which I bitterly grieved when it broke beyond my ability to fix. I was married at the time with a holiday trip to Los Angeles planned, so we scurried about searching for a vehicle in our price range. At the last minute we found a 2002 BMW which drove like a dream. The used car guy gave us a deal and the credit union plugged us in at $200 a month. It was doable. The car was definitely a boy car with black leather interior, glowing jet plane dash and sports tires hugging the road on every curve, the price of gas and repairs astronomical. The car was a thoroughbred race horse in need of exquisite care.
One year after purchase, my recently married husband split, offering car payments as a parting gift. Then my mother died, leaving me enough money to move from Oregon – bless her generous soul. And so I arrived in my new California home looking like a rich lady with a fancy car and some bills in her pocket, instead of the single welfare mom I’d been most of my life.
The thing is – I am just me, the same country girl I’ve always been who is not afraid of hard work, dresses for comfort instead of fashion, and has no airs at all. But apparently my car speaks louder than I do.
People believe that folks who drive BMW’s are rich. They just do and I used to too. I remember when a young doctor came for sessions, asking for a sliding scale. I considered his school loans and said yes, but when I saw him speed off in a vintage Beemer I was furious. “That’s the last time I’m giving anyone a sliding scale,” I said aloud. I felt had, taken advantage of, resentful, and all because of my beliefs about his car.
Let me back up here and share some of my BMW interactions.
First there was my client, Susan, who drove a brand new BMW while speaking of her financial woes. Her abusive husband had more money than God, but kept her on a tiny budget, causing her to steal grocery money for our sessions. “Things are not always as they appear,” she told me.
Over dinner, a woman from my writing group expressed how much she hated those BMW drivers – those people. “They always push ahead of everyone else on the freeway and have no manners at all.”
“But I’m not like that,” I countered. “Maybe it’s because the car is a race horse and doesn’t like to be reined in.” She was unconvinced. I had crossed a line and there was no way back.
My own daughter was uncomfortable driving the car to her daughter’s environmentally conscious school where the parents walk, bike or arrive in old Volvo’s. “What will people think?” she said “That car is not the image I want to convey.”
The BMW stigma baffled me, so I asked a client to share his thoughts as we made conversation on the way to his KIA station wagon. “Why do you think folks dislike BMW drivers so much?” He didn’t hesitate. “Those people think their crap doesn’t stink.” Those people.
Another client, a world famous rock star who tours the globe making several million a week often used sessions to lament discrimination toward the rich. At the time I thought I’d like to have such a problem. Only now do I begin to understand. Folks in Oregon have yelled at me, tried to force me off the road or made nasty slurs as I’ve driven by, things they never did when I drove the Sentra.
In Ojai, at a recent yard sale, a man drove off in his BMW, and the woman having the sale was upset. “I don’t believe it. Here I was giving him deals and he drives away in a BMW.” I remembered the young doctor I’d felt the same way about and decided to explain that all BMW drivers were not rich. She was unconvinced.
Only yesterday my friend Barbara, being sympathetic to the 99% movement, waved her support through my car window, then felt embarrassed. “Oh my gosh, here I am saying I’m supportive while driving around in a BMW. How ridiculous that must seem.”
And this morning my friend Julio recoiled when I offered to drive him in search of employment. “No, no Karen. If I show up in a BMW, no one will think I need the work. I’ll take my bike.”
So that’s my story. Ordinary girl buys extraordinary car and gets stuck in a societal box. Don’t you think that’s a lot of authority for a car to have? I sure do.
Truth be known, a pick up truck would serve my wants much better for the hauling, gardening and transporting I need, but I do love the way the car drives, its elegant spirit and beautiful interior.
And sometimes I have to admit that its fun and even helpful to have folks believe that I’m wealthy and successful, because in many ways I am. So for the time being, I’m that rich lady who drives around Ojai in her Beemer. Sometimes in a twilight zone of prejudice, but all the time enjoying a car that handles like it was made in heaven.