Denali Denial: Hey, Rich Kids, Take a Cab!

Last week I was standing in the Ralph Lauren store on 71st and Madison admiring a $400 cashmere toddler sweater when a fresh-faced young mommy hopped out of her black Denali XL. She was casually dressed in sporty Gucci loafers. Over her shoulder she carried a plump, red-faced infant. The sales girl immediately recognized her and started cooing.

“We need something for Aspen,” she said breathlessly, her Denali creating a sense of urgency.

“Of course,” said the salesgirl.

I looked at my son in his ancient Maclaren. Would he someday pay someone $300 an hour to complain about the fact that he wasn’t squired around in a car that gets 14 miles to the gallon? Would he someday chronicle his tragic childhood in a memoir titled We Didn’t Even Have a Driver?

I used to be considered a princess by my pals. I was mocked for my inability to ride a bus, chided for my helplessness with the subway, and generally made fun of for my public-transportation ineptitude. Alas, this is no longer the case. I am now a down-to-earth gal who bravely hails a taxi and jumps into it, while my other friends stand helplessly waiting for their drivers to pick them up.

When I was in third grade, I came home from my fancy private school one day (one which I will not name, because I hope to get my son in there) and told my mother that I wanted to grow up so that I could marry Donald Trump and go to school in a limousine. My mother was appalled. To her, a limousine was a bourgeois prison. My grandfather, communist hero Howard Fast, would never ride in a limousine—at least not until he moved to Greenwich and married someone younger than my father. We never went anywhere in a limousine, except of course to the airport, and that was different (after all, the airport was far away). In fact, the only person who ever rolled up to our townhouse in a limousine was Stephen King.

But I grew up during the 80’s in a different New York, a New York filled with muggers, rapists, preppy murders and squeegee men. Anyone remember squeegee men? New York City used to be a crappy city; you had to be a little bit insane to raise your children here. As kids, we were lectured endlessly about what to do “when” we got mugged. We were told to keep an extra $10 in our shoe so that “when” we got mugged, we could get a taxi home. Had we only had drivers, our mugging problems could have been solved.

Normal people didn’t raise their kids in the city. They went to clean, safe places, places like Westchester, Greenwich and Great Neck. Now they don’t. Now our New York City is a glorified suburb with endless Container Stores and Starbucks.

The older generation is still embarrassed by the idea of being chauffeured about. The rows and rows of black town cars idling outside of 730 and 740 Park Avenue are anonymous and even subtle. They are discreet little town cars, embarrassed by their own conspicuousness. They are eclipsed by a lone Denali.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg brags about taking the subway, as if it were a badge of honor to be a rich person on the No. 6 train. Perhaps part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Democrat self is still alive and well.

But being driven doesn’t embarrass the young rich; they consider it anything from a “necessary evil” to a “blissful luxury” to a “downright necessity.” We are, after all, the generation that produced Paris Hilton; modesty is not one of our virtues. And at 198.9 inches long and 5,310 pounds, modesty isn’t one of the Denali’s virtues, either. In some ways, the Denali is our generation’s car, the car of Republican rule, the car of melting polar ice caps, of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, of the rich getting richer and the poor buying houses with adjustable-rate mortgages and huge balloon payments. Perhaps we should just rename the Denali the Denial-ie.

Maybe I’m jealous—there were many times in the last three years when I longed for one of those Denalis to sweep by and pick me up. Remember such taxi nightmares as the great transit strike of ’05 or the blizzard of ’06 or the horrendous blackout of ’03?

One of the many good things about the Denali is that it’s an American-made car, a good ol’ GMC truck (well, half of G.M.’s 324,000 employees are in the U.S.; I’m sure the rest of them are in Holland or somewhere else with good socialized medicine). Another good thing about it is that it has 104.6 cubic feet of interior space and can seat eight adults—not that anyone would suffer such discomfort. Also, at just $50,490 for the least luxe Denali XL, you can afford to hire two or three extra bodyguards. What, you don’t have a bodyguard?

Now, don’t get me wrong; some of my best friends are driven around in Denalis (once the car of choice for rappers and drug dealers). All of them are normal, charming, wonderful, intelligent people. Some of these friends use their Denalis because they have more than three children, and normal wagons don’t really do more than two car seats. One of my best friends uses her husband’s Denali when he goes to work. She is able to get all her errands done in half the time she would otherwise need. Also, going out to dinner with our friends with drivers is always a treat because we can go anywhere. The city feels like a tiny village when you can go places easily.

That said, I remember going out to dinner with a famous actor and his wife who afterward told their driver to go on without them because they wanted to walk. That did seem a bit stupid, to have someone idling for you for three hours only to tell him to head home in an empty car. Of course, that is the irony of a car and driver: You are paying someone to waste time, to wait, to do nothing.

When pressed, my driven friends often confess it is the chilly weather that leads them to take the Denalis instead of hoofing it. I tell them that cabs have heat too, but I realize it’s not the same.