The shiny black sedan cut me off just as I turned into the parking lot of the club where I go for spin class and my gym workouts. I assumed it was just another Mercedes Benz, dime a dozen in Marin, but when it glided into the parking spot I had been eyeing from the road before my turn, I could see this was something else altogether.
A Tesla, that’s what it was. Brand new and brand new to my brand awareness. And a brand new poke to an old feeling I thought I had shed with the years of my youth: envy.
As I watched through the dusty windshield of my car, I saw a woman emerge from the Tesla. Her hair shiny blond, pulled into a ponytail and just sleekly so to reveal one of those foreheads people tend to call patrician. She was dressed in unassuming workout clothes, though I can’t imagine they were cheap. On her feet, simple flip-flops, but toenails sparkling in sun, a neat row of brightly polished platinum coins.
Once I got out of my car and I was standing a few feet from her, my beat-up water bottle in one hand and my old spin shoes in the other, I felt as if I had been hurled into a time warp. She was the one going full blast forward and though I was going with her in my mind, my trajectory took me backwards into the past where the future once was always nearby and clearly visible on the horizon. And what I could see the most clearly in those days on the future’s horizon was the parade of shiny new things that tantalized like the proverbial mirage in the desert.
Those were the days when I believed that I was opting to live on the bleeding edge, always ready for that first cut, damn the bleeding and the mess. The job at the up-and-coming tech company with the Sand Hill Road address in Palo Alto. The house with the then-fashionable Saltillo kitchen tiles and 3 fireplaces in a climate that knows nothing of snow. The wild roundup of computers, including one of the first laptops, a Toshiba that weighed close to a ton and had maybe 1 megabyte of memory. The various server setups at home, the laser and color printers, the solar panels on the roof, when only the lunatic fringe, the diehard hippies or the extreme geeks, would think of generating their own electricity.
The newness of things, especially if they were gadgets, in those halcyon days held a strange power over me, I must admit. It was as if they had the power to transform the very world from which, and into which, they burst forth with such seeming abundance. I was at a perpetual feast in those days, heaping my plate at the buffet of novelties where every dish had an intricate mix of umami: the sharp and sour tang of the immortality of things in general, the sweetness of their recency, the salt of their awkward newfangledness, the bitterness of their transitory usefulness.
My sighting of that Tesla gleaming in the sun brought back memories of how I used to like all those shiny new things. And in the shiny mirror of that Tesla’s surface, at first, all I could see clearly was the bright blackness of my envy. Why can’t I have a Tesla too?
It took the better part of spin class for my brain to correct the distortion of envy. By the time I walked back to my car and past the Tesla, the envy had shrunk to a small sweet regret. A regret for the “snows of yesteryear,” because even if I could buy all the Teslas in the world, it turns out that by living this long, I have lost my taste for the newness of things. Age has blunted the magic of the conceptual umami of progress through the progression of new things. Which maybe why advertisers give up on trying to sell things to old people, but that’s another story…
Regret was more bitter than salty. The time I lost in the world of things, not to mention the money. The assumptions that just as there would always be shiny new things, there would also be funds for them. But I still missed the sweetness of the wide-eyed belief that the parade of shiny new things would go unabated for me. For a second, I was nostalgic for the old charm of those new things.
And it was this then what the Tesla’s glitter drove home for me: going back to the past so that the future can be re-imagined. It wasn’t complicated envy that set me spinning; it was plain old desire. To have wanted, even for a moment, to bring back, not my past, by my past enchantment with new things so that I could look forward to the future anew.