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House of Cars – Part three of five: “Suburbia”

Ashley Stout, Asst. Photo Editor

There is easily a million dollars worth of automobiles in this showroom. Every inch of every car is impeccable, even the lower end models. I see a man with a duster and a chamois gently re-perfecting a pristinely white E550 Cabriolet, and I quickly realize that he is engaging in his chief responsibility. 

Only in a Mercedes-Benz dealership is this all a routine day, simply par for the course. I glance around, my Aunt Monique in tow speaking to a representative about what her next car should be. My eyes fall on an unexpected surprise, a behemoth of a vehicle that I never expected to see in person. In a depthless obsidian black with mocha hues lathered underneath, a Mercedes-Maybach S600. The three-pointed star, front fender V12 badges and double-M Maybach insignia glint flawlessly in the afternoon sun coming in from the ceiling-to-floor windows.

The interior deserves its own paragraph, so I’m going to give it one. 

The scent emanated wealth, its cabin atomizer emitting a pleasant fragrance every so often. My Aunt Monique, on a business call outside of the car, was silenced immediately when I closed the long, rakish door. The sensation of this door closing defies description; it felt more worthy of a tank than a luxury sedan. The leather, a light beige hide, was the most supple I have ever felt. I let myself slip away from reality in it, reclining in second-row massaging captain’s chairs. Anyone who says they don’t get the reasoning behind a quarter-of-a-million-dollar car has never been in one, or had its ambient lighting nearly relax you into sleep within minutes.

Ironically enough, closing the door took me out of that showroom this past summer and back to my grandparents’ house in Middletown, New Jersey. 

I don’t often think about this anymore. It hits me occasionally, like it is right now as I write this in the early morning hours of a Friday in February. It doesn’t always take a reason; I’ll see a sign, hear a song, catch on to a scent that takes me back. Tonight, it was “Suburbia” by Troye Sivan, in which the young singer recalls the way things used to be but embraces the way things now are. On the day in which I opened this piece, it was sitting in the coddling back seat of that $236,000 masterpiece. 

The second I closed that door, my mind immediately raced to my grandmother and grandfather. “They would love this,” I thought. Very striking, yet very classic. Everyone loved it. Everyone loved them, too. They were striking, totally classic and the absolute best grandparents anyone could ever ask for.

Everybody addresses this type of issue in their own way, and six years later, I still feel the shockwave. The shockwave of my mom exiting my grandfather’s hospice room to let us know he had passed is six years old, yet ever strong. She didn’t have to utter a word; I saw it in her face the minute she turned the corner of the hall at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, New Jersey. As soon as she made eye contact with us, tears began to flow; she nodded, her hair in a bun shaking back and forth. It was a bleak, grey day; I was listening to John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” when it happened. 

It was like the air was sucked out of the room, and our family traditions with it. 

Like anyone else, I was upset for a time. After they both finally succumbed to two independent (yet completely intertwined, as anything a couple married for nearly 50 years experiences) battles with cancer, it felt like my predominant mood was “upset.” 

But rather rapidly, I chose to smile instead of frown, to laugh about the good times instead of crying about the bad. It’s a waste of time, and I was lucky to have them in my life at all.

At this moment, the value of nostalgia hit me. 

Here I was, a 20-year-old auto industry hopeful, thinking about my grandparents in the back seat of a Maybach-baged Mercedes-Benz. But that’s important; the point of outlandish vehicles like this, or a Rolls Royce Ghost or a Bentley Mulsanne, is to remind us of what used to be. 

Big, pointless extravagance aimed at preserving the good old days. The good old days when you weren’t in college and Nan and Pop had dinner waiting when you arrived in New Jersey from Brooklyn. The days when a 530 horsepower, twin-turbo V12 luxury missile wasn’t considered socially irresponsible. Oddly enough, in this moment, the two thoughts were one and the same. Just like I sometimes need to reflect on fun moments, great Christmases or simple trips to the candy store with my Nan and Pop, this industry needs to keep making the cars that make us all smile. 

Environmental concerns will require us to adapt as a society. The Nissan Leafs, Chevrolet Volts and Teslas will have to be built for cars to survive. Just don’t forget to build obnoxiously loud Lamborghinis and quarter-of-a-million-dollar 12-cylinder Mercedes-Benzes.

“Are you ready to go bud? I think they have a G-Class you can see outside,” my Aunt Monique’s voice fills the cabin as she climbs in. “Let’s hang here for another minute,” I replied. We did, and it was serene. 

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