I used to drive a Porsche.
Not one of the expensive fancy ones, just a little used Boxster that probably cost less than your brand new Ford. I hadn’t sought out the Porsche, it just sort of came to me. I had been in the market for a new used car, an Audi TT to be exact. A friend of my dad was headed to an auto action in Milwaukee, and I’d asked him to call if one came up on the bidding line, a silver one.
He called the next day. A silver Audi was indeed on the list. But even better, he said, was this ’99 Porsche Boxster. Low miles. Flawless condition. Custom soft-red leather “sport seats.” And yes, it was silver. Chances were it would go for around the same price as the Audi. Would I be interested, and what was my maximum bid?
A week later I was driving a ’99 Porsche Boxster. My dad collects cars, so being around “exotic” autos was nothing new, though this time I actually was driving one rather than simply polishing its wheels.
I admit, I loved it… well, mostly. I’d never driven a Boxster, especially one with “Sport Seats,” so I was a tad surprised the first time I got behind the wheel and noticed that my head was brushing the cloth roof, my shoulder was nudging the door panel and my knees had to be folded a certain way to clear the bottom of the dash. It was tighter than I expected, but hey, isn’t that the price you pay when you go European?
Something else I hadn’t expected was the reactions I got when I drove it. One time shortly after I got it, I was driving down Underwood Avenue through Dundee and a faceless voice yelled somewhere from the sidewalk, “Sweet Boxster!” I just waved in appreciation to no one. It would be the last complement I ever received driving that car.
Instead, I got the opposite reaction — a lot of “asshole looks.” Passengers in late-model Tauruses (Tauri?), Civics and Cavaliers shot sour, angry glances that simply said: “Look at that asshole driving the Porsche.”
Just as bad was when a teen-ager in a “souped up” Ford Escort (complete with over-sized spoiler bolted on the hatchback) would pull up beside me at a stoplight and gun his engine — the international signal for let’s race! I’d try not to look over as he continued to nudge his Bondo-covered POS forward. Sure enough when the light changed, off he’d go with a tiny squeal and a puff of smoke, while I slowly rolled forward.
After two years of putting up with the asshole treatment — and after no longer being able to convince myself that my 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame wasn’t too big for a little sports car — I sold the Boxster on eBay and bought the Mini Cooper convertible that I currently drive. Believe it or not, it’s tons roomier than the Porsche. And it gets an entirely different reaction when I drive it — similar to what I’d probably get if I was riding on the back of a giant pink bunny rabbit.
Let me put it another way:
I haven’t always been a New York Yankees fan. I was welcomed into the flock as a result of my wife’s allegiance to all her New York-based sports teams — The Yankees, The Knicks and The Giants rather than The Mets, The Nets and The Jets. Anyway, I’ve been a Yankees fan for almost 20 years (Yes, honey, it’s really been that long). And as such, I own my share of Yankees apparel — ball caps, T-shirts and best of all, an official Yankees jacket, just like the ones the team wears in the dugout between innings on cool spring or autumn nights.
The looks I get when I wear my Yankees jacket are not unlike the looks I got driving that Boxster. We live in a market — like most areas outside of Manhattan — that hates the Yankees and anyone who likes the Yankees. Wear Yankees gear and people want to fight you.
Conversely, last year I had an evening off during a business trip to Chicago and decided to meet an old pal — former Reader correspondent now Chicagoan Jeremy Schnitker — for my first-ever game at Wrigley Field. It was unseasonably cold that evening, and I left my coat at home, so I walked down to Macy’s and bought a nice Cubs warm-up — big and blue with a large red “C” on the front.
Immediately, the scowls of hate, anger and resentment I got wearing Yankees gear turned into warm, aw-shucks smiles when I donned the Cubs coat. Even the sternest people would brighten up when they saw the jacket and say things like, “Hey, how are the boys doing this season?” and “We’ll get them next year!” It felt like a few of them wanted to hug me.
Needless to say, I don’t wear my Yankees coat much these days, even though I still love the Yankees.
My point in all this: On this day after Omaha’s Gay Pride Day and just days before Independence Day, the above examples are the only honest perspectives in which I can write about discrimination. As a straight, middle-aged, middle-class, gainfully employed white guy, the closest I’ll ever get to feeling even the slightest sting of prejudice is for the most facile, stupid, insignificant reasons. In a world filled with hate, for me to write anything beyond this perspective of ignorance would be disingenuous. I’ll never know the sting of prejudice. And for that I’m grateful and humbled and a little bit ashamed.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.