Tom Wolfe, the great American writer, has a way of matching his characters with their cars. In his second novel "Man in Full", Tom Wolfe has the poor struggling grocery warehouse man driving a Hyundai, which he parked illegally on a sidewalk and which eventually got towed. Then the rich alpha male character Charlie is driven on a limo on his way to his private airport to fly on his private jet. Indeed, the way he makes these juxtapositions he seems to be saying, in America, you are what you drive. I am not prepared to argue with him or with this American way of putting things, for indeed, deep down in any urban professional's desires, he'd rather drive a nice blue cool BMW or SUV than an old refurbished Toyota Corolla. But I have reasons why I think in this country, I'm not going to drive a BMW for a long time, if at all.
First, I can't drive. I'm nearsighted. I'm wearing spectacles with a grade of plus 2000 on my right eye and plus 1000 on my left, and still they're not good enough. My vision deteriorated after third year law because of two subjects, Transportation Law and Succession. In those days, I used a reading lamp that may have been too bright as I went through a reading list of about 25 cases a day. My friends have suggested I have laser surgery, but I don’t approve of aggressive medical procedures unless they are urgent, especially if they involve my primary source of livelihood -- my eyes. I have also been tempted to cheat on my application for a driving license --i.e. memorizing the eye chart for the eye exams. But this is a very minor thing to get disbarred for. No way. Thus, I don't have a driver's license. I have to live with the thought, I can't drive. Besides, my wife can drive. We are happy.
Second, I can't afford a BMW. I don't have PHP 3 Million, which is the cost of one of these beauties. And even if I did, I am not going to blow PHP 3 Million on a car, even if it has that great sporty look, leather seats, a navigation system and all those little bells and whistles. Who needs that in a car? I need the PHP 3 Million more for my little alternative lawyer's project, my book project, my kid's education and a million other things more important than having a sporty looking car with leather seats. In my youth, I imagined myself many times driving a BMW and parking it in front of a restaurant as smitten prospective clients look on. I've bucked the dream with a simple solution -- being there before the clients arrive.
Third, driving a BMW could spell trouble. Several years ago, a strange case was pushed into my in tray. An expat, who drives around with a BMW, was sued by an old man before the city prosecutor for reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries. The old man's story? He was walking home in the middle of the night when this BMW passed by, hitting and throwing him to the gutter. His eyesight was good enough that he was able to jot down the car plate number of the blue BMW, which happens to be owned by my expat client. Of course, it was a pure extortion attempt. But my BMW driving expat wouldn’t want to spend a second thinking about it, so we settled for PHP 5000.
More trouble awaited another client of mine who happened to be another BMW fan, when he ran over a drunkard on Ortigas Avenue one early morning. He was a good man, so after the accident he brought the victim to a hospital and made sure the victim's relatives were informed about it. But, wonder of all wonders, after completing the task, he drove straight to the police to report the incident. Guess what? He was detained. Now, when he called us for help, I asked him what car was he driving. He said it was his BMW, and I knew immediately that there were “ten thousand reasons” why he was detained. Of course, it was only after we resolved the “ten thousand reasons” that the police let him go on the ground that there was no complainant.
Fourth, aside from trouble from extortionists, driving a BMW can also bring you trouble from your creditors. A businessman friend of mine who recently got sued for bad debts, managed to haggle his way out of the creditor's strict terms in the court room. But when they stepped out of the justice hall, the creditor saw my friend ride his BMW, and immediately the deal was off. When we got back on the negotiating table, my friend pleaded that he really had no money, and the BMW was being amortized at PHP 50,000 a month. The creditor agreed on one condition, that the creditor gets to drive the BMW home as a down payment. And my friend tearfully handed his creditor the keys to what once was his sporty looking BMW. I gave him a lift home on my old rickety Toyota Corolla to ease the heartbreak of leaving his house on a BMW and coming back on a cab.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure BMW cars are great. Who doesn't want to have class? Tom Wolfe says, you are what you drive, conspicuously or otherwise. But for the reasons above, I know in this country, where seventy percent of the people could barely afford to pay for public transportation, I will never drive a BMW, except perhaps in my dreams.