Published Aug. 11, 2010
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Giving the luxe life a spin
The Great Gatsby threw dazzling garden parties. He wore a pink suit and silk shirts in coral, lavender, faint orange and monograms of Indian blue. He was a shiny neon sign obsessed with a green light who paraded around town in a yellow Rolls-Royce.
I always related to the narrator, Nick Carraway. He’s quiet, reflective and, like myself, I think he’d be perfectly content with a Honda. Of course, we’re happy to dabble in grandeur, and when I received an offer of a Rolls-Royce for the weekend, I grabbed it. My friends were getting married in Newport, and here was a chance to turn Aquidneck Island into my own East and West Egg.
I was nervous on my way to pick up the 2010 Phantom Drophead Coupe. (That’s pronounced coo-pay. I don’t know why, and I didn’t want to ask and embarrass myself in front of the car.) There’s a 453-hp, 6.8-liter V-12 engine under the brushed, stainless-steel hood. It has 21″ wheels, teak decking inspired by America’s Cup yachts and dealer options that cost well over my car’s resale value. The Phantom is meant to stand out, and as such, it’s a very polarizing vehicle.
I wasn’t even out of the driveway before I received my first thumbs-up from a passerby. Less than a mile later, the first middle finger was waved in my direction. “I think this guy is giving you the finger, too,” my girlfriend said during mile four, as an 18-wheeler swerved near, blaring its horn. “No, never mind, he’s giving us the “let’s switch” sign.” It was rush hour; I was antsy and picturing a truck tire destroying the $12,000 paint job on my $500,000 loaner. So I flipped a bird of my own.
It was hard to relax in my luxury automobile. I admit, during that first afternoon I was a bit of a pill. Seems the Rolls is more fun to be driven in than to drive. The America’s Cup styling is appropriate because at 18-feet long and almost three tons, the Couple steers like a boat. This isn’t a vehicle for hairpin turns. For my passengers, though, relaxing wasn’t a problem, and they all took the opportunity to lounge in the sun, role play as young moguls or simply sleep on this leather sofa on wheels. Meanwhile, I just kept my hands at 10 and two, smiled nervously at other drivers and exhaled deeply whenever I stepped out the suicide doors.
But I always looked forward to climbing back in. One has to show off a little, and the following day we left downtown Newport, cruised past the vineyards and the polo matches, and made our way to the modest, West Egg side of the island, where I had to make a vital stop: my high school.
Of course, being July, no one was there. Not my stentorian dorm master. Not the girl who took me as her pity date to the winter formal. Just some sad summer-schoolers, who hopefully learned from an alum that with a little hard work, you, too, can fake a better life.
On the way out of town, I learned that being rich apparently saves you money, as the hotel elected not to charge me for parking. After all, a Phantom out front is a free boost to an establishment’s cultural cachet. That, or my cargo shorts and old T-shirt suggested that I might not have the cash on me.
Fifty miles later, we made one last stop by my folks’ house, where my father got a kick out of pushing all the buttons on the dash, which he’s always yelled at me for doing. He even described the Phantom as “sexy,” a word I don’t recall him saying before. My mother enjoyed a Sunday cruise, but afterward confessed she’d prefer something she could abuse, which was disconcerting to hear, both as her son and the owner of her old car.
In the end, the Phantom was fun to drive, in no small part, because it gave my friends a chance to climb behind the wheel, to imagine themselves as the owner of a seaside mansion or a shiny pink suit. I was happy to observe, then hand back the keys and write it all down.