The McLaren Epiphany

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Five-thirty in the morning is my normal wake-up time.I have a circadian rhythm with Swiss-like accuracy, so I never need an alarm, even if I’ve changed multiple time zones. I get up, glance at the quotes on the iPad, and amble downstairs with my phalanx of canines. I leash them up and head off in the dark chill of pre-dawn.

The route we take has, over time, become consistent. That is to say, footstep by footstep, it’s pretty much the same path 365 days a year. My big payoff from this journey is, at its midpoint, to pick up a fresh copy of the Daily Post, which is Palo Alto’s only local newspaper. This morning, however, had a new surprise. Just a block away from my house, I saw a car in a driveway that had never been there before; a McLaren. This is the precise model and color:

Naturally the car stood out because of its design. I paused there for a few moments, leashes in both hands, to admire it. Its owner had moved into a beautiful new home recently. I knew this only because the house had been on the market, and a few months ago a brand new Rolls Royce showed up in the driveway, which likewise caught my attention. I’ve always thought of Rolls as the garish objects of yearning from Southern California residents. I had never seen one in town. Not even once.

But here they were, both of them – – a new Rolls and a new McLaren, both owned by whoever bought this big modern house which otherwise showed no signs of occupancy. It was immaculate.

As I continued on my walk, something struck me a few moments later. It wasn’t a feeling. It was the lack of one. Because I realized at that moment that I wasn’t the least bit jealous.

Now that’s kind of strange for me. I’m really good at being jealous. Almost a pro. But the only thought that had crossed my mind was that I was lucky to live so close to a house with a couple of really cool cars. Sort of like an outdoor museum, it gave me something pretty to look at. But I didn’t envy the owner. I didn’t wonder why he “deserved” them. I didn’t wish they were mine. I just thought they were attractive designs and went on my merry way.

I’ve only had the experience of being a human once, and I’m not especially good at it, but it seems to me that as the years go on, we unconsciously acquire traits that some might describe as maturity. It isn’t something we study or are taught. It just kind of comes to us. And, in that moment, I was a little bit proud of myself, because I realized I had outgrown wishing that something someone else had was mine instead.

Lord knows it wasn’t always like that. When I was a sophomore in high school, a guy in the class in front of me, Tommy McWilliams, bought himself a red Porsche 944. And I repeat – “bought himself” – because he was one of the earliest designers of video games, and he had made himself a nice wad of cash doing so. I wanted to be like Tommy so badly.

And so, the next year, I managed to do the same thing. And as embarrassing as it is to write this now, it was exactly the same car. A Porsche. 944. Guards red. Just like Tommy’s, except one year newer.

Unlike Tommy, even though I had some money from my entrepreneurial activities, I couldn’t pay cash for it, so to compound my error of being a high school kid buying a Porsche, I did so via a loan. And in those days, loans didn’t charge 5% interest like today. It was more like 18%. And I haven’t even mentioned the insurance, which was $3,000 a year (and remember folks, this was a long time ago). So we’re talking some serious, serious money going out every month just so I could feel like hot shit and drive this car around.

If I could beam back to my younger self, I might say to young Tim, “Yo, dumbshit. I’m your future self. Listen to me. Drive the Honda you already drive. Take all this money you’re about to dump into a car, its insurance, and this interest, and buy Procter & Gamble stock instead. Yeah, yeah, it’s boring. But by the time you’re my age, you could buy a dozen Lamborghinis with the P&G stock and still have cash left over. Got it, asshole? Good.”

But no such Old Tim showed up. My envy compelled me to put my hard-earned cash into this complete waste, and in the end, I sold it for much, much less than I paid, and I had nothing to show for it except for some memories and a few photos.

Thinking about this brought back another memory, and it is, like the tale above, simultaneously embarrassing and a sign of newfound maturity. I had been practically counting the days until I picked up my car, and when it finally came, I took my girlfriend and best friend to the dealership to pick it up. I drove them, and my dad, to the dealership in my Honda Accord, and I gave dad the Honda so he could get it home while I drive the 944.

Once all the paperwork was done, I got on the road, thrilled to pieces, and I drove west on the 24 freeway toward home. There was a car in front of me going the speed limit, so I started bitching and moaning to my friends about the old fart ahead of us who wouldn’t get out of my way. My friends pointed out that it was my dad……….in my car. I’m glad I at least didn’t honk.

But you know what? I’ve become that slow-driving guy. I didn’t get a postcard in the mail telling me to do so. I just drive cautiously now. And young men driving recklessly bug the holy hell out of me. Part of it comes from being a dad, I suppose, and part of it comes from me wondering what the rush is all about. It’s not like they’ve got somewhere important to be.

A final coda to this anecdote: I drove my car to my high school every day. I made no secret of my new car, and word got back to one of my teachers that I had this new vehicle. So in the middle of class, he said, “I want to show everyone why it’s valuable to learn about computers.” And he escorted the entire class outside, walked us to the parking lot, and had me zip up and down the street a few times.

I was really proud of all the attention at the time, but Jesus, looking back at it, I’m ashamed of myself and the teacher. Why would he take class time out to do such a thing? He was simply fomenting the same kind of materialism, and the same kind of jealousy, that had already struck me. It was a poison, and I was doing a great job helping to distribute it.

I wish it had been different, but that’s impossible. I’m only glad now, after I grabbed my paper this morning, that all those feelings were gone. And yet I still feel the sting of regret for bungled opportunities and childish behavior. What a waste.