I park my 1988 faded red Toyota station wagon with dented rear door right in front of the two valets. One guy turns away; the other stares into space. But when a shiny, new, exotic gas guzzler pulls in behind me, they finally approach.
Three days of luxury
in the driver's seat of a
Jaguar -- this is living
By Tim Ryan
"For drop off or pick up, pull over there," the valet says to me.
"Thank you very much, but I'm having lunch here," I say.
The kid forces himself into the front seat, turns off the AM radio, and closes the creaking door. (I've been meaning to oil that for two years.) He parks my beloved surf buggy in the recesses of the lot.
Obviously, I've never been a car guy; never wanted to work harder to save money so I could make monthly payments for something that's going to rust, eventually break down and every day lose value.
Electric windows and locks, power seats and sunroofs and CD changers are excesses of a decadent, ego-driven society designed for people with really low self-esteem. Who wants to be admired just because they drive a fancy car? Who needs friends like that!? What kind of person would enjoy such false idolatry?
Well, uh, I did, for three ego-driven days, thanks to Budget Rent A Car.
I've never pretended to be deep. But I never fully appreciated the depth of my shallowness, the way I could almost drown in it as I slid behind the retracting steering wheel onto the butter-soft leather seats of that BEAUTIFUL, LONG, SLEEK, SOPHISTICATED, NEW, WHITE AND EXPENSIVE Jaguar XJ8.
It was love at first sight, as if my ego had had an overdose of Viagra after eyeing that sexy hood ornament bearing the likeness of a sprinting feline.
I thought to myself, this car is me. I was made for it. It just fit. And this was before the Budget guy handed me the keys.
"Home at last, home at last, thank God, I'm home at last," I said to myself as I removed the Budget tag off the key. In my mind this car was MINE.
Budget has and rents more fancy SUVs, luxury sedans like the Jags, classic Mustangs and PT Cruisers than any other rental company in Hawaii. And surprisingly, they're not all that expensive. Depending on the season, the Jaguar XJ8 sedan rents for $89 to $129 a day; the convertible, $109 to $149; Ford Mustang, $59 to $99, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, $89 to $149.
As I headed out of Waikiki, I felt change envelop me. I avoided eye contact with other drivers, especially those in mini-vans, SUVs and Buicks. I developed a boorish sneer.
At a stop light, a nicely dressed woman in a sports car glanced pleasantly in my direction.
"She wants me," I imagined.
Slowly I turned, grinned for the briefest of moments, then lowered the seat's backrest until I was almost reclining, then grinned and pretended to laugh at her, at us, hell, at the world. I was in a zone of self appreciation and it was magic.
At the next signal, a guy in a car just like my Toyota pulled up.
"Loser," I whispered under my breath before speeding off.
By the time I reached the News Building, the Jag and I were one. She liked me, she really liked me. I cruised by the parking lot attendant, who couldn't see who I was behind the tinted windows.
I parked in a reserved space with no permit. Ha! In two days I never received a notice for illegal parking. This is the kind of treatment "Jag" owners deserve.
Once again, I sensed change, and it wasn't just the feeling of my swelling head.
The next day, several reporters' eyes got buggy seeing one of their own in a Jag. One whispered, "Quite a car." I acknowledged the comment, saying, "It's just a car." By the time I reached the newsroom, several people were buzzing about "Tim's Jag."
I repeated several times, "It's only a car, for gosh sakes."
A copy editor passed by a dozen times looking at me with what seemed like newfound respect, uttering repeatedly, "What a car, what a car."
But another writer was angry.
"How can YOU afford a car like that?" he asked a few times.
"If you saved your money instead of spending it on beer maybe you wouldn't have to drive a Ford Fiesta!" I yelled back.
Other reporters were congratulatory about my perceived good fortune; I 'fessed up to some.
As luck would have it, a good friend of some wealth was in town for a visit.
During dinner, he mentioned that a mutual friend had just bought a Jaguar.
"So did I," I said smugly.
"His is new," my friend said.
"Mine's a month old."
"His is green."
"Mine is white, a bit more sophisticated, I think."
When the valet pulled the Jag up from its space only 10 feet away, my friend stared in disbelief.
"I-t's t-h-e m-o-s-t b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l c-a-r I h-a-v-e e-v-e-r s-e-e-n," he stammered.
"Thanks. Want to go for a ride?"
He climbed into the seat as though sitting on something fragile. When we arrived at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental for drinks, three valets trotted up to open the door, then parked it right up front.
"Rides, uh, really smooth," my friend said on the way back to his hotel. "This seat is more comfortable than my Eames chair. I think people are staring at the car."
"That happens," I said. "It's just a car."
"You must be doing, you know, very well," he said. "How much does a car like this cost?"
"Mmm, about $60,000 give or take," I said enjoying my noncommittal answer.
I moved in for the kill after years of taking his born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-his-mouth abuse.
"What are you driving these days?" I asked.
"Uh, I still have the Mustang, but I really love it."
"The same Mustang? How many miles on it?"
"About 250,000," he said. "I just had the engine replaced. But I really love that car."
"That's really nice. It must be so broken in by now."
I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. The guy was so proud of me, why spoil it?
The next morning, I was slow getting out of bed. It was Jag return day.
I called Budget, joking that I needed to do more research.
"You have nowhere to hide, we'll find you," she said.
"No, I'm being honest. Can't you hear it in my voice? I need the Jag longer."
"Noon or else." The phone went silent.
I circled the block a half-dozen times before pulling into Budget return, handing over the keys, giving the car a long look, touching a fender, then heading back to the office where my old reliable waited, baking in the sun, with no working AC.
Heading home along Kapiolani Boulevard I pass the Jaguar dealer and there she is right in the window, taunting me, gleaming, sexy and unobtainable.
"I had you briefly, Ms. Jag, and you were mine."
Let's see, $1,000 down and $1,000 a month for about 70 months. Take my daughter out of private school, sell the house, go into real estate. Maybe, just maybe.
Budget Rent A Car's exotic rentals:
Models available: Jaguar XJ8 sedans and convertibles, classic Ford Mustang convertibles, Ford Expeditions and Mercury Navigator SUVs, Chrysler PT Cruisers; Acura coupes
Call: Mainland (800)-527-0700; Honolulu 838-1111
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calendars and events.