spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Fixer upper / Tup Wanders
As a believer in stories, my advice for my niece is based on personal experience. I want her to know that the stories we tell ourselves can change our outlook and alter our self -image. And as an award winning comedic choreographer and dancer, Turquoise can concoct a story with ease. 

Everything is falling into place for her trip to Los Angeles. She has sublet a studio apartment in an ideal location for taking improv classes, and because getting around in L.A. is no snap, her Dad has offered her a not-so-pretty minivan.

She knows it’s petty, but that car does not fit the image she wants to project. It’s clunky and larger than a Scion or a Fit or a Mini-Cooper and bespeaks ordinary and safe whereas she wants to say cute, snappy, cutting edge. It’s a minivan, after all, a silver Ford Windstar of indeterminate age previously owned by a food bank in rural Northern California, and the roof is peeling.

First of all, I’m not faulting her for having this car image problem. It’s healthy to think she’s entitled to a positive view of herself. And if she follows my advice, no matter what car she drives in LA, she will see her bright side.

Yet it is important to acknowledge what marketing research has shown about the effect on one’s self-image of car and clothing brands.  According to University of Minnesota researchers, one group of women was sent into a mall with a plain pink shopping bag and another group with a Victoria’s Secret bag. Those carrying the branded bag rated themselves more feminine, glamorous and good-looking.

Researchers also found that people who used a pen with the MIT logo rated themselves higher as leaders and smarter than others.

So it goes to show that brands have real power because, as researchers say, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive and the bags we carry, they all make statements about who we are or who we want to be. And my point is that the stories we tell ourselves have that same power over us. They can enlighten or mislead, inspire or discourage.  

The truth is, I, myself, drive an image-challenged car. It’s a maroon ’97 Toyota Corolla missing its hubcaps on the passenger side. In addition, the passenger side has numerous white scrapes, evidence that I have misjudged the parking space to which I have been assigned in my building’s garage. I can remember the loss of both hubcaps, how they bounced off when I brushed the curb on Noe Street.

When I look at the car, I see its unloveliness, its bruises, the unrepaired damage and I see a car not worth stealing, a car not needing to be heavily insured, a car that’s easy to pick out in a parking lot if you’re on the passenger side. To me, the car says I am not concerned with what people think of me or my materialism.  Although I admit I have yet to hand over the keys for valet parking at any social gala.

Part of my comfort with driving an inconsequential car is reverse snobbism. I don’t live in Pacific Heights, Sea Cliff or Nob Hill, I live in eastern Western Addition, northern Hayes Valley, eastern Tenderloin and south Cathedral Hill, at an unglamorous address in this city of splendor.

Should anyone want to know why I drive that car, I have a story. Most queries, however, come from my parking lot friends at Safeway on Webster and O’Farrell, men who perceive me as having more money than they do, but notice that their cars look a lot better than mine. These are friends I don’t try to impress.

It’s when I am giving rides to more affluent friends that I explain the car’s declasse look as an example of urban detailing, as if the detailers offered me a special on denting, removal of original paint, scratching, scuffing, spills and stains.

Telling this story allows me to acknowledge the shamble the car is in but to project an aura of courage, conviction and competency, as if it’s a choice after all.

If Turquoise does drive the silver Windstar with the peeling roof around Los Angeles, my advice is to smile and improvise an incredible story behind this food bank cast off, something about the number of lives saved, skidding under falling branches, swerving through torrential downpours, skimming over frozen rutty back country roads, etc. Actually any story replete with detailing will do.

I have changed my niece’s name so as not to dent or tarnish her self-image.

Gregory Jon Rittger
1/16/2012 06:18:56 am

I love this story. It is me. It is everyperson. I acknowledge my personal shamble, but try to project an air of courage, conviction, and competency. It IS a choice. That or the scrap-heap.

your mother
1/17/2012 08:22:36 am

What an intelligent child you turned out to be.

1/17/2012 08:27:09 am

I am glad you see yourself herein.

Guy Rittger
1/17/2012 12:51:51 am

When I purchased my 2003 Ford Focus ZX3 in Seattle, back in 2004, I had a very specific vision of myself in mind: pit bull chauffeur. I wanted a car that would enable me to efficiently convey my bulls, Leeloo and Otto, to choice walking locations, far and wide. In this regard, it has been the perfect car, precisely because it bothers me not at all when Otto throws up in the back, or the heater breaks, or water leaks in through the windshield gasket and creates a small pond in the passenger seat footwell. And it proved its versatility beyond doubt by safely delivering the three of us 2,900 miles across the country, in 3 days, along with two bicycles, 3 computers, two computer monitors, two guitars, and several boxes of clothing. Snowy Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain passes in winter, windswept interstate highways, endless miles of featureless Nebraska and Iowa fields, and intermittent urban congestion, proved no match for the mighty Focus, with Leeloo riding shotgun and Otto wedged comfortably in the back. That's the story I will always tell about this car.

Guy Rittger
1/17/2012 12:55:59 am

I'd like to add that the Focus has recently become a mobile tanning booth. On sunny days, Otto likes to recline in the back with the rear hatch open, with the car parked in the driveway. From there he can peacefully watch the world go by or comfortably snooze for hours at a time. It has become his new favorite pasttime.

1/17/2012 08:25:54 am

To my sons: What thoughtful men you both became, and Guy, you tell a good story. I would be glad to have you as a guest blogger anytime you want to tell a story like the one you just shared. Greg, I know you are full of stories as well.

Linda Posner
1/17/2012 11:56:30 am

I am smiling as I write how much I enjoy this story. Its humor, truth, wisdom, and humanity drive the clever words.Something for all in this tale! And I am reminded of the feelings of embarassmennt and humility I felt for 8 years driving the old, dented, silver, hubcapless car that was given to me by the rabbi! Those last 6 words redeemed me each time I told the story.
Thank you.

Comments are closed.