There is a sea change afoot at Brandeis Hillel Day School; the enemy has arrived. Last week I saw a Cadillac Escalade in the parking lot.
In a normal environment, this would mean little. It has been several years since the Escalade was the exclusive domain of the professional athlete and hip-hop star. Thanks to some savvy marketing by General Motors' elite brand, the massive, over-styled vehicle is now desired by many societal subcultures, from the good-timing boys of HBO's "Entourage" to the Sacramento family of 6 who find a Chevy Suburban just too darn common. The mighty Escalade is everywhere ... except our parking lot.
Understand that our parking lot, like our school and our city, is a special place. We pay handsomely for our nice, new school, our fearsome Russian security guys, our top-flight educators, our plans for a state-of-the-art theater and gymnasium. Yesterday we had our "family and sports day" (formerly walk-a-thon) at a local public high school, stepping over graffiti and weeds as we made our way to the unmowed grass next to the football field. "It looks like Vietnam," someone said. There are many reasons why we pay for school, and they often seem incoherent to non-San Franciscans, whose local public schools are an actual option to consider, not a threat to drag out when their children become exceptionally unmanageable.
Considering the limitations of the school's mission (it is, after all, a religious school, something we often forget and are sometimes irritated to be reminded of right in the middle of a solid rant about George Bush and his preferred treatment of faith-based organizations), we do a good, and improving job of stocking the coffers with families from a variety of economic stations. Thanks to my inability to make even a modest living, we rank toward the bottom of the social strata, but are never made to feel (on purpose, at least) like the "poor relations" we feared we'd be, had we chosen some of the other local private schools.
Meanwhile, back in the world of reality, I hand you this question: so if we're all over the map, economically, but we also realize that 2/3 of us are paying an enormous yearly fee to send our kids to grade school, why is it that its five years in and I'm seeing my first Escalade in the parking lot?
Should I be proud that the number of champagne green Toyota Camrys in the lot each day easily outflanks the number of wins our young basketball team has posted in the past four years? Is it somehow proof of our moral balance that every day it seems that someone new is rolling past the fearsome Russian security guys in a shiny, silent Prius?
Along those lines, am I not supposed to find it suspicious that on a normal day you can count at least 6 Priuses (Priii?) in the parking lot at all times, and yet only one Honda Civic Hybrid? If a Hybrid idled quietly in a school parking lot but no one knew it was a Hybrid, would the driver still rack up righteous points in the eyes of Al Gore?
It is very good for our children that we keep it quasi-real, automotively, at school. The less they know about their privilege, the better, according to an author who spoke at the JCC recently about "The Price of Privilege." Children are carving themselves up with butter knives, thanks to the pressures laid on them by their wealthy parents. We are very careful, we hope, to not lay anything like that on our little Jewish kids.
"Privilege," itself, though, is a little slippery. According to national averages, we, even us with me acting as financial albatross, easily exceed national medians for standard of living. Here in the special city, we are decidedly middle class, which is fine until you start trying to explain that to someone from somewhere else, who will not buy it under any circumstances. In my Jawa's world, he is not privileged. To the other 99.9% of the world, he is wildly privileged.
Things are changing, witness the white Escalade. A recent trend toward grabbing the attention of the crowd now known as "The Jews Who Used to Send Their Kids to The Town School and Hamlin" has us sharing space with large-scale BMWs, the aforementioned Escalade, a very scary guy who sometimes shows up in a Mercedes SUV and tailgates everyone while yelling and waving his arms around, and the guy in the Porsche who always helps himself to the illegal parking spot right in front of the school and wears clogs, rain or shine.
Some are up in arms about this change in our school population. Not me. I have friends who taught me, by their actions and way too recently for a guy who should know better, not to judge people by their wallet size. I mean, I've seen guys in Priuses throw out road rage that would make my enormous pickup truck-driving brother-in-law proud. So what are we supposed to say? "Some of my best friends are rich people who drive nice cars?"
And besides, I like to pretend sometimes that we have money. I bought that freaking Volvo that we can't afford, didn't I?
But an Escalade? That's different, right? This is no cute little Lexus SUV (which can be purchased as a Hybrid). It's huge, it's gaudy, it probably sucks down a couple of Priuses each day for lunch. I haven't yet polled my fellow BHDS parents, but I've got to think that seeing an Escalade in the parking lot is not their favorite thing. Since they have jobs, not nearly as much time to ruminate over this and are not insane, they probably haven't even noticed it yet. But they will.
What's next, a Hummer? Do they even make it in a Hybrid?