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Al Martinez

Chariots of the Munchkins

August 01, 1985|Al Martinez

I have never seen a terrific advantage in being poor. Though my columns may seem to reflect an egalitarian cant, my heart is with those who dine by candlelight on caneton roti a la sauce poivre and cruise the streets in their half-million dollar chauffeured Duesenbergs. I say it's a lovely way to live and I say to hell with tuna casseroles.

Revealing that is necessary to establish that I am not one of your scruffy Populist demagogues who is forever attempting to rile the peasants by condemning the playthings of the wealthy. Given less than half a chance, I too would be among those sipping Dom Perignon in restaurants you need a password to enter.

However.

I do not have the same attitude toward the children of the rich, the apple-cheeked darlings who emerge from the womb already knowing they are better than everyone else, having been conditioned by certain wealthy fluids flowing from the mother to the fetus. I cannot abide anyone shorter than me feeling that way.

I once lived in an area which, by odd juxtaposition of boundary lines, was very close to a country club surrounded by homes of the affluent.

Rich women would occasionally bring their children beyond the wall to observe the poor in the event the kids someday had to confront one. It was practice similar to the World War II program of recognizing the silhouette of an enemy bomber.

The children would ask questions like How come you drive that old car, and do you have to eat dog food for dinner and why are you mowing your own lawn? One of them wanted to know if I were Chinese or Mexican, but before I could realign his presumptions, mater whisked him away.

It was not so much that the kid was interested in my heritage as it was the manner in which he, and others, approached my economic status. I came, if not to despise, at least to resent the little slugs for the aura of superiority that seemed to glow around their golden heads.

And now I have learned that those feelings of superiority are being enhanced by a relatively new item on the market in, predictably, Beverly Hills. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the $12,500 mini-Lamborghini Countach, just for kids. That's a car, not a pasta.

For about the past six months, the Rodeo Coach Corp., which normally sells full-sized automobiles, has also been featuring half-scale and quarter-scale replicas of luxury cars meant for children ages 4 to 12.

These include flashy copies of the aforementioned Lamborghini, plus an assortment of Ferraris, Porsches and Mercedeses. They are not selling like hot cakes only because there are no hot cakes in Beverly Hills. Like crepes suzette, perhaps.

"About 130 have been sold since Christmas," said Mike Smith, a British-born salesman for Rodeo Coach. "We put them in a nice little box and ship them off, no home assembly necessary. All you do is add gasoline and off you zip."

He stood among the gleaming assortment of adult and kiddie cars in the dealership lot just across Wilshire Boulevard from Tiffany and the Beverly Wilshire.

"That's a nice little number," he said, pointing toward a red open-topped mini-Mercedes 500SL. "Stick-shift, two speeds, clutch, key, three horsepower, affordable even by members of the middle class at $2,500."

Smith suggested that if daddy drove a full-sized 500SL it would be nice to have the miniature version for little Nigel to drive around the estate.

That is apparently an element of his sales pitch. He confided later that most of the sales were to daddies, noting scornfully that women spent their money on diamonds at Tiffany and not on mini-cars.

These are not modest little go-carts, by the way, but real duplicates of the originals, with leather seats, electric starter systems, hydraulically operated disc brakes, limited-slip differentials and pop-up headlights.

If there is a negative here it is that the mini-cars are powered by Briggs & Stratton engines and must be taken to a lawn mower shop for repairs. Smith mentioned that with a smile of embarrassment, although I see no need for that.

The wealthy don't actually go to the shops, they simply send their Chinese or their Mexican.

I don't mean to sound bitchy since, as I have indicated, I am essentially pro-rich. I don't drink Budweiser beer and I do not shop at the Penney outlet stores. But I ask you, what in the hell does a 10-year-old need with a limited-slip differential?

Seeds of class warfare are being sown by allowing little kids to own cars that are more expensive than what most of us drive on the streets. In Southern California the rich can get by with a lot of things, but the kind of car one owns strikes at the heart of All We Are.

I realize that the children are limited to driving their Ferraris around their own estates, but simply knowing that a kid who has not even grown hair under his arms owns a 308GTS while I am in an indentured Pontiac is more than I can take.

I may personally rally the Chinese-Mexicans to agitate for restrictions on car-ownership before a person is 4. Or at least limit them to used Fords and Chevrolets until they are old enough to realize that a non-slip differential is not a guaranteed annual income.

Only after a few years of tuna casserole will they truly come to appreciate roast duck with a peppercorn glaze.

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