Free Wheeling

I had dinner a few weeks ago with a partner from Mayfield, a venture firm that invested in Consorte Media, down in Burlingame. I drove down and was meeting a work colleague there. When I arrived at the restaurant, my colleague was waiting outside. His first comment: “I saw what you drive.” “And?” I inquired. “It’s not what I expected,” he said.

He went on to say that my car didn’t suit me. I guess this is where I should tell you that I drive a 1996 Honda Civic Dx that has a manual transmission, manual steering and manual windows. There’s not an automatic anything about it. Except, of course, for automatic judgment: the driver is poor, uncool, or whatever. I guess the missing plastic side strips and extensive paint chipping don’t help. It’s clean but it’s a bit beat up.

At any rate, I felt a bit defensive about his comment but then I got reflective. What did he expect me to drive? What car is supposed to go with my personality? My career? My looks? Something to highlight my olive skin tone?

The reality is that I’m afraid to upgrade. I bought my car the summer before law school when I had no money. And it symbolizes a lot to me: where I came from, how hard I’ve worked. It can be embarrassing driving it from time to time, like when I pulled up in it at the Menlo Country Club for the Sutter Hill Ventures Christmas party. But other times it’s a good way to get around; I don’t have a car payment; and it has an uncanny ability to weed out superficial folks.

And sometimes the universe reminds me I’m blessed. One afternoon, I was picking up my Honda from a parking garage when a parking attendant ran up to me. “You own the black Honda?” he asked. “Yes, why?” I answered. “Can I buy it from you?” he asked. I was surprised. Why would anyone want to buy mi chatarra? “My Honda?” I replied incredulously. “Yeah, man,” he said, “Those things last forever.” I felt so proud. I smiled and said, “No way.”