Class Conflict

So we’re waiting at a traffic light on boulevard de la Concorde, not expecting anything, and that swanky dude in a brand new Porsche nine-eleven pulls up beside Jude’s Jetta. Windows are down and we’re all ogling the Porsche — it’s all black, tan interior, nicely dished wheels — we’re thinking Carrera S, or 4S, but without the tail wing and the wide body, we know it’s not a Turbo.

Jude doesn’t talk and his foot doesn’t move. He just smiles, with deference almost. He’s classy like that, Jude, but The Brat, sitting in the back: not so classy. He blurts out, somewhat rudely: “Hey! Nice ride, buddy. Whattya got under the hood?” He knows exactly what the guy has under the hood: nothing. Or a gym bag, maybe, because the engine’s in the fucking back, and it’s a 3.6 liter flat six, and he knows this full well.

I turn to him and shake my head in shame. “Very mature, Bradley,” I say. Then I look across at the driver and shrug, as if to say “Sorry. No disrespect.”

But then we hear it: the exquisite sound erupting from the twin exhausts as the dude fondles the throttle a bit and the engine revs up smoothly. He turns his head, smiles and nods — an almost paternal smile that says: kids, this here is a serious piece of Teutonic engineering, and consider yourselves lucky I’ll let you have even a tiny taste of it.

And so we know it’s on, and me and Jude are both secretly grateful The Brat opened his dirty mouth, because even if we’re classy guys and we’re not big fans of outright provocation on street corners, an opportunity like this — red light, empty boulevard, shiny nine-eleven — doesn’t come up very often.

Of course the dude in the Porsche takes a quick, subtle look at Jude’s ride. And what does he see? A harmless white VW Jetta, old and boxy, a bit rusted around the front fenders, a small dent in the passenger door from last winter’s mishap, smallish 15 inch wheels, dirty and covered in black brake powder. Maybe he notices the car is slammed to the ground, but probably not. Jude’s ride is what we call a sleeper; if you know what to look for, you’ll know this ride spells trouble at a traffic light, but to the uninitiated, it’s just a lame old Volkswagen.

There are several types of Porsche owners — the gray haired downtown businessman who turns it in every two years for the latest model, the receding hairline midlife crisis cabriolet kind, the weekend warrior with a Circuit Mont Tremblant membership, etc. — and our guy fits another fairly predictable yuppie pattern: early-thirties, wearing a nice suit, chances are he’s a doctor, possibly even a dentist, graduated just a couple of years back, and he doesn’t have a look of family money, anyway them they never go for black and tan nine-elevens. It’s too conspicuous. They buy big Benzes, 7 series Bimmers, or something fat and comfy and ultimately boring. But him, he looks like he worked his way through school and drove a pitiful Tercel or Hyundai when he was our age, and now he’s made it out of automotive skid row, so he deserves the nice status symbol. The way he smiles not too broadly and turns his head slowly, it says it all: he’s obviously proud, and also, because he drove an 80 horsepower rust-bucket Pony for a decade and he doesn’t know shit else about cars, he thinks — and you can’t blame him — the Carrera’s power is so fantastic, so violently surging, that it’s almost scary. He doesn’t look smug though, he just wants to show us a nice time. Give us something to take back home and talk about. It’s probably the first time he tries something wild like that.

So the light turns green and immediately the Porsche’s rear end loses traction. He’s obviously not used to quick drag starts with serious horses on the tarmac, but Jude is, so the Jet is a bit in front right away. Jude didn’t even rev up the engine. He opted for a more casual start off the line. Release the clutch softly, Jude always says, and then dump it and let the hidden beast hit its stride on its own terms. We’re always bitching about it from the passenger seat since he’s losing an eighth of a second at least, but in this context, with the racy nine-eleven besides us, it’s perfectly appropriate.

The Porsche catches up a bit when Jude shifts in second, as we expect, but we’re nose to nose through the second and third, and by then of course we’re doing one-fifty on boulevard de la Concorde and the man’s expression has changed completely — it’s turned to a blend of panic and disbelief, some confusion, some aggravation — anyway, he looks across at us with his eyes wide open just as the Jet hits the peak of the third, around 7000 RPM, at which point the VR6 engine erupts with a raw, high-pitched, high-velocity scream that crescendos in our ears like a symphony of metal and fire. And by then of course the next light is coming up quick and Jude slams the brakes, stops the car on a dime, just shy of the line. There’s the distinct whiff of heated disks in the cabin. Our new friend, who’d been early on the brakes, immobilizes his sports car besides us at the light, takes a deep breath, and says, more to himself, really: “What the fuck.” He looks across at us, dumbfounded, and repeats it somewhat louder, with very clear enunciation. “What. The. Fuck.” To which Jude replies, with just the right balance of sympathy and condescension: “I know. It’s okay. We can swap if you want to.” He says just that, and we drive off in a different direction when the light turns.

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